9 Chapter 9: We are going to Sevastopol
During this entire journey I spent so much time in the carriage that now, as soon as I got into it, I felt such strong dizziness that I had to lie down. I. took a little bottle out of his travelling-bag, poured several drops out of it into the glass of water and told me by giving the glass to me.
“When I was ill, Ananda always used to give me these drops.”
I drank the water. I was feeling better and I didn’t even notice when I felt into a light slumber.
When I woke up, I. was standing by me and laughing that he was dying out of hunger and I was sleeping for so long that he was already about to besprinkle me with water. It seemed to me that I was sleeping only for several minutes, while in fact it was already seven o’clock in the evening. We had to hurry to take our dinner, because everybody who had ordered their dinner in the second shift had already hurried and we could stay hungry. I dressed quickly, the conductor locked our compartment, and we went to the dining-car.
Here was a totally different public than the one in the train coming to the border of Asia. The newly opened line, express Moscow – Sevastopol was taking the rich public with great speed. They were coming to the stylish resorts: Yalta, Gurzuf, Alupka and others. When we entered into the dining-car, everybody was already sitting in their places. The man-servant, having looked at our dinner order numbers, took us to the little table where two ladies were sitting already.
I became embarrassed at once, because I wasn’t used to ladies at all. Having looked at I., I was surprised, because he was acting as if he had made court to them during his entire life. He took his hat off, bowed politely before the older lady and asked them in French.
“Can we join you at your table?”
The lady gave a friendly smile, responded to his bow and answered him in an excellent French language with her low and pleasant voice.
I. took our hats, put them into a little meshed shelf above the table and, having let me sit down by the window, he sat down by the side, next to the aisle. I was feeling very uncomfortable, I was trying to look through the window, but anyway, I was examining our neighbours stealthily.
The older lady who wasn’t yet old at all was dressed perfectly and elegantly. She had dark hair and dark eyes which were a little goggled, she must have been short-sighted. She was a little stout and, judging from her white and tended hands, she had never done any work with them, she could also hardly play piano, because fingertips become wider due to constant work with the keys, and their skin becomes rougher. These hands were simply the hands of a lady. Her face wasn’t radiating neither intellect nor inspiration. I took a look at her teeth and lips – everything seemed to me to be a banal beauty, but that beauty was poor, purely physical. She wasn’t interesting for me anymore.
At that moment a meat soup was served for us. I. explained to the man-servant that he had ordered two vegetarian dinners. The man-servant apologized and hurried away to have it out with the maitre d’hotel.
This misunderstanding served as a pretext for the conversation between the older lady and I. It seemed to me that I. had made a strong impression on her. While the older ones were discussing about the cons and pros of the vegetarian food, I focussed my attention on the second lady.
She was an absolutely young girl, almost a child. Visually she was no more than fifteen years old. She was blonde, her hair had the same golden hue like my brother’s, thus only because of this resemblance I had a liking for her. I was looking at her by taking advantage of her downcast eyes: her face was thin, she had regular features and her forehead was high with the elevations above her eye-brows.
“She has a musical talent,” I thought for myself.
It seemed that the girl was having the dinner in the dining-car for the first time. She was trying very much not to spill the soup out of the spoon, but she had difficulties in doing so.
Having noticed that I was staring at the girl so tactlessly, I. asked me a question. He wanted to draw me into the joint conversation and to liberate the embarrassed neighbour from my looks. He looked at me eloquently, and I understood at once that my behaviour didn’t suit the manners of a well- bred person.
It turned out that the older lady asked me to pass her the mustard that was standing by the window, and I didn’t hear her words. I. repeated her words to me, I got totally flustered, I passed the mustard to her and apologized in French, remembering my brother’s teaching that a courteous person should answer in the same language which he was addressed with.
Thoughts flashed in my head not for the first time that it was very difficult to be a well-bred person, lots of conditional knowledge was needed for this, but it was the essence of the great politeness.
I. apologized to the older lady for my absent-mindedness, saying that I had just had a difficult disease and that I hadn’t yet fully recovered. The lady was shaking her head sympathetically and she was thinking that I was I.’s son. She made me laugh because of this, and I. explained to her that I was his friend and a distant relative.
I already wanted to ask her if the young lady was her daughter when she said herself that she was taking her niece to Gurzuf where her sister, Lisa’s mother, had a villa by the sea.
The girl still kept silent. She didn’t raise her eyes, while her aunt kept telling us that Lisa had just graduated the secondary school, she was very tired after the examinations and that she had to have a rest peacefully.
“Lisa is very gifted,” the lady continued, “she is very gifted for music and possesses an excellent voice. She’s studying by the best Moscow’s professors, but her father is against the professional musical education, and that’s the entire drama of Lisa’s life.”
And then something unbelievable happened. All of a sudden Lisa raised her eyes, looked at everybody of us and fastened her eyes upon I.
“Don’t believe a single word of my aunt. She doesn’t understand what she’s talking and she’s ready to blurt out everything till the end to the first person that she meets,” she told us with her trembling and silent, but so melodious voice that I understood at once that she should sing really nicely.
Spots began to shine in Lisa’s cheeks, her eyes were full of tears. It seemed that she hated her aunt and that she was struggling with her temper. At once I. poured some drops into the water from his little bottle and gave it to her by whispering silently, but very masterfully.
“Drink it off. This will soothe you instantly.”
The girl obeyed him instantly. She really calmed down in several minutes. The red spots vanished from her cheeks, she gave a smile to me and asked me where I was going. I answered her that at the moment I was going to Sevastopol and that I didn’t know my future itinerary. Lisa was surprised and she explained to us that she thought that we were going to Alushta or Feodosia, because the Greeks were living namely there in most cases.
“The Greeks?” I was very surprised. “What the Greeks have to do with it here?”
In her turn, Lisa opened her grey eyes wide and told us that my relative was so typical Greek that he could be a model of a Greek statue. Me and I., we were laughing merrily, while her aunt gave a sour smile and told us that Lisa, like all people who were gifted for music, had no balance and that she had too wide imagination.
I. was arguing with her, trying to prove her that talented people were not any patients of nerves, but on the contrary, they would be able to create and they would be valued by their contemporaries when they find within themselves so much fortitude and loyalty for their idolized art that they would be able to absolutely forget themselves, their nerves and their personal striving for honour and then they would joyously spread their talent to the people surrounding them with great peace and self- control. The aunt stated that those things were too high for her, while Lisa pricked up her ears, her eyes began to glitter and she told I.
“Now I can understand so much. Your words are so clear and close to me, as though I had told them to myself many times.”
One could see that she wanted to ask him many questions and that her young heart has set on fire. She was a total contrast to her aunt: in the beginning of the dinner she was so pleasant, she kept peeking at I. coquettishly, but now she could hardly suppress her boredom and annoyance.
“You should become acquainted with my sister. She always has her head in the clouds and she doesn’t see or notice anything in her life except her flowers, music and books,” and she added a little more silently, but more stingingly, “she doesn’t notice even what is going on just around the corner.”
Envy distorted aunt’s face, it seemed that it was eating her heart out for a long time.
Lisa turned pale so much, - even her reddish lips, - that I was frightened and I quickly extended a glass of water for her, but the girl didn’t even notice it. Her darkened eyes became hollow at once, dark shadows appeared below them, and there wasn’t even a single sign of her childishness left. Looking straight into the eyes of her aunt with hateful look, she began to speak silently, clearly, as if cutting with the knife.
“One can do shabby tricks if one has a turn for it. One can be stupid if something is missing in one’s brain; but to reveal your envy to the first person that you meet – you have to be more than stupid in order to do that. You’ve poisoned my mother’s youth and my childhood. You’ve been trying to interfere between my father and us during all your life. You failed to do that, because my father is an honest man and he loves me and my mother. Have you really accepted my and my mother’s delicacy and sympathy for you as our short sight or stupidity? I would have kept it to myself now, too, but your impudence is simply revolting.”
It is difficult to render how aunt changed. There wasn’t a single sign of her entire beauty and her outer brilliance of a “lady” left. At once an old woman who couldn’t control her fury anymore and who was spitting nasty words in silence was sitting in front of us.
“You girl, fool, wicked spy, good-for-nothing. I will avenge you. I will tell everything to your father and grandfather.”
The girl took a pleading look at I. In spite of the rumble of the wheels and the noise of the ventilators, the curious looks were already turning to the direction of our table. I. invited the man-servant, paid up, took our hats, looked at the aunt up and down masterfully and told her very silently, but in a commanding way.
“Stand up and let your niece go by. Now there will be a station, we’ll go to the platform with her. Come to your compartment through carriages. Recover a human semblance, because you aren’t yourself anymore. Try to hide your fury behind a smile from the strangers.”
While he was talking like this, he was standing in front of her in a respectful posture, handing her the fallen handbag and gloves.
Not uttering a single word to him, she stood up and went to the exit by manoeuvring among the tables and not waiting for us.
I. helped Lisa to come out of the table, because it was quite narrow here. He went forward and let the girl go through the door. By following them I lagged behind a little: I wanted to be alone, I wanted to make sense of that strange life, the curtain of which was lifted so unexpectedly and in a nasty way for me, but I. stopped, he waited for me to come closer and explained to me.
“My friend, don’t retreat a step from me. Whatever dramas or pleasures happen along our path, we mustn’t forget our main goal.”
He took my arm, and the three of us walked along the platform a couple of times, boarding the carriage after the second bell already.
How I was surprised when in the corridor of our carriage I saw the aunt who was merrily flirting with a not too old general. It turned out that our places were two compartments one from another.
As if nothing had happened, the aunt addressed us, saying that she already started worrying if we didn’t kidnap her niece. I. answered in her tone that neither he nor I were similar to the romantic kidnappers, but that we were very happy if, according to her opinion, we had an appearance of the philanderers.
Having bowed very politely, we said good-bye to aunt and her niece. I also tried to sparkle with elegance of my manners. I. told Lisa that he would give her the promised book through the conductor.
It seemed that it was very terrible for the poor girl to part with us. Her little face that was thin already fell even more.
When we stepped into our compartment, I wanted to talk about our new acquaintances, but I. interrupted me.
“It is not worth talking about them now. Both of us who’ve suffered lots of pain in our lives have to reconsider every uttered word. There are no such words which man could let into the world without any effect. Man’s entire life – that’s the eternal movement; and that movement is created by man’s thoughts. A word isn’t a simple combination of letters. It always transfers the power of man’s action.
Even if man himself doesn’t know anything about the powers hiding within himself and if he doesn’t think what kind of volcanoes of passions and evil he can create and awaken with his incautiously slipped word – even then there are no sounds released to the world without any punishment. Beware of any slanders not only with your words, but even in your thoughts try to justify people and to pour peace onto them at least in that moment when you meet them. Let’s rather think what our friends are doing right now. Perhaps Florentian is already boarding the Paris train, while Ananda is accompanying him.”
It seemed that he projected himself into the distant Moscow, his look became vacant, while he was sitting motionless with his head rested against the back of the sofa. I thought for a while that every man probably had his own habit to sleep, while up to now I hadn’t even paid any attention to which way everyone was sleeping. Florentian was sleeping like a dead person, I. was sleeping with his eyes opened, but also as deep as Florentian.
While thinking that it also was impossible and it didn’t make any sense to wake up I., I projected myself to Moscow in my thoughts, too.
Now, for the first time during all those days having said good-bye to Florentian for a long time, to whom I had attached with my entire heart, I felt the power of disappointment and blow of my life delivered to me with this separation. From my very birth until that moment when I parted with my brother, I could see the only light in my way, my only own home, my only loyal friend – my brother Nikolay. Now I’m separated from my brother – my light is put out, there’s no my home left and my friend disappeared. While I was next to Florentian, in spite of the danger threatening to me or sorrow because of my brother, regardless of being homeless, I still was feeling and I perceived that he was the light, home and a friend to me. When I was next to him, a feeling of absolute security and peace in my heart would always arise even when I used to cry or to be in a rage. I was certain, I was sure during every moment of my life that Florentian wasn’t only a home to me, but that by studying and improving in that home I would be able to live in such a way that I would be worthy of my friend.
Now, while thinking that Florentian was going to Paris and I was going to the East, although to other places, but still to the same East which has given so much pain to me, I perceived how homeless and lonely I was, flung down by the destiny to the whirls of passions. I could be only a little toy in the hands of those powers, because I hadn’t only seen or experienced anything, but I hadn’t even succeeded to educate and prepare myself for life.
Not a single string in my organism was in tune as much as that I could rely upon it. I used to cry and to be lost like a small child from every stroke into my heart. My body was weak, not tempered by any kind of gymnastics, any tension would stir my feebleness and fainting-fit, and taking into account my self-control and endurance, precision of my thoughts and lucidity – there was even less discipline within me here.
I was looking through the window. The dark was getting thicker. Nature was spurted with its powers. Green grasslands, floating fields of crops, picturesque little villages were flashing before my eyes. Everything was telling me about the real life! All those fields, gardens and kitchen-gardens were close and dear to somebody. People were working here in the entire families, finding love not only for their loved ones, but also the joint feeling for this land, its wealth and its creative work.
And I was so lonely, so lonely… lonely everywhere I go! And I don’t have neither a corner nor a heart in the entire world where I could feel a shelter for myself.
While being immersed in these bitter thoughts, I forgot both I. and where I was, I projected myself into the world of the dreams, I started thinking how I would try to become worthy of Florentian’s
friendship, how I would become as strong, kind and always self-controlled as him. Unwittingly my thoughts skipped to his friends I. and Ananda. I was stunned by their great nobility, by their deeds full of self-denial when they left off everything after hearing Florentian’s invitation and came to help me and my brother – the people who were total strangers to them.
All of a sudden a racket in the corridor interrupted my dreams. I could hear the cries: “Doctor, doctor quickly!”
Having broken away from my thoughts, suddenly I jumped up, because I wanted to help the womanly voice which was crying for help. I caught my foot on the suitcase that was standing by the little table, and I would have measured my entire length on the floor with my face down if the strong hands of I. hadn’t seized me by my shoulders from behind.
“Lovushka, you’ll hurt your nose,” I. told me by imitating a pretty old mumbling in a very funny way.
It was so unexpected and ridiculous, it didn’t suit I.’s seriousness so much that I roared with laughter, having forgotten where and why I was running.
“Wait for me here, my friend,” he said to me already with his usual voice. “I’ll go alone with my drops. I recognize the hysterical voice of our older neighbour. I may be delayed there, but you don’t leave the compartment until I come back. Think only about our main goal during all that time. Florentian left to Paris already. According to the time, his train started ten minutes ago,” he told me, having looked at the clock. “Florentian left only because of you and your brother, right? I’m going only because of you and him. Ananda stayed in Moscow only because of both of you. How could you name yourself lonely and homeless?”
It was heard a knock at the door of our compartment at this moment. I. kissed my forehead tenderly and opened the door.
The general, whom Lisa’s aunt was flirting with when we were returning to the carriage, and a youth were standing behind the door. The general apologized for disturbing us and asked for doctor’s help for the young girl from the adjacent compartment, - he was clearly taking I. for the doctor, - because her aunt was unable to bring her to her senses for more than half an hour already, although she was using all possible means.
Not denying that he wasn’t a doctor, I. asked them why they didn’t take his advice up to now. He took a travelling first-aid kit from the travelling-bag which Florentian gave to me and left with the two passengers who were asking for his help.
I took a peep at the corridor. It was full of men and women, split from all sides. They looked funny: everyone’s face was lost and asking questions, while everybody was holding a little bottle in their hands. It seemed that before looking for a doctor they were trying to help the poor aunt to revive the girl.
I closed my compartment and the suitcase on which I caught my foot so awkwardly, I lifted it up on the shelf and started thinking about the girl who fainted away so strongly.
I remembered her thin little face and her slender, almost childish figure. It seemed to me that her health wasn’t too strong, as mine, that she also was unable to control herself and that she was poorly educated, in other words, she didn’t have any self-control, like me. “Well,” I was thinking, “she has both her father and mother, she has home, even two of them, because she’s going to the villa by the sea, and her life is hardly any happier than mine if she has to live with her hated aunt while she’s travelling.”
I was trying to imagine her house, surroundings, even her inner life, I wanted to understand how a child living with her parents could come to such heartache; how the way of living of her parents had to oppress her day by day if Lisa could lay bare her soul before the total strangers like today.
I was comparing her with myself. Having remembered the words which I. recently told me, I was trying to throw her troubles over onto my own shoulders, from the bottom of my heart I was looking for a justification for her deed. I remembered my own tears of the last days, how bitterly I was crying in presence of the strangers to me, and I was a man, at least five years older than she was.
And again a boring question was turning round in my head, which was flashing through my mind like a leitmotif during all these days: “Who were your own people to you? Who were the strangers to you?” That distracted my thoughts from the girl’s life.
After some time I came back to her. Did I like Lisa? I had never been in love during my entire twenty years. I was so occupied, I had to do so much homework, to write so many compositions, to read so many books. My brother was sending lots of programs in his letters to me – what I had to read, what museums and galleries to visit – all of that would fill up my brains and I always used to be occupied. I didn’t have any acquaintances, except my old aunt, and in her home I would always meet only old and dignified ladies, and each of them would always teach me good manners by extending their perfumed and wrinkled hands to kiss, being unconcerned about the morose boy’s life, which of course, I looked like to them. All of their talking were only about aristocracy’s life: which ball they had visited at one or another countess and which duke had invited them for tomorrow.
I had never had a chance to sit down with the girls at one table or to dance with them, like my friends used to tell me about it. Lisa was the first girl with whom I was sitting at one table for nearly an hour. She was an ordinary, everyday girl, while Nal had opened a higher beauty, a higher and not everyday life to me, with whom fate had brought me together. And I could look at both of them not only like at my well known acquaintances, but I could also see a little of their spiritual life that was invisible to others.
The whirls of thoughts were spinning in my head, the scenes were changing like on the screen: “Lisa was reproaching her aunt for telling about her troubles to the first person she met, but didn’t she say even more than her aunt?”
I felt tenderness for Lisa. A wish was growing in me to help her as much as I could, to ease her life.
Apparently lots of time had passed while I was busy with these psychological etudes. The night was already showing black behind the window, the candles were burning in the carriage, but it was dark in the compartment anyway.
I stood up and wanted to take a peep at the corridor, but suddenly there came a knock at the door and I saw I. who was taking Lisa into our compartment. It seemed that she was unable to walk herself; her aunt was standing behind them with a plaid in her hands.
“Lovushka, Lisa had a strong heart attack. Until the bed is being prepared in her compartment, she will have to lie at our place for a while, because she cannot sit down,” I. was talking to me, while laying the girl down on the sofa.
I wanted to go to the corridor, but he squeezed a crystal bottle into my hand and told me to give it to Lisa to smell every five minutes. I sat down on the suitcase at the bed-head and started playing a doctor’s assistant. I. showed to aunt the chair by the little table, took the plaid from her hands, covered the girl with it and sat down by her feet.
The silence prevailed for several minutes. I didn’t see the aunt, because while being occupied with my medical mission I was sitting with my back turned to her. Taking advantage of Lisa’s state, I could inspect her attentively.
Of course, she was a beautiful girl, but I was stunned mostly because one of her cheeks was as pale as the wax, while the other one wasn’t only burning, but its redness was already turning into a big bruise that I could see clearly now, because I. found the travelling candle-stick and, having lit the candle, put it on the little table.
“Why are you crying now?” all of a sudden I heard I.’s voice.
Having turned round, I saw aunt’s face that was wet because of her tears; her nose, lips and cheeks – everything grew fat and flabby, and she looked very repulsive.
“I’m crying not because of the girl, but because of my own fate. What will happen to me now? She’ll be persuading everybody that I pushed her, but in truth she hurt herself…” the aunt answered him with an angry voice, while sobbing.
I was surprised when I looked at I., because his expression was very austere. He was looking at the crying woman so intently that he reminded me the burning eyes of Ali. I would have never believed that I.’s face could be so austere and his eyes so strict, because I. was always so restrained, he was mostly radiating kindness.
“It would be best for you to tell the truth. Both of us know very well that neither Lisa has hurt herself nor you have pushed her – you’ve hit her, not evaluating your strength, and I can show you all five fingerprints of yours on her face. If you had struck her a little higher, it would have been deadly for Lisa,” I. was speaking with a sonorous voice.
Aunt’s sobbing stopped, and her voice in a furious wheeze could be heard in silence.
“You may be a doctor, but you can hardly understand what you are talking now. I’m a weak woman, how could I hit the girl so that she could even faint away? I’m telling you that she’s fallen down herself, and I didn’t have enough strength to lift her up.”
“That’s why you’ve pinched her entire chest and her hand,” I. was talking. “So because you’re denying that you’ve beaten her up, I will have to take some pictures and to give the photographs to the jurists as soon as we come to Sevastopol.”
The silence didn’t continue for a long time. The aunt whispered.
“How much will you take for your silence?”
I. gave a laugh, I also couldn’t help but to give a laugh and I screamed.
“But this is the real novel!”
My laugh must have irritated the lady very much, who looked so ugly and old now, because when I looked at her – I was as though bitten by a snake – so angry her eyes were.
“I’m not trading with my conscience and I don’t take any bribes for my services. You’ve affected the girl with your blow both physically and morally. You’ll be responsible for your moral blow before your life, it will respond to you from that side from where you’re expecting it the least. You’ll get the same slap in your face from your own child like you’ve done it to the stranger, and for your physical blow you’ll be responsible in the court and you’ll get what you deserve,” I. was speaking so by taking the camera from the suitcase on which I was sitting.
“Take a pity on me. I don’t know why this angry girl told you about my son, but he’s the only treasure in my life. Don’t kill me. I’ve hit her for the first time, because she betrayed me to you. Take a pity on poor mother,” she was mumbling with a changed voice.
“Why didn’t you take a pity on the only child of your sister? Your sister is unfortunate, because her only misfortune up to now is you,” I. continued, still looking at your strictly.
“You are still very young. You don’t know poverty. You cannot neither understand nor judge me,” the woman was talking pitifully. “But if you don’t betray me to Lisa’s parents, then I swear by my son’s life that I won’t touch this girl again.”
“And you’ll keep eating your sister’s bread, you’ll keep living from her favour by pretending to be a mistress of their home and you’ll prick and hurt your sister’s and Lisa’s hearts uninterruptedly? Oh no, you value too much your son’s wellbeing and you don’t value the lives of three of your relatives at all. Only then I’m able not to betray you if you can leave your sister’s home.”
“Where will I go? You are talking like this, because you’ve never seen any misery and you don’t understand life. What will I live on?” the irritated aunt was asking him.
For the second time already, a hardly visible smile slipped through I.’s face and I, like before, thought that this was only a play of the shadow of the candle’s flame.
“You have to get to work,” he answered her silently.
“To work? One can see at once that you haven’t earned a penny in your life, as well as your brother who’s been a burden to your parents, and you don’t understand what you’re talking about,” the woman was snorting in anger.
“I repeat to you once again,” I. contradicted her emphatically and calmly, but with an unshakable will, “that the only condition under which I will agree to hide your sin and at the same time to accept a part of your crime to myself, - you have to leave your sister’s home immediately and get to work. You must earn your living yourself and teach your son to do the same.”
“I’m not a cook or a governess so that I would earn my living myself. I’m a lady, do you hear me, a la – dy! I was, I am and I will be a lady!”
“It would be enough for you to take a look at yourself in the mirror now, so that you would make sure that you aren’t a lady in that sense in which one should understand the privileges of this word, that is in the sense of high culture, self-control and inner discipline,” I. answered her.
“You are very impudent and self-confident man. I won’t go anywhere and I’m not afraid of you,” the aunt was screaming.
“Oh, if you could understand that you should be afraid only of yourself. Then you could protect your son from all misfortunes, you would lead him to people, and he wouldn’t have, in your example, to become a dependent and later a good-for-nothing person. You are afraid of losing the shelter of your sister, which you’ve poisoned yourself, but understand at last that I’m not threatening you, I’m not frightening you, I will only let your relatives know everything about you. They won’t bear you in their home themselves, and you will stay on the street. If you leave at your own will, I promise to find a job for you. You have to understand at last that everyone must work, and especially you.”
“But I cannot be a governess,” she screamed again.
“Nobody would even think about allowing you to approach children. You don’t possess even a primary understanding about what tact is, and a tactless person, even if she’s the best, is hurting a child like a bad, poisoned weather. I could give you a letter to Moscow to one of my friends. He’s in a very broad literature business and he needs translators. He’s paying very generously. By the way, his institution occupies the whole house in which there may be a little flat for you and your son. Until you haven’t eaten a single bit of your own earned bread, you cannot even understand what happiness it is to live on the earth. Only an honest job can bring happiness.”
The aunt remained silent. I turned around several times, and it seemed to me that I.’s words had really calmed her down a little. Her eyes weren’t pouring any hatred anymore, her irritated and distorted by anger face calmed down, even a nobility flashed in it, like a sunbeam penetrating through the grey veil of the rain.
Lisa was still fainted away. I. stood up, bent his head over the girl and wiped a lock off her burning cheek. Her cheek swelled up, the marks of the beating could be seen on it and the bruise had turned black. I. took the camera, but when he wanted to open it already, the aunt hold his hand and uttered silently.
“I agree to start working.”
I was stunned. Several times during these days I became a witness how passions, drunkenness, parasitism, fanatical hatred, envy were spoiling people, splitting them and making them enemies, how they would lose their human form and would become the victims of their own anger and rage. I was reflecting with bitterness that my own self-control and discipline were absolutely poor, too, and how I used to calm down solely when my brother, Florentian or my new friend I. were close to me.
I. didn’t utter a single, even the most bitter word in a high tone, not a slightest hint of contempt to the aunt sounded in his speech. Only the greatest benevolence was both in his face and voice. Even the angry screams of the aunt, which insulted me for my friend, so that I even wanted to meddle into the conversation and respond in her intonation, didn’t disturb the noble peace of I. and his sympathy to the woman.
I. looked at her. That look must have touched the best strings of her living being; she covered her face with her hands and whispered.
“Forgive me. I have such a mad character that sometimes I don’t understand what I say or do myself. But if I pledge my word, - then I keep it honestly. And that may be my only value,” she was talking through the tears that were pouring again.
“Don’t cry, but take a look at everything what has happened now as seriously as possible. Thank fate that Lisa didn’t fall down from your blow and that she didn’t hit her head into a sharp corner of the table; if this also had been added to your blow, then you would be a murderess now, and you understand perfectly what that would mean to you, your son and Lisa’s parents,” I. answered her.
A terror was reflected in the woman’s face. Now she was so unhappy that even my heart became softer. I was trying to find a justification for her, I was imagining how a person was decaying, gradually not noticing it, solely because of the trap of envy, which she was making every day.
“Don’t come back to the past in your thoughts,” I. began to speak again. “Think about your son, that he could have gotten into such situation like Lisa. There’s nothing what a mother’s love couldn’t overcome. I will cure Lisa’s cheek, there won’t be a single mark left from the bruise in several hours, but you’ll have to keep watch by her till the very morning by changing the compresses with the liquid that I
gave you. Take these strengthening drops, and your sleepless night will go by easily. In the morning I will write a letter to my friend and give you some money, so that from this moment on you could start a new independent life and leave with your son, not running into debt to your sister anymore. When you are earning good money already, you can repay your master, and he will send the money to me. Don’t fall into despair when you want to scream again: “I’m a lady, I was, I am and I will be a lady,” but go to another room, so no one could see you, and remember this night. Remember how I was telling you that for all your created evil your son would return a hundred fold to you, but also every moment of your true kindness, endurance and self-control would build a bridge to happiness for your son.”
All kinds of feelings were probably breaking the woman’s heart and her strength were abandoning her already. I. told me to pour some water into the glass, he put some drops into it and gave it to the aunt.
Once again Florentian took a bottle from the same travelling-bag, a big glass and asked me to bring some warm water from the conductor.
When I came back into the compartment, aunt had already come to life and helped I. to wake up Lisa. Her movements were careful, even gentle, while her thin and older face had taken the expression of great sadness and determination. That wasn’t already that woman at all, whom I saw during the dinner, and not that one whom I had just left when I left the compartment. In truth I didn’t find the conductor instantly, because he was busy with the passengers’ bedding, I also didn’t get the water instantly, because it had to be cooled off, so maybe it took me some twenty minutes, - and after that much time I didn’t recognize the girl…
So many different events had happened during those days, and I was changing the most of everybody, because I wasn’t surprised by this change anymore, it seemed to me that it had to be like this.
I. gave some medicine to drink to Lisa, he and her aunt laid her again and in several minutes she opened her eyes. In the beginning her eyes were without any expression, then having recognized I., she became radiant with joy, but having seen her aunt, she gave a shout as though someone had burnt her.
“Calm down my friend,” I. addressed her. “Nobody is going to hurt you again. I’ll soon put the compress on your cheek and until morning any tracks of beating will be gone. Don’t look at your aunt with such horror and hatred. Don’t think that the greatest man’s nobility is to fence himself off those who seem to be angry to us, whom we are calling our enemies. The enemy must be conquered, but we must do it not passively by retreating from him, but with an active fight, with a heroic strain of our thoughts and feelings. A talented person whom life has fated to bring the drop of his creative efforts into the whole activity of mankind, mustn’t take pleasure in being idle, not to experience any storms, suffering, he must fight both with himself and the people living in the neighbourhood. Now you are stepping into life so that you would become a valuable and full member of the society. If now you aren’t able to find the great nobility within yourself not to betray your aunt for her evil, you won’t bring that great capital of honour and sympathy into your own life, which would help you to create a new and joyous life both for yourself and your loved ones in the future. Don’t judge your aunt as the judge would do, but think about the passions that are hiding within yourself. Remember how often you were hate filled for her and her son, although he really isn’t to blame for your bad luck and relations with your aunt. How often you used to repay her for her roughness with even greater roughness, how during all that time you used to find a chance to put her to shame publicly by “putting her in her own place” in your thoughts. Not a single kind feeling for her has ever flashed within you, although you are kind to others, very kind. The youth is sensitive. You are still unable to imagine the entire life’s complexity, the whole power of man’s passions, which is laying traps in every step, but to understand that man’s power – that’s not his anger, but his kindness, that nobility which he’s pouring from himself into his daily routine and with which he ties people together with himself – that you
can do, because your heart is pure and receptive. Since you are talented, you play violin, then you understand that the sounds – just like the kindness – are fascinating people with their beauty and uniting them with you. By playing the violin, you are inviting them into beauty, you don’t feel any fear. Exactly so, now go to your compartment without any fear and doubts. When the heart is really opened to beauty, it doesn’t feel any fear and it is singing a wonderful song – the song of love defeating everything. You are so young and pure that your heart is unable to sing any other song. Don’t think about the past; live in this “now” moment with your heart full of the best feelings and you will create a wonderful life both for yourself and your loved ones. If today you are unable to find the strength to open your heart to real love and honour without any compromises, then your “tomorrow” will be polluted with your own remains of bile and bitterness. Your aunt will leave instantly as soon as she takes you home. She has found a place for herself and she would be living in Moscow with her son, and you are planning to move to Petersburg, right? You feel better now. Lovushka will take you up to your compartment and he will give you to drink this mixture that will help you to have a good sleep and tomorrow you will be as graceful as the rose,” I. added smiling.
Lisa was very surprised by everything what she heard. It was clear for everybody that now a confusion was in her head, but I.’s words weren’t uttered in vain.
“I understood you very well. However strange it may sound, but my mother would often talk to me in a very similar way, therefore your words surprised me mostly, because they absolutely matched my mother’s ideas, although you expressed them in a totally different way. I really hate my aunt, I don’t believe in any of her words. You cannot even imagine how she can lie.”
“And are you so irreproachably correct?” I. asked her silently.
“No,” Lisa answered him, blushing very much. “Not at all, but… But why should I rummage in the past? If you told me that she would leave,” she put a strong stress on the word “she”, “then I believe you. That’s all we need.”
“No,” I. told her again, “that’s absolutely not all what you need, so that you would be happy. You are so used to always have a live pretext to complain of your misfortunes that it has already become your habit. Instead of observing yourself you were observing your aunt by searching for causes of your disasters within her, not even noticing that not only her, but yourself, too, Lisa, have become a tormentor of your mother, father, aunt and… even yourself.”
Having heard the last I.’s words, Lisa lowered her head.
“That’s true,” she uttered finally by looking straight into I.’s eyes.
I. helped her to stand up, he gave me the big glass for compresses and the small one with mixture and offered Lisa to go to have a good sleep by leaning on my arm, so that she could meet her grandfather in the morning refreshed and with a smile.
It was after midnight already. I and aunt took Lisa to their compartment, I gave her the mixture which she drank off instantly, I left the big glass for compresses to her aunt and, having wished them good night, I came back to I.
I found him in the corridor, because the conductor was making the bed for us. I stood next to him, he explained to me in English that I should go to sleep, because tomorrow would require lots of strength from me, and I looked tired. He still had to write a couple of letters and he could go to sleep only after finishing them.
I already knew from my short experience that he wouldn’t start any conversation about the latest events, so I gave him a bow not contradicting, I perched on the upper shelf and as soon as I took my clothes off, I fell sound asleep.
I woke up from the knocking at our compartment’s door and I.’s voice, answering the conductor that we were already getting up and that we were thankful for his care. When I got down I saw that I.’s bedding wasn’t touched, three sealed envelopes were put on the table, and he had put a light grey suit on.
He asked me to collect all of our belongings, having told me that he would visit Lisa again, whom he visited a couple of times at night. He also explained to me that the girl’s organism was strong, but her nervous system was so weak that she would still need a constant and careful supervision, therefore he asked her aunt to tell him their last name and he wrote a letter to Lisa’s mother, countess R. with the instruction on how she had to treat and educate her daughter.
I don’t know if I was standing like this for a long time with my characteristic absent- mindedness and ability to forget everything around me in one moment, but suddenly the door opened and I heard the merry I.’s voice.
“You will ruin us, Lovushka! We must get everything as soon as possible, we are in Sevastopol already.”
I became ashamed, I dashed to collect our belongings, but I. was doing everything faster and better than me, so I just had to give him our things. We didn’t have time to close our suitcases, and the train was already standing in the platform.
I saw Lisa and her aunt in the corridor. Both of them had white splendid dresses and elegant hats on. Lisa really looked like a life-giving rose, and a joy was shining in her eyes. Her aunt was pale, her face was sad, a new wrinkle had cut in between her eyes, although yesterday her forehead was still flat; her lips were pressed together tightly, but it was strange – now I liked her much more. There was nothing left from her yesterday’s vivacity, she had become an elderly woman with the face marked by suffering.
I greeted both of them from the distance: I didn’t have any want to take a deeper look into the drama of these lives. Sevastopol reminded me at once that here we would embark a ship and travel to the East. At the same time also my thoughts about my brother and his destiny at this moment came back to me.
A well-dressed public was descending from our carriage, and not worse dressed people were greeting them on the platform… There were merry voices, laughter, embracing. A thought pierced me through again that there was no one in the whole world who could meet me, to press me to his breast, although there were millions of people living on the earth.
I. took my arm and looked into my eyes reproachfully as it seemed to me. In a moment we were already following the porter to the platform where Lisa was waiting for us, holding her grandfather by hand. That was a very handsome, proud and elegant man. He was tall and he had a short, grey, pointed little beard.
Lisa brought him to I. and explained to him that she tumbled so unfortunately in the carriage that she bruised her left cheek and temple, while doctor I. helped her so much with his mixtures that there wasn’t a sign left from the bruise.
Being frightened of his granddaughter’s ailment, the grandfather thanked I. very much, he was asking where we were going and told us that here he had a reserve coach and that he could take us to Gurzuf. I. thanked him and explained that we were staying in Sevastopol.
“In this case let my coach-man to deliver you to the best hotel,” he told us by lifting his hat up a little.
I saw that I. didn’t want to accept grandfather’s gratitude, but we didn’t have anything to do. He also lifted his hat up a little, took a bow and thanked him for the service.