The Lock and Key Library
The Most Interesting Stories of All Nations
Edited by Julian Hawthorne
Table of Contents
ALEXANDER SERGEIEVITCH PUSHKIN
The Queen of Spades
The General's Will
FEODOR MIKHAILOVITCH DOSTOYEVSKY
Crime and Punishment
The Safety Match
VSEVOLOD VLADIMIROVITCH KRESTOVSKI
Knights of Industry
JORGEN WILHELM BERGSOE
The Amputated Arms
BERNHARD SEVERIN INGEMANN
The Sealed Room
STEEN STEENSEN BLICHER
The Rector of Veilbye
HUNGARIAN MYSTERY STORIES
The Living Death
Thirteen at Table
The Dancing Bear
The Tower Room
Russian Mystery Stories
Alexander Sergeievitch Pushkin
The Queen of Spades
There was a card party at the rooms of Naroumoff, of the Horse Guards. The long winter night passed away imperceptibly, and it was five o'clock in the morning before the company sat down to supper. Those who had won ate with a good appetite; the others sat staring absently at their empty plates. When the champagne appeared, however, the conversation became more animated, and all took a part in it.
"And how did you fare, Souirin?" asked the host.
"Oh, I lost, as usual. I must confess that I am unlucky. I play mirandole, I always keep cool, I never allow anything to put me out, and yet I always lose!"
"And you did not once allow yourself to be tempted to back the red? Your firmness astonishes me."
"But what do you think of Hermann?" said one of the guests, pointing to a young engineer. "He has never had a card in his hand in his life, he has never in his life laid a wager; and yet he sits here till five o'clock in the morning watching our play."
"Play interests me very much," said Hermann, "but I am not in the position to sacrifice the necessary in the hope of winning the superfluous."
"Hermann is a German; he is economical—that is all!" observed Tomsky. "But if there is one person that I cannot understand, it is my grandmother, the Countess Anna Fedorovna!"
"How so?" inquired the guests.
"I cannot understand," continued Tomsky, "how it is that my grandmother does not punt."
"Then you do not know the reason why?"
"No, really; I haven't the faintest idea. But let me tell you the story. You must know that about sixty years ago my grandmother went to Paris, where she created quite a sensation. People used to run after her to catch a glimpse of the 'Muscovite Venus.' Richelieu made love to her, and my grandmother maintains that he almost blew out his brains in consequence of her cruelty. At that time ladies used to play at faro. On one occasion at the Court, she lost a very considerable sum to the Duke of Orleans. On returning home, my grandmother removed the patches from her face, took off her hoops, informed my grandfather of her loss at the gaming-table, and ordered him to pay the money. My deceased grandfather, as far as I remember, was a sort of house-steward to my grandmother. He dreaded her like fire; but, on hearing of such a heavy loss, he almost went out of his mind. He calculated the various sums she had lost, and pointed out to her that in six months she had spent half a million of francs; that neither their Moscow nor Saratoff estates were in Paris; and, finally, refused point-blank to pay the debt. My grandmother gave him a box on the ear and slept by herself as a sign of her displeasure. The next day she sent for her husband, hoping that this domestic punishment had produced an effect upon him, but she found him inflexible. For the first time in her life she entered into reasonings and explanations with him, thinking to be able to convince him by pointing out to him that there are debts and debts, and that there is a great difference between a prince and a coachmaker.
"But it was all in vain, my grandfather still remained obdurate. But the matter did not rest there. My grandmother did not know what to do. She had shortly before become acquainted with a very remarkable man. You have heard of Count St. Germain, about whom so many marvelous stories are told. You know that he represented himself as the Wandering Jew, as the discoverer of the elixir of life, of the philosopher's stone, and so forth. Some laughed at him as a charlatan; but Casnova, in his memoirs, says that he was a spy. But be that as it may, St. Germain, in spite of the mystery surrounding him, was a very fascinating person, and was much sought after in the best circles of society. Even to this day my grandmother retains an affectionate recollection of him, and becomes quite angry if anyone speaks disrespectfully of him. My grandmother knew that St. Germain had large sums of money at his disposal. She resolved to have recourse to him, and she wrote a letter to him asking him to come to her without delay. The queer old man immediately waited upon her, and found her overwhelmed with grief. She described to him in the blackest colors the barbarity of her husband, and ended by declaring that her whole hope depended upon his friendship and amiability.
"St. Germain reflected.
"'I could advance you the sum you want,' said he, 'but I know that you would not rest easy until you had paid me back, and I should not like to bring fresh troubles upon you. But there is another way of getting out of your difficuity: you can win back your money.'
"'But, my dear Count,' replied my grandmother, 'I tell you that I haven't any money left!'
"'Money is not necessary,' replied St. Germain, 'be pleased to listen to me.'
"Then he revealed to her a secret, for which each of us would give a good deal."
The young officers listened with increased attention. Tomsky lit his pipe, puffed away for a moment, and then continued:
"That same evening my grandmother went to Versailles to the jeu de la reine. The Duke of Orleans kept the bank; my grandmother excused herself in an offhanded manner for not having yet paid her debt by inventing some little story, and then began to play against him. She chose three cards and played them one after the other; all three won sonika,* and my grandmother recovered every farthing that she lost."
* Said of a card when it wins or loses in the quickest possible time.
"Mere chance!" said one of the guests.
"A tale!" observed Hermann.
"Perhaps they were marked cards!" said a third.
"I do not think so," replied Tomsky, gravely.
"What!" said Naroumoff, "you have a grandmother who knows how to hit upon three lucky cards in succession, and you have never yet succeeded in getting the secret of it out of her?"
"That's the deuce of it!" replied Tomsky, "she had four sons, one of whom was my father; all four were determined gamblers, and yet not to one of them did she ever reveal her secret, although it would not have been a bad thing either for them or for me. But this is what I heard from my uncle, Count Ivan Ilitch, and he assured me, on his honor, that it was true. The late Chaplitsky— the same who died in poverty after having squandered millions—once lost, in his youth, about three hundred thousand roubles—to Zoritch, if I remember rightly. He was in despair. My grandmother, who was always very severe upon the extravagance of young men, took pity, however, upon Chaplitsky. She gave him three cards telling him to play them one after the other, at the same time exacting from him a solemn promise that he would never play at cards again as long as he lived. Chaplitsky then went to his victorious opponent, and they began a fresh game. On the first card he staked fifty thousand roubles, and won sonika; he doubled the stake, and won again; till at last, by pursuing the same tactics, he won back more than he had lost."
"But it is time to go to bed, it is a quarter to six already." And, indeed, it was already beginning to dawn; the young men emptied their glasses and then took leave of each other.
The old Countess A—— was seated in her dressing-room in front of her looking-glass. Three waiting maids stood around her. One held a small pot of rouge, another a box of hairpins, and the third a tall cap with bright red ribbons. The Countess had no longer the slightest pretensions to beauty, but she still preserved the habits of her youth, dressed in strict accordance with the fashion of seventy years before, and made as long and as careful a toilette as she would have done sixty years previously. Near the window, at an embroidery frame, sat a young lady, her ward.
"Good-morning, grandmamma," said a young officer, entering the room. "Bonjour, Mademoiselle Lise. Grandmamma, I want to ask you something."
"What is it, Paul?"
"I want you to let me introduce one of my friends to you, and to allow me to bring him to the ball on Friday."
"Bring him direct to the ball and introduce him to me there. Were you at B——'s yesterday?"
"Yes; everything went off very pleasantly, and dancing was kept up until five o'clock. How charming Eletskaia was!"
"But, my dear, what is there charming about her? Isn't she like her grandmother, the Princess Daria Petrovna? By the way, she must be very old, the Princess Daria Petrovna?"
"How do you mean, old?" cried Tomsky, thoughtlessly, "she died seven years ago."
The young lady raised her head, and made a sign to the young officer. He then remembered that the old Countess was never to be informed of the death of her contemporaries, and he bit his lips. But the old Countess heard the news with the greatest indifference.
"Dead!" said she, "and I did not know it. We were appointed maids of honor at the same time, and when we were presented to the Empress—"
And the Countess for the hundredth time related to her grandson one of her anecdotes.
"Come, Paul," said she, when she had finished her story, "help me to get up. Lizanka,* where is my snuffbox?"
* Diminutive of Lizaveta (Elizabeth).
And the Countess with her three maids went behind a screen to finish her toilette. Tomsky was left alone with the young lady.
"Who is the gentleman you wish to introduce to the Countess?" asked Lizaveta Ivanovna in a whisper.
"Naroumoff. Do you know him?"
"No. Is he a soldier or a civilian?"
"Is he in the Engineers?"
"No, in the Cavalry. What made you think that he was in the Engineers?"
The young lady smiled, but made no reply.
"Paul," cried the Countess from behind the screen, "send me some new novel, only pray don't let it be one of the present day style."
"What do you mean, grandmother?"
"That is, a novel, in which the hero strangles neither his father nor his mother, and in which there are no drowned bodies. I have a great horror of drowned persons."
"There are no such novels nowadays. Would you like a Russian one?"
"Are there any Russian novels? Send me one, my dear, pray send me one!"
"Good-by, grandmother. I am in a hurry. . . . Goodby, Lizavetta Ivanovna. What made you think that Naroumoff was in the Engineers?"
And Tomsky left the boudoir.
Lizaveta Ivanovna was left alone. She laid aside her work, and began to look out of the window. A few moments afterwards, at a corner house on the other side of the street, a young officer appeared. A deep flush covered her cheeks; she took up her work again, and bent her head down over the frame. At the same moment the Countess returned, completely dressed.
"Order the carriage, Lizaveta," said she, "we will go out for a drive."
Lizaveta rose from the frame, and began to arrange her work.
"What is the matter with you, my child, are you deaf?" cried the Countess. "Order the carriage to be got ready at once."
"I will do so this moment," replied the young lady, hastening into the anteroom.
A servant entered and gave the Countess some books from Prince Paul Alexandrovitch.
"Tell him that I am much obliged to him," said the Countess. "Lizaveta! Lizaveta! where are you running to?"
"I am going to dress."
"There is plenty of time, my dear. Sit down here. Open the first volume and read to me aloud."
Her companion took the book and read a few lines.
"Louder," said the Countess. "What is the matter with you, my child? Have you lost your voice? Wait—Give me that footstool— a little nearer—that will do!"
Lizaveta read two more pages. The Countess yawned.
"Put the book down," said she, "what a lot of nonsense! Send it back to Prince Paul with my thanks. . . . But where is the carriage?"
"The carriage is ready," said Lizaveta, looking out into the street.
"How is it that you are not dressed?" said the Countess. "I must always wait for you. It is intolerable, my dear!"
Liza hastened to her room. She had not been there two minutes before the Countess began to ring with all her might. The three waiting-maids came running in at one door, and the valet at another.
"How is it that you cannot hear me when I ring for you?" said the Countess. "Tell Lizaveta Ivanovna that I am waiting for her."
Lizaveta returned with her hat and cloak on.
"At last you are here!" said the Countess. "But why such an elaborate toilette? Whom do you intend to captivate? What sort of weather is it? It seems rather windy."
"No, your Ladyship, it is very calm," replied the valet.
"You never think of what you are talking about. Open the window. So it is; windy and bitterly cold. Unharness the horses, Lizaveta, we won't go out—there was no need to deck yourself like that."
"What a life is mine!" thought Lizaveta Ivanovna.
And, in truth, Lizaveta Ivanovna was a very unfortunate creature. "The bread of the stranger is bitter," says Dante, "and his staircase hard to climb." But who can know what the bitterness of dependence is so well as the poor companion of an old lady of quality? The Countess A—— had by no means a bad heart, but she was capricious, like a woman who had been spoiled by the world, as well as being avaricious and egotistical, like all old people, who have seen their best days, and whose thoughts are with the past, and not the present. She participated in all the vanities of the great world, went to balls, where she sat in a corner, painted and dressed in old-fashioned style, like a deformed but indispensable ornament of the ballroom; all the guests on entering approached her and made a profound bow, as if in accordance with a set ceremony, but after that nobody took any further notice of her. She received the whole town at her house, and observed the strictest etiquette, although she could no longer recognize the faces of people. Her numerous domestics, growing fat and old in her antechamber and servants' hall, did just as they liked, and vied with each other in robbing the aged Countess in the most bare-faced manner. Lizaveta Ivanovna was the martyr of the household. She made tea, and was reproached with using too much sugar; she read novels aloud to the Countess, and the faults of the author were visited upon her head; she accompanied the Countess in her walks, and was held answerable for the weather or the state of the pavement. A salary was attached to the post, but she very rarely received it, although she was expected to dress like everybody else, that is to say, like very few indeed. In society she played the most pitiable role. Everybody knew her, and nobody paid her any attention. At balls she danced only when a partner was wanted, and ladies would only take hold of her arm when it was necessary to lead her out of the room to attend to their dresses. She was very self-conscious, and felt her position keenly, and she looked about her with impatience for a deliverer to come to her rescue; but the young men, calculating in their giddiness, honored her with but very little attention, although Lizaveta Ivanovna was a hundred times prettier than the bare-faced, cold-hearted marriageable girls around whom they hovered. Many a time did she quietly slink away from the glittering, but wearisome, drawing-room, to go and cry in her own poor little room, in which stood a screen, a chest of drawers, a looking-glass, and a painted bedstead, and where a tallow candle burnt feebly in a copper candle-stick.
One morning—this was about two days after the evening party described at the beginning of this story, and a week previous to the scene at which we have just assisted—Lizaveta Ivanovna was seated near the window at her embroidery frame, when, happening to look out into the street, she caught sight of a young Engineer officer, standing motionless with his eyes fixed upon her window. She lowered her head, and went on again with her work. About five minutes afterwards she looked out again—the young officer was still standing in the same place. Not being in the habit of coquetting with passing officers, she did not continue to gaze out into the street, but went on sewing for a couple of hours, without raising her head. Dinner was announced. She rose up and began to put her embroidery away, but glancing casually out of the window, she perceived the officer again. This seemed to her very strange. After dinner she went to the window with a certain feeling of uneasiness, but the officer was no longer there—and she thought no more about him.
A couple of days afterwards, just as she was stepping into the carriage with the Countess, she saw him again. He was standing close behind the door, with his face half-concealed by his fur collar, but his dark eyes sparkled beneath his cap. Lizaveta felt alarmed, though she knew not why, and she trembled as she seated herself in the carriage.
On returning home, she hastened to the window—the officer was standing in his accustomed place, with his eyes fixed upon her. She drew back, a prey to curiosity, and agitated by a feeling which was quite new to her.
From that time forward not a day passed without the young officer making his appearance under the window at the customary hour, and between him and her there was established a sort of mute acquaintance. Sitting in her place at work, she used to feel his approach, and, raising her head, she would look at him longer and longer each day. The young man seemed to be very grateful to her; she saw with the sharp eye of youth, how a sudden flush covered his pale cheeks each time that their glances met. After about a week she commenced to smile at him. . . .
When Tomsky asked permission of his grandmother, the Countess, to present one of his friends to her, the young girl's heart beat violently. But hearing that Naroumoff was not an Engineer, she regretted that by her thoughtless question, she had betrayed her secret to the volatile Tomsky.
Hermann was the son of a German who had become a naturalized Russian, and from whom he had inherited a small capital. Being firmly convinced of the necessity of preserving his independence, Hermann did not touch his private income, but lived on his pay, without allowing himself the slightest luxury. Moreover, he was reserved and ambitious, and his companions rarely had an opportunity of making merry at the expense of his extreme parsimony. He had strong passions and an ardent imagination, but his firmness of disposition preserved him from the ordinary errors of young men. Thus, though a gamester at heart, he never touched a card, for he considered his position did not allow him—as he said— "to risk the necessary in the hope of winning the superfluous," yet he would sit for nights together at the card table and follow with feverish anxiety the different turns of the game.
The story of the three cards had produced a powerful impression upon his imagination, and all night long he could think of nothing else. "If," he thought to himself the following evening, as he walked along the streets of St. Petersburg, "if the old Countess would not reveal her secret to me! If she would only tell me the names of the three winning cards. Why should I not try my fortune? I must get introduced to her and win her favor—become her lover. . . . But all that will take time, and she is eighty-seven years old. She might be dead in a week, in a couple of days even. But the story itself? Can it really be true? No! Economy, temperance, and industry; those are my three winning cards; by means of them I shall be able to double my capital—increase it sevenfold, and procure for myself ease and independence."
Musing in this manner, he walked on until he found himself in one of the principal streets of St. Petersburg, in front of a house of antiquated architecture. The street was blocked with equipages; carriages one after the other drew up in front of the brilliantly illuminated doorway. At one moment there stepped out onto the pavement the well-shaped little foot of some young beauty, at another the heavy boot of a cavalry officer, and then the silk stockings and shoes of a member of the diplomatic world. Fur and cloaks passed in rapid succession before the gigantic porter at the entrance. Hermann stopped. "Whose house is this?" he asked of the watchman at the corner.
"The Countess A——'s," replied the watchman.
Hermann started. The strange story of the three cards again presented itself to his imagination. He began walking up and down before the house, thinking of its owner and her strange secret. Returning late to his modest lodging, he could not go to sleep for a long time, and when at last he did doze off, he could dream of nothing but cards, green tables, piles of banknotes, and heaps of ducats. He played one card after the other, winning uninterruptedly, and then he gathered up the gold and filled his pockets with the notes. When he woke up late the next morning, he sighed over the loss of his imaginary wealth, and then sallying out into the town, he found himself once more in front of the Countess's residence. Some unknown power seemed to have attracted him thither. He stopped and looked up at the windows. At one of these he saw a head with luxuriant black hair, which was bent down, probably over some book or an embroidery frame. The head was raised. Hermann saw a fresh complexion, and a pair of dark eyes. That moment decided his fate.
Lizaveta Ivanovna had scarcely taken off her hat and cloak, when the Countess sent for her, and again ordered her to get the carriage ready. The vehicle drew up before the door, and they prepared to take their seats. Just at the moment when two footmen were assisting the old lady to enter the carriage, Lizaveta saw her Engineer standing close beside the wheel; he grasped her hand; alarm caused her to lose her presence of mind, and the young man disappeared—but not before he had left a letter between her fingers. She concealed it in her glove, and during the whole of the drive she neither saw nor heard anything. It was the custom of the Countess, when out for an airing in her carriage, to be constantly asking such questions as "Who was that person that met us just now? What is the name of this bridge? What is written on that sign-board?" On this occasion, however, Lizaveta returned such vague and absurd answers, that the Countess became angry with her.
"What is the matter with you, my dear?" she exclaimed. "Have you taken leave of your senses, or what is it? Do you not hear me or understand what I say? Heaven be thanked, I am still in my right mind and speak plainly enough!"
Lizaveta Ivanovna did not hear her. On returning home she ran to her room, and drew the letter out of her glove: it was not sealed. Lizaveta read it. The letter contained a declaration of love; it was tender, respectful, and copied word for word from a German novel. But Lizaveta did not know anything of the German language, and she was quite delighted.
For all that, the letter caused her to feel exceedingly uneasy. For the first time in her life she was entering into secret and confidential relations with a young man. His boldness alarmed her. She reproached herself for her imprudent behavior, and knew not what to do. Should she cease to sit at the window, and, by assuming an appearance of indifference towards him, put a check upon the young officer's desire for further acquaintance with her? Should she send his letter back to him, or should she answer him in a cold and decided manner? There was nobody to whom she could turn in her perplexity, for she had neither female friend nor adviser. At length she resolved to reply to him.
She sat down at her little writing table, took pen and paper, and began to think. Several times she began her letter and then tore it up; the way she had expressed herself seemed to her either too inviting or too cold and decisive. At last she succeeded in writing a few lines with which she felt satisfied.
"I am convinced," she wrote, "that your intentions are honorable, and that you do not wish to offend me by any imprudent behavior, but our acquaintance must not begin in such a manner. I return you your letter, and I hope that I shall never have any cause to complain of this undeserved slight."
The next day, as soon as Hermann made his appearance, Lizaveta rose from her embroidery, went into the drawing-room, opened the ventilator, and threw the letter into the street, trusting that the young officer would have the perception to pick it up.
Hermann hastened forward, picked it up, and then repaired to a confectioner's shop. Breaking the seal of the envelope, he found inside it his own letter and Lizaveta's reply. He had expected this, and he returned home, his mind deeply occupied with his intrigue.
Three days afterwards a bright-eyed young girl from a milliner's establishment brought Lizaveta a letter. Lizaveta opened it with great uneasiness, fearing that it was a demand for money, when, suddenly, she recognized Hermann's handwriting.
"You have made a mistake, my dear," said she. "This letter is not for me."
"Oh, yes, it is for you," replied the girl, smiling very knowingly. "Have the goodness to read it."
Lizaveta glanced at the letter. Hermann requested an interview.
"It cannot be," she cried, alarmed at the audacious request and the manner in which it was made. "This letter is certainly not for me," and she tore it into fragments.
"If the letter was not for you, why have you torn it up?" said the girl. "I should have given it back to the person who sent it."
"Be good enough, my dear," said Lizaveta, disconcerted by this remark, "not to bring me any more letters for the future, and tell the person who sent you that he ought to be ashamed."
But Hermann was not the man to be thus put off. Every day Lizaveta received from him a letter, sent now in this way, now in that. They were no longer translated from the German. Hermann wrote them under the inspiration of passion, and spoke in his own language, and they bore full testimony to the inflexibility of his desire, and the disordered condition of his uncontrollable imagination. Lizaveta no longer thought of sending them back to him; she became intoxicated with them, and began to reply to them, and little by little her answers became longer and more affectionate. At last she threw out of the window to him the following letter:
"This evening there is going to be a ball at the Embassy. The Countess will be there. We shall remain until two o'clock. You have now an opportunity of seeing me alone. As soon as the Countess is gone, the servants will very probably go out, and there will be nobody left but the Swiss, but he usually goes to sleep in his lodge. Come about half-past eleven. Walk straight upstairs. If you meet anybody in the anteroom, ask if the Countess is at home. You will be told 'No,' in which case there will be nothing left for you to do but to go away again. But it is most probable that you will meet nobody. The maidservants will all be together in one room. On leaving the anteroom, turn to the left, and walk straight on until you reach the Countess's bedroom. In the bedroom, behind a screen, you will find two doors: the one on the right leads to a cabinet, which the Countess never enters; the one on the left leads to a corridor, at the end of which is a little winding staircase; this leads to my room."
Hermann trembled like a tiger as he waited for the appointed time to arrive. At ten o'clock in the evening he was already in front of the Countess's house. The weather was terrible; the wind blew with great violence, the sleety snow fell in large flakes, the lamps emitted a feeble light, the streets were deserted; from time to time a sledge drawn by a sorry-looking hack, passed by on the lookout for a belated passenger. Hermann was enveloped in a thick overcoat, and felt neither wind nor snow.
At last the Countess's carriage drew up. Hermann saw two footmen carry out in their arms the bent form of the old lady, wrapped in sable fur, and immediately behind her, clad in a warm mantle, and with her head ornamented with a wreath of fresh flowers, followed Lizaveta. The door was closed. The carriage rolled heavily away through the yielding snow. The porter shut the street door, the windows became dark.
Hermann began walking up and down near the deserted house; at length he stopped under a lamp, and glanced at his watch: it was twenty minutes past eleven. He remained standing under the lamp, his eyes fixed upon the watch impatiently waiting for the remaining minutes to pass. At half-past eleven precisely Hermann ascended the steps of the house and made his way into the brightly- illuminated vestibule. The porter was not there. Hermann hastily ascended the staircase, opened the door of the anteroom, and saw a footman sitting asleep in an antique chair by the side of a lamp. With a light, firm step Hermann passed by him. The drawing-room and dining-room were in darkness, but a feeble reflection penetrated thither from the lamp in the anteroom.
Hermann reached the Countess's bedroom. Before a shrine, which was full of old images, a golden lamp was burning. Faded stuffed chairs and divans with soft cushions stood in melancholy symmetry around the room, the walls of which were hung with china silk. On one side of the room hung two portraits painted in Paris by Madame Lebrun. One of these represented a stout, red-faced man of about forty years of age, in a bright green uniform, and with a star upon his breast; the other—a beautiful young woman, with an aquiline nose, forehead curls, and a rose in her powdered hair. In the corner stood porcelain shepherds and shepherdesses, dining-room clocks from the workshop of the celebrated Lefroy, bandboxes, roulettes, fans, and the various playthings for the amusement of ladies that were in vogue at the end of the last century, when Montgolfier's balloons and Niesber's magnetism were the rage. Hermann stepped behind the screen. At the back of it stood a little iron bedstead; on the right was the door which led to the cabinet; on the left, the other which led to the corridor. He opened the latter, and saw the little winding staircase which led to the room of the poor companion. But he retraced his steps and entered the dark cabinet.
The time passed slowly. All was still. The clock in the drawing- room struck twelve, the strokes echoed through the room one after the other, and everything was quiet again. Hermann stood leaning against the cold stove. He was calm, his heart beat regularly, like that of a man resolved upon a dangerous but inevitable undertaking. One o'clock in the morning struck; then two, and he heard the distant noise of carriage-wheels. An involuntary agitation took possession of him. The carriage drew near and stopped. He heard the sound of the carriage steps being let down. All was bustle within the house. The servants were running hither and thither, there was a confusion of voices, and the rooms were lit up. Three antiquated chambermaids entered the bedroom, and they were shortly afterwards followed by the Countess, who, more dead than alive, sank into a Voltaire armchair. Hermann peeped through a chink. Lizaveta Ivanovna passed close by him, and he heard her hurried steps as she hastened up the little spiral staircase. For a moment his heart was assailed by something like a pricking of conscience, but the emotion was only transitory, and his heart became petrified as before.
The Countess began to undress before her looking-glass. Her rose- bedecked cap was taken off, and then her powdered wig was removed from off her white and closely cut hair. Hairpins fell in showers around her. Her yellow satin dress, brocaded with silver, fell down at her swollen feet.
Hermann was a witness of the repugnant mysteries of her toilette; at last the Countess was in her night-cap and dressing-gown, and in this costume, more suitable to her age, she appeared less hideous and deformed.
Like all old people, in general, the Countess suffered from sleeplessness. Having undressed, she seated herself at the window in a Voltaire armchair, and dismissed her maids. The candles were taken away, and once more the room was left with only one lamp burning in it. The Countess sat there looking quite yellow, mumbling with her flaccid lips and swaying to and fro. Her dull eyes expressed complete vacancy of mind, and, looking at her, one would have thought that the rocking of her body was not a voluntary action of her own, but was produced by the action of some concealed galvanic mechanism.
Suddenly the death-like face assumed an inexplicable expression. The lips ceased to tremble, the eyes became animated: before the Countess stood an unknown man.
"Do not be alarmed, for Heaven's sake, do not be alarmed!" said he in a low but distinct voice. "I have no intention of doing you any harm; I have only come to ask a favor of you."
The old woman looked at him in silence, as if she had not heard what he had said. Hermann thought that she was deaf, and, bending down towards her ear, he repeated what he had said. The aged Countess remained silent as before.
"You can insure the happiness of my life," continued Hermann, "and it will cost you nothing. I know that you can name three cards in order—"
Hermann stopped. The Countess appeared now to understand what he wanted; she seemed as if seeking for words to reply.
"It was a joke," she replied at last. "I assure you it was only a joke."
"There is no joking about the matter," replied Hermann, angrily. "Remember Chaplitsky, whom you helped to win."
The Countess became visibly uneasy. Her features expressed strong emotion, but they quickly resumed their former immobility.
"Can you not name me these three winning cards?" continued Hermann.
The Countess remained silent; Hermann continued:
"For whom are you preserving your secret? For your grandsons? They are rich enough without it, they do not know the worth of money. Your cards would be of no use to a spendthrift. He who cannot preserve his paternal inheritance will die in want, even though he had a demon at his service. I am not a man of that sort. I know the value of money. Your three cards will not be thrown away upon me. Come!"
He paused and tremblingly awaited her reply. The Countess remained silent. Hermann fell upon his knees.
"If your heart has ever known the feeling of love," said be, "if you remember its rapture, if you have ever smiled at the cry of your new-born child, if any human feeling has ever entered into your breast, I entreat you by the feelings of a wife, a lover, a mother, by all that is most sacred in life, not to reject my prayer. Reveal to me your secret. Of what use is it to you? May be it is connected with some terrible sin, with the loss of eternal salvation, with some bargain with the devil. Reflect, you are old, you have not long to live—I am ready to take your sins upon my soul. Only reveal to me your secret. Remember that the happiness of a man is in your hands, that not only I, but my children and my grandchildren, will bless your memory and reverence you as a saint."
The old Countess answered not a word.
Hermann rose to his feet.
"You old hag!" he exclaimed, grinding his teeth, "then I will make you answer!" With these words he drew a pistol from his pocket. At the sight of the pistol, the Countess for the second time exhibited strong emotions. She shook her head, and raised her hands as if to protect herself from the shot. Then she fell backwards, and remained motionless.
"Come, an end to this childish nonsense!" said Hermann, taking hold of her hand. "I ask you for the last time: will you tell me the names of your three cards, or will you not?"
The Countess made no reply. Hermann perceived that she was dead!
Lizaveta Ivanovna was sitting in her room, still in her ball dress, lost in deep thought. On returning home, she had hastily dismissed the chambermaid, who very reluctantly came forward to assist her, saying that she would undress herself, and with a trembling heart had gone up to her own room, expecting to find Hermann there, but yet hoping not to find him. At the first glance he was not there, and she thanked her fate for having prevented him keeping the appointment. She sat down without undressing, and began to call to mind all the circumstances which in a short time had carried her so far. It was not three weeks since the time when she had first seen the young officer from the window—and yet she was already in correspondence with him, and he had succeeded in inducing her to grant him a nocturnal interview. She knew his name only through his having written it at the bottom of some of his letters; she had never spoken to him, had never heard his voice, and had never heard him spoken of until that evening. But, strange to say, that very evening at the ball, Tomsky, being piqued with the young Princess Pauline N——, who, contrary to her usual custom, did not flirt with him, wished to revenge himself by assuming an air of indifference: he therefore engaged Lizaveta Ivanovna, and danced an endless mazurka with her. During the whole of the time he kept teasing her about her partiality for Engineer officers, he assured her that he knew far more than she imagined, and some of his jests were so happily aimed, that Lizaveta thought several times that her secret was known to him.
"From whom have you learned all this?" she asked, smiling.
"From a friend of a person very well known to you," replied Tomsky, "from a very distinguished man."
"And whom is this distinguished man?"
"His name is Hermann." Lizaveta made no reply, but her hands and feet lost all sense of feeling.
"This Hermann," continued Tomsky, "is a man of romantic personality. He has the profile of a Napoleon, and the soul of a Mephistopheles. I believe that he has at least three crimes upon his conscience. How pale you have become!"
"I have a headache. But what did this Hermann, or whatever his name is, tell you?"
"Hermann is very dissatisfied with his friend. He says that in his place he would act very differently. I even think that Hermann himself has designs upon you; at least, he listens very attentively to all that his friend has to say about you."
"And where has he seen me?"
"In church, perhaps; or on the parade. God alone knows where. It may have been in your room, while you were asleep, for there is nothing that he—"
Three ladies approaching him with the question: "oubli ou regret?" interrupted the conversation, which had become so tantalizingly interesting to Lizaveta.
The lady chosen by Tomsky was the Princess Pauline herself. She succeeded in effecting a reconciliation with him during the numerous turns of the dance, after which he conducted her to her chair. On returning to his place, Tomsky thought no more either of Hermann or Lizaveta. She longed to renew the interrupted conversation, but the mazurka came to an end, and shortly afterwards the old Countess took her departure.
Tomsky's words were nothing more than the customary small talk of the dance, but they sank deep into the soul of the young dreamer. The portrait, sketched by Tomsky, coincided with the picture she had formed within her own mind, and, thanks to the latest romances, the ordinary countenance of her admirer became invested with attributes capable of alarming her and fascinating her imagination at the same time. She was now sitting with her bare arms crossed, and with her head, still adorned with flowers, sunk upon her uncovered bosom. Suddenly the door opened and Hermann entered. She shuddered.
"Where were you?" she asked in a terrified whisper.
"In the old Countess's bedroom," replied Hermann. "I have just left her. The Countess is dead."
"My God! What do you say?"
"And I am afraid," added Hermann, "that I am the cause of her death."
Lizaveta looked at him, and Tomsky's words found an echo in her soul: "This man has at least three crimes upon his conscience!" Hermann sat down by the window near her, and related all that had happened.
Lizaveta listened to him in terror. So all those passionate letters, those ardent desires, this bold, obstinate pursuit—all this was not love! Money—that was what his soul yearned for! She could not satisfy his desire and make him happy. The poor girl had been nothing but the blind tool of a robber, of the murderer of her aged benefactress! She wept bitter tears of agonized repentance. Hermann gazed at her in silence; his heart, too, was a prey to violent emotion, but neither the tears of the poor girl, nor the wonderful charm of her beauty, enhanced by her grief, could produce any impression upon his hardened soul. He felt no pricking of conscience at the thought of the dead old woman. One thing only grieved him: the irreparable loss of the secret from which he had expected to obtain great wealth.
"You are a monster!" said Lizaveta at last.
"I did not wish for her death," replied Hermann, "my pistol was not loaded." Both remained silent. The day began to dawn. Lizaveta extinguished her candle, a pale light illumined her room. She wiped her tear-stained eyes, and raised them towards Hermann. He was sitting near the window, with his arms crossed, and with a fierce frown upon his forehead. In this attitude he bore a striking resemblance to the portrait of Napoleon. This resemblance struck Lizaveta even.
"How shall I get you out of the house?" said she at last. "I thought of conducting you down the secret staircase."
"I will go alone," he answered.
Lizaveta arose, took from her drawer a key, handed it to Hermann, and gave him the necessary instructions. Hermann pressed her cold, inert hand, kissed her bowed head, and left the room.
He descended the winding staircase, and once more entered the Countess's bedroom. The dead old lady sat as if petrified, her face expressed profound tranquillity. Hermann stopped before her, and gazed long and earnestly at her, as if he wished to convince himself of the terrible reality. At last he entered the cabinet, felt behind the tapestry for the door, and then began to descend the dark staircase, filled with strange emotions. "Down this very staircase," thought he, "perhaps coming from the very same room, and at this very same hour sixty years ago, there may have glided, in an embroidered coat, with his hair dressed a l'oiseau royal, and pressing to his heart his three-cornered hat, some young gallant who has long been mouldering in the grave, but the heart of his aged mistress has only today ceased to beat."
At the bottom of the staircase Hermann found a door, which he opened with a key, and then traversed a corridor which conducted him into the street.
Three days after the fatal night, at nine o'clock in the morning, Hermann repaired to the Convent of ——-, where the last honors were to be paid to the mortal remains of the old Countess. Although feeling no remorse, he could not altogether stifle the voice of conscience, which said to him: "You are the murderer of the old woman!" In spite of his entertaining very little religious belief, he was exceedingly superstitions; and believing that the dead Countess might exercise an evil influence on his life, he resolved to be present at her obsequies in order to implore her pardon.
The church was full. It was with difficulty that Hermann made his way through the crowd of people. The coffin was placed upon a rich catafalque beneath a velvet baldachin. The deceased Countess lay within it, with her hands crossed upon her breast, with a lace cap upon her head, and dressed in a white satin robe. Around the catafalque stood the members of her household; the servants in black caftans, with armorial ribbons upon their shoulders and candles in their hands; the relatives—children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren—in deep mourning.
Nobody wept, tears would have been an affectation. The Countess was so old that her death could have surprised nobody, and her relatives had long looked upon her as being out of the world. A famous preacher delivered the funeral sermon. In simple and touching words he described the peaceful passing away of the righteous, who had passed long years in calm preparation for a Christian end. "The angel of death found her," said the orator, "engaged in pious meditation and waiting for the midnight bridegroom."
The service concluded amidst profound silence. The relatives went forward first to take a farewell of the corpse. Then followed the numerous guests, who had come to render the last homage to her who for so many years had been a participator in their frivolous amusements. After these followed the members of the Countess's household. The last of these an old woman of the same age as the deceased. Two young women led her forward by the hand. She had not strength enough to bow down to the ground—she merely shed a few tears, and kissed the cold hand of the mistress.
Herman now resolved to approach the coffin. He knelt down upon the cold stones, and remained in that position for some minutes; at last he arose as pale as the deceased Countess herself; he ascended the steps of the catafalque and bent over the corpse. . . . At that moment it seemed to him that the dead woman darted a mocking look at him and winked with one eye. Hermann started back, took a false step, and fell to the ground. Several persons hurried forward and raised him up. At the same moment Lizaveta Ivanovna was borne fainting into the porch of the church. This episode disturbed for some minutes the solemnity of the gloomy ceremony. Among the congregation arose a deep murmur, and a tall, thin chamberlain, a near relative of the deceased, whispered in the ear of an Englishman, who was standing near him, that the young officer was a natural son of the Countess, to which the Englishman coldly replied "Oh!"
During the whole of that day Hermann was strangely excited. Repairing to an out of the way restaurant to dine, be drank a great deal of wine, contrary to his usual custom, in the hope of deadening his inward agitation. But the wine only served to excite his imagination still more. On returning home he threw himself upon his bed without undressing, and fell into a deep sleep.
When he woke up it was already night, and the moon was shining into the room. He looked at his watch: it was a quarter to three. Sleep had left him; he sat down upon his bed, and thought of the funeral of the old Countess.
At that moment somebody in the street looked in at his window and immediately passed on again. Hermann paid no attention to this incident. A few moments afterwards he heard the door of his anteroom open. Hermann thought that it was his orderly, drunk as usual, returning from some nocturnal expedition, but presently he heard footsteps that were unknown to him: somebody was walking softly over the floor in slippers. The door opened, and a woman dressed in white entered the room. Hermann mistook her for his old nurse, and wondered what could bring her there at that hour of the night. But the white woman glided rapidly across the room and stood before him—and Hermann thought he recognized the Countess.
"I have come to you against my wish," she said in a firm voice, "but I have been ordered to grant your request. Three, seven, ace, will win for you if played in succession, but only on these conditions: that you do not play more than one card in twenty-four- hours, and that you never play again during the rest of your life. I forgive you my death, on condition that you marry my companion, Lizaveta Ivanovna."
With these words she turned round very quietly, walked with a shuffling gait towards the door, and disappeared. Hermann heard the street door open and shut, and again he saw someone look in at him through the window.
For a long time Hermann could not recover himself. He then rose up and entered the next room. His orderly was lying asleep upon the floor, and he had much difficulty in waking him. The orderly was drunk as usual, and no information could be obtained from him. The street door was locked. Hermann returned to his room, lit his candle, and wrote down all the details of his vision.
Two fixed ideas can no more exist together in the moral world than two bodies can occupy one and the same physical world. "Three, seven, ace" soon drove out of Hermann's mind the thought of the dead Countess. "Three, seven, ace" were perpetually running through his head, and continually being repeated by his lips. If he saw a young girl, he would say: "How slender she is; quite like the three of hearts." If anybody asked "What is the time?" he would reply: "Five minutes to seven." Every stout man that he saw reminded him of the ace. "Three, seven, ace" haunted him in his sleep, and assumed all possible shapes. The threes bloomed before him in the forms of magnificent flowers, the sevens were represented by Gothic portals, and the aces became transformed into gigantic spiders. One thought alone occupied his whole mind—to make a profitable use of the secret which he had purchased so dearly. He thought of applying for a furlough so as to travel abroad. He wanted to go to Paris and tempt fortune in some gambling houses that abounded there. Chance spared him all this trouble.
There was in Moscow a society of rich gamesters, presided over by the celebrated Chekalinsky, who had passed all his life at the card table, and had amassed millions, accepting bills of exchange for his winnings, and paying his losses in ready money. His long experience secured for him the confidence of his companions, and his open house, his famous cook, and his agreeable and fascinating manners, gained for him the respect of the public. He came to St. Petersburg. The young men of the capital flocked to his rooms, forgetting balls for cards, and preferring the emotions of faro to the seductions of flirting. Naroumoff conducted Hermann to Chekalinsky's residence.
They passed through a suite of rooms, filled with attentive domestics. The place was crowded. Generals and Privy Counsellors were playing at whist, young men were lolling carelessly upon the velvet-covered sofas, eating ices and smoking pipes. In the drawing-room, at the head of a long table, around which were assembled about a score of players, sat the master of the house keeping the bank. He was a man of about sixty years of age, of a very dignified appearance; his head was covered with silvery white hair; his full, florid countenance expressed good-nature, and his eyes twinkled with a perpetual smile. Naroumoff introduced Hermann to him. Chekalinsky shook him by the hand in a friendly manner, requested him not to stand on ceremony, and then went on dealing.
The game occupied some time. On the table lay more than thirty cards. Chekalinsky paused after each throw, in order to give the players time to arrange their cards and note down their losses, listened politely to their requests, and more politely still, straightened the corners of cards that some player's hand had chanced to bend. At last the game was finished. Chekalinsky shuffled the cards, and prepared to deal again.
"Will you allow me to take a card?" said Hermann, stretching out his hand from behind a stout gentleman who was punting.
Chekalinsky smiled and bowed silently, as a sign of acquiescence. Naroumoff laughingly congratulated Hermann on his abjuration of that abstention from cards which he had practised for so long a period, and wished him a lucky beginning.
"Stake!" said Hermann, writing some figures with chalk on the back of his card.
"How much?" asked the banker, contracting the muscles of his eyes, "excuse me, I cannot see quite clearly."
"Forty-seven thousand roubles," replied Hermann. At these words every head in the room turned suddenly round, and all eyes were fixed upon Hermann.
"He has taken leave of his senses!" thought Naroumoff.
"Allow me to inform you," said Chekalinsky, with his eternal smile, "that you are playing very high; nobody here has ever staked more than two hundred and seventy-five roubles at once."
"Very well," replied Hermann, "but do you accept my card or not?"
Chekalinsky bowed in token of consent.
"I only wish to observe," said he, "that although I have the greatest confidence in my friends, I can only play against ready money. For my own part I am quite convinced that your word is sufficient, but for the sake of the order of the game, and to facilitate the reckoning up, I must ask you to put the money on your card."
Hermann drew from his pocket a bank-note, and handed it to Chekalinsky, who, after examining it in a cursory manner, placed it on Hermann's card.
He began to deal. On the right a nine turned up, and on the left a three.
"I have won!" said Hermann, showing his card.
A murmur of astonishment arose among the players. Chekalinsky frowned, but the smile quickly returned to his face. "Do you wish me to settle with you?" he said to Hermann.
"If you please," replied the latter.
Chekalinsky drew from his pocket a number of banknotes and paid at once. Hermann took up his money and left the table. Naroumoff could not recover from his astonishment. Hermann drank a glass of lemonade and returned home.
The next evening he again repaired to Chekalinsky's. The host was dealing. Hermann walked up to the table; the punters immediately made room for him. Chekalinsky greeted him with a gracious bow.
Hermann waited for the next deal, took a card and placed upon it his forty-seven thousand roubles, together with his winnings of the previous evening.
Chekalinsky began to deal. A knave turned up on the right, a seven on the left.
Hermann showed his seven.
There was a general exclamation. Chekalinsky was evidently ill at ease, but he counted out the ninety-four thousand roubles and handed them over to Hermann, who pocketed them in the coolest manner possible, and immediately left the house.
The next evening Hermann appeared again at the table. Everyone was expecting him. The generals and privy counsellors left their whist in order to watch such extraordinary play. The young officers quitted their sofas, and even the servants crowded into the room. All pressed round Hermann. The other players left off punting, impatient to see how it would end. Hermann stood at the table, and prepared to play alone against the pale, but still smiling Chekalinsky. Each opened a pack of cards. Chekalinsky shuffled. Hermann took a card and covered it with a pile of bank-notes. It was like a duel. Deep silence reigned around.
Chekalinsky began to deal, his hands trembled. On the right a queen turned up, and on the left an ace.
"Ace has won!" cried Hermann, showing his card.
"Your queen has lost," said Chekalinsky, politely.
Hermann started; instead of an ace, there lay before him the queen of spades! He could not believe his eyes, nor could he understand how he had made such a mistake.
At that moment it seemed to him that the queen of spades smiled ironically, and winked her eye at him. He was struck by her remarkable resemblance. . . .
"The old Countess!" he exclaimed, seized with terror. Chekalinsky gathered up his winnings. For some time Hermann remained perfectly motionless. When at last he left the table, there was a general commotion in the room.
"Splendidly punted!" said the players. Chekalinsky shuffled the cards afresh, and the game went on as usual.
. . . . .
Hermann went out of his mind, and is now confined in room number seventeen of the Oboukhoff Hospital. He never answers any questions, but he constantly mutters with unusual rapidity: "Three, seven, ace! Three, seven, queen!"
Lizaveta Ivanovna has married a very amiable young man, a son of the former steward of the old Countess. He is in the service of the State somewhere, and is in receipt of a good income. Lizaveta is also supporting a poor relative.
Tomsky has been promoted to the rank of captain, and has become the husband of the Princess Pauline.
The General's Will
It happened in winter, just before the holidays. Ivan Feodorovitch Lobnitchenko, the lawyer, whose office is in one of the main streets of St. Petersburg, was called hurriedly to witness the last will and testament of one at the point of death. The sick man was not strictly a client of Ivan Feodorovitch; under other circumstances, he might have refused to make this late call, after a day's heavy toil . . . but the dying man was an aristocrat and a millionaire, and such as he meet no refusals, whether in life, or, much more, at the moment of death.
Lobnitchenko, taking a secretary and everything necessary, with a sigh scratched himself behind the ear, and thrusting aside the thought of the delightful evening at cards that awaited him, set out to go to the sick man.
General Iuri Pavlovitch Nasimoff was far gone. Even the most compassionate doctors did not give him many days to live, when he finally decided to destroy the will which he had made long ago, not in St. Petersburg, but in the provincial city where he had played the Tsar for so many years. The general had come to the capital for a time, and had lain down—to rise no more.
This was the opinion of the physicians, and of most of those about him; the sick man himself was unwilling to admit it. He was a stalwart-hearted and until recently a stalwart-bodied old man, tall, striking, with an energetic face, and a piercing, masterful glance, hard to forget, even if you saw him only once.
He was lying on the sofa, in a richly furnished hotel suite, consisting of three of the best rooms. He received the lawyer gayly enough. He himself explained the circumstances to him, though every now and then compelled to stop by a paroxysm of pain, with difficulty repressing the groans which almost escaped him, in spite of all his efforts. During these heavy moments, Ivan Feodorovitch raised his eyes buried in fat to the sick man's face, and his plump little features were convulsed in sympathy with the sufferer's pain. As soon as the courageous old man, fighting hard with the paroxysms of pain, had got the better of them, taking his hands from his contorted face, and drawing a painful breath, he began anew to explain his will. Lobnitchenko dropped his eyes again and became all attention.
The general explained in detail to the lawyer. He had been married twice, and had three children, a son and a daughter from his first marriage, who had long ago reached adultship, and a nine-year-old daughter from his second marriage. His second wife and daughter he expected every day; they were abroad, but would soon return. His elder daughter would also probably come.
The lawyer was not acquainted with Nazimoff's family; indeed he had never before seen the general, though, like all Russia, he knew of him by repute. But judging from the tone of contempt or of pity with which he spoke of his second wife or her daughter, the lawyer guessed at once that the general's home life was not happy. The further explanations of the sick man convinced him of this. A new will was to be drawn up, directly contrary to the will signed six years before, which bequeathed to his second wife, Olga Vseslavovna, unlimited authority over their little daughter, and her husband's entire property. In the first will he had left nearly everything, with the exception of the family estate, which he did not feel justified in taking from his son, to his second wife and her daughter. Now he wished to restore to his elder children the rights which he had deprived them of, and especially to his eldest daughter, Anna Iurievna Borissova, who was not even mentioned in the first will. In the new will, with the exception of the seventh part, the widow's share, he divided the whole of his land and capital between his children equally; and he further appointed a strict guardianship over the property of his little daughter, Olga Iurievna.
The will was duly arranged, drawn up and witnessed, and after the three witnesses had signed it, it was left, by the general's wish, in his own keeping.
"I will send it to you to take care of," he said to the lawyer. "It will be safer in your hands than here, in my temporary quarters. But first I wish to read it to my wife, and . . . to my eldest daughter . . . if she arrives in time."
The lawyer and the priest, who was one of the witnesses, were already preparing to take leave of the general, when voices and steps were heard in the corridor; a footman's head appeared through the door, calling the doctor hurriedly forth. It appeared that the general's lady had arrived suddenly, without letting anyone know by telegram that she was coming.
The doctor hastily slipped out of the room; he feared the result of emotion on the sick man, and wished to warn the general's wife of his grave danger, but the sick man noticed the move, and it was impossible to guard him against disturbance.
"What is going on there?" he asked. "What are you mumbling about, Edouard Vicentevitch? Tell me what is the matter? Is it my daughter?"
"Your excellency, I beg of you to take care of yourself!" the doctor was beginning, evidently quite familiar with the general's family affairs, and therefore dreading the meeting of husband and wife. "It is not Anna Iurievna. . . ."
"Aha!" the sick man interrupted him; "she has come? Very well. Let her come in. Only the little one . . . I don't wish her to come . . . to-day."
Suffering was visible in his eyes, this time not bodily suffering.
The door opened, with the rustling of a silk dress. A tall, well- developed, and decidedly handsome woman appeared on the threshhold. She glanced at the pain-stricken face, which smiled contemptuously toward her. In a moment she was beside the general, kneeling beside him on the carpet, bending close to him, and pressing his hand, as she repeated in a despairing whisper:
"Oh, Georges! Georges! Is it really you, my poor friend?"
It would be hard to define the expression of rapidly changing emotions which passed over the sick man's face, which made his breast heave, and his great heart quiver and tremble painfully. Displeasure and pity, sympathy and contempt, anger and grief, all were expressed in the short, sharp, bitter laugh, and the few words which escaped his lips when he saw his little daughter timidly following her mother into his room.
"Do not teach her to lie!" and he nodded toward the child, and turned toward the wall, with an expression of pain and pity on his face. The lawyer and the priest hastened to take their leave and disappear.
"Ah! Sinners! sinners!" muttered the latter, as he descended the stairs.
"Things are not in good shape between them?" asked Lobnitchenko. "They don't get on well together?"
"How should they be in good shape, when he came here to get a divorce?" whispered the priest, shaping his fur cap. "But God decided otherwise. Even without a divorce, he will be separated forever from his wife!"
"I don't believe he is so very far gone. He is a stalwart old man. Perhaps he will pull through," went on the man of law.
"God's hand is over all," answered the priest, shrugging his shoulders. And so they went their different ways.
"OLGA!" cried the sick man, without turning round, and feeling near him the swift movement of his wife, he pushed her away with an impatient movement of his hand, and added, "Not you! my daughter Olga!"
"Olga! Go, my child, papa is calling you," cried the general's wife in a soft voice, in French, to the little girl, who was standing undecidedly in the center of the room.
"Can you not drop your foreign phrases?" angrily interrupted the general. "This is not a drawing-room! You might drop it, from a sense of decency."
His voice became shrill, and made the child shudder and begin to cry. She went to him timidly.
The general looked at her with an expression of pain. He drew her toward him with his left hand, raising the right to bless her.
"In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!" he whispered, making the sign of the cross over her. "God guard you from evil, from every bad influence. . . . Be kind . . . honest . . . most of all, be honest! Never tell lies. God guard you from falsehood, from lying, even more than from sorrow!"
Tears filled the dying man's eyes. Little Olga shuddered from head to foot; she feared her father, and at the same time was so sorry for him. But pity got the upper hand. She clung to him, wetting him with her tears. Her father raised his hand, wishing to make the sign of the cross once more over the little head which lay on his breast, but could not complete the gesture. His hand fell heavily, his face was once more contorted, with pain; he turned to those who stood near him, evidently avoiding meeting his wife's eyes, and whispered:
"Take her away. It is enough. Christ be with her!" And for a moment he collected strength to place his hand on the child's head.
The doctor took the little girl by the hand, but her mother moved quickly toward her.
"Kiss him! Kiss papa's hand!" she whispered, "bid him good-by!"
The general's wife sobbed, and covered her face with her handkerchief, with the grand gesture of a stage queen. The sick man did not see this. At the sound of her voice he frowned and closed his eyes tight, evidently trying not to listen. The doctor led the little girl away to another room and gave her to her governess.
When he came back to the sick man, the general, lying on the sofa, still in the same position, and without looking at his wife who stood beside his pillow, said to her:
"I expect my poor daughter Anna, who has suffered so much injustice through you. . . . I have asked her to forgive me. I shall pray her to be a mother to her little sister . . . . I have appointed her the child's guardian. She is good and honest . . . she will teach the child no evil. And this will be best for you also. You are provided for. You will find out from the new will. You could not have had any profit from being her guardian. If Anna does not consent to take little Olga to live with her, and to educate her with her own children, as I have asked her, Olga will be sent to a school. You will prefer liberty to your daughter; it will be pleasanter for you. Is it not so?"
Contempt and bitter irony were perceptible in his voice. His wife did not utter a syllable. She remained so quiet that it might have been thought she did not even hear him, but for the convulsive movement of her lips, and of the fingers of her tightly clasped hands.
The doctor once more made a movement to withdraw discreetly, but the general's voice stopped him.
"Edouard Vicentevitch? Is he here?"
"I am here, your excellency," answered the doctor, bending over the sick man. "Would not your excellency prefer to be carried to the bed? It will be more comfortable lying down."
"More comfortable to die?" sharply interrupted the general. "Why do you drivel? You know I detest beds and blankets. Drop it! Here, take this," and he gave him a sheet of crested paper folded in four, which was lying beside him. "Read it, please. Aloud! so that she may know."
He turned his eyes toward his wife. The doctor unwillingly began his unpleasant task. He was a man of fine feeling, and although he had no very high opinion of the general's wife, still she was a woman. And a beautiful woman. He would have preferred that she should learn from someone else how many of the pleasures of life were slipping away from her, in virtue of the new will. But there was nothing for it but to do as he was ordered. It was always hard to oppose Iuri Pavlovitch; now it was quite impossible.
Olga Vseslavovna listened to the reading of the will with complete composure. She sat motionless, leaning back in an armchair, with downcast eyes, and only showing her emotion when her husband was no longer able to stifle a groan. Then she turned toward him her pale, beautiful face, with evident signs of heartfelt sympathy, and was even rising to come to his assistance. The sick man impatiently refused her services, significantly turning his eyes toward the doctor, who was reading his last will and testament, as though he would say: "Listen! Listen! It concerns you."
It did concern her, without a doubt. General Nazimoff's wife learned that, instead of an income of a hundred thousand a year, which she had had a right to expect, she could count only on a sum sufficient to keep her from poverty; what in her opinion was a mere pittance.
The doctor finished reading, coughing to hide his confusion, and slowly folded the document.
"You have heard?" asked the general, in a faint, convulsive voice.
"I have heard, my friend," quietly answered his wife.
"You have nothing to say?"
"What can I say? You have a right to dispose of what belongs to you. . . . But . . . still I . . ."
"Still you what?" sharply asked her husband.
"Still, I hope, my friend, that this is not your last will. . . ."
General Nazimoff turned, and even made an effort to raise himself on his elbow.
"God willing, you will recover. Perhaps you will decide more than once to make other dispositions of your property," calmly continued his wife.
The sick man fell back on the pillows.
"You are mistaken. Even if I do not die, you will not be able to deceive me again. This is my last will!" he replied convulsively.
And with trembling hand he gave the doctor a bunch of keys.
"There is the dispatch box. Please open it, and put the will in."
The doctor obeyed his wish, without looking at Olga Vseslavovna. She, on her part, did not look at him. Shrugging her shoulders at her husband's last words, she remained motionless, noticing nothing except his sufferings. His sufferings, it seemed, tortured her.
Meanwhile the dying man followed the doctor with anxious eyes, and as soon as the latter closed the large traveling dispatch box he stretched out his hand to him for the keys.
"So long as I am alive, I will keep them!" he murmured, putting the bunch of keys away in his pocket. "And when I am dead, I intrust them to you, Edouard Vicentevitch. Take care of them, as a last service to me!" And he turned his face once more to the wall.
"And now, leave me alone! The pain is less. Perhaps I shall go to sleep. Leave me!"
"My friend! Permit me to remain near you," the general's wife began, bending tenderly over her husband.
"Go!" he cried sharply. "Leave me in peace, I tell you!"
She rose, trembling. The doctor hastily offered her his arm. She left the room, leaning heavily on him, and once more covering her face with her handkerchief, in tragic style.
"Be calm, your excellency!" whispered the doctor sympathetically, only half conscious of what he was saying. "These rooms have been prepared for you. You also need to rest, after such a long journey."
"Oh, I am not thinking about myself. I am so sorry for him. Poor, poor, senseless creature. How much I have suffered at his hands. He was always so suspicious, so hard to get on with. And whims and fantasies without end. You know, doctor, I have sometimes even thought he was not in full possession of his faculties."
"Hm!" murmured the doctor, coughing in confusion.
"Take this strange change of his will, for instance," the general's wife continued, not waiting for a clearer expression of sympathy. "Take his manner toward me. And for what reason?"
"Yes, it is very sad," murmured the doctor.
"Tell me, doctor, does he expect his son and daughter?"
"Only his daughter, Anna Iurievna. She promised to come, with her oldest children. A telegram came yesterday. We have been expecting her all day."
"What is the cause of this sudden tenderness? They have not seen each other for ten years. Does he expect her husband, too? His son-in-law, the pedagogue?" contemptuously asked the general's wife.
"No! How could he come? He could not leave his service. And his son, too, Peter Iurevitch, he cannot come at once. He is on duty, in Transcaspia. It is a long way."
"Yes, it is a long way!" assented the general's wife, evidently busy with other thoughts. "But tell me, Edouard Vicentevitch, this new will, has it been written long?"
"It was drawn up only to-day. The draft was prepared last week, but the general kept putting it off. But when his pains began this morning. . . ."
"Is it the end? Is it dangerous?" interrupted Olga Vseslavovna.
"Very—a very bad sign. When they began, Iuri Paylovitch sent at once for the lawyer. He was still here when you arrived."
"Yes. And the old will, which he made before, has been destroyed?"
"I do not know for certain. But I think not. Oh, no, I forgot. The general was going to send a telegram."
"Yes? to send a telegram?"
The general's wife shrugged her shoulders, sadly shook her head, and added:
"He is so changeable! so changeable! But I think it is all the same. According to law, only the last will is valid?"
"Yes, without doubt; the last."
The general's wife bowed her head.
"What hurts me most," she whispered, with a bitter smile, bending close to the young doctor, and leaning heavily on his arm, "what hurts me most, is not the money. I am not avaricious. But why should he take my child away from me? Why should he pass over her own mother, and intrust her to her half-sister? A woman whom I do not know, who has not distinguished herself by any services or good actions, so far as I know. I shall not submit. I shall contest the will. The law must support the right of the mother. What do you think, doctor?"
The doctor hastily assented, though, to tell the truth, he was not thinking of anything at the moment, except the strange manner in which the general's wife, while talking, pressed close to her companion.
At that moment a bell rang, and the general's loud voice was heard:
"Doctor! Edouard Vicentevitch!"
"Coming!" answered the doctor.
And leaving Olga Vseslavovna at the threshold of her room, he ran quickly to the sick man.
"A vigorous voice—for a dying man! He shouts as he used to at the manoeuvers!" thought the general's wife.
And her handsome face at once grew dark with the hate which stole over it. This was only a passing expression, however; it rapidly gave place to sorrow, when she saw the manservant coming from the sick man.
"What is the matter with your master, Yakov? Is he worse?"
"No, madam. God has been gracious. He told me to push the box nearer him, and ordered Edouard Vicentevitch to open it. He wants to send some telegram or other."
"Thank God, he is not worse. Yakov, I am going to send a telegram to the station myself, in a few minutes, by my coachman. You can give him the general's telegram, too."
"Very well, madam."
"And another thing. I shall not go to bed. If there is any change in your master's condition, Yakov, come and knock at my door at once. I beg of you, tell me the very moment anything happens. Here is something for you, Yakov;—you have grown thin, waiting upon your master!"
"I thank you most humbly, your excellency. We must not grudge our exertions," the man answered, putting a note of considerable value in his pocket.
Contrary to expectation, the night passed quietly enough. Emotion and weariness claimed their own; Olga Vseslavovna, in spite of all her efforts, fell into a sleep toward morning; and when she awoke, she started in dismay, noticing that the sun had already climbed high in the sky, and was pouring into her room.
Her maid, a deft Viennese, who had remained with this accommodating mistress for five years, quieted her by telling her that the master was better, that he was still asleep, not having slept for the greater part of the night.
"The doctor and Yakov were busy with him most of the night," she explained. "They were sorting all sorts of papers; some of them they tied up, writing something on them; others they tore up, or threw into the fire. The grate is full of ashes. Yakov told me."
"And there were no more telegrams?"
"No, madam, there were no more. Yakov and our Friedrich would have let me know at once; I was there in the anteroom; they both kept coming through on errands. But there were no more telegrams, except the two that were sent last night."
Olga Vseslavovna dressed, breakfasted, and went to her husband. But at the threshold of his room she was stopped by the direction of the sick man to admit no one without special permission except the doctor, or his eldest daughter, if she should come.
"Tell Edouard Vicentevitch to come out to me," ordered the general's wife. The doctor was called, and in great confusion confirmed the general's orders.
"But perhaps he did not think that such an order could apply to me?" she said, astonished.
The doctor apologized, but had to admit that it was she who was intended, and that his excellency had sent word to her excellency that she should not give herself the trouble of visiting him.
"He is out of his mind," declared the general's wife quietly, but with conviction, shrugging her shoulders. "Why should he hate me so—for all my love to him, an old man, who might have been my father?"
And Olga Vseslavovna once more took refuge in her pocket handkerchief, this time, instead of tears, giving vent to sobs of vexation.
The doctor, always shy in the presence of women, stood with hanging head and downcast eyes, as though he were to blame.
"What is it they are saying about you burning papers all night?" Olga Vseslavovna asked, in a weak voice.
"Oh, not nearly all night. Iuri Pavlovitch remembered that he ought to destroy some old letters and papers. There were some to be put in order. There, in the box, there is a packet addressed to your excellency. I was told to write the address."
"Indeed! Could I not see it?"
"Oh no, on no account. They are all locked up in the box along with the last will. And the general has the keys."
A bitter smile of humiliation played about the young woman's lips.
"So the new will has not been burned yet?" she asked. And to the startled negative of the doctor, who repeated that "it was lying on the top of the papers in the box," she added:
"Well, it will be burned yet. Do not fear. Especially if God in His mercy prolongs my husband's life. You see, he has always had a mysterious passion for writing new documents, powers of attorney, deeds of gift, wills, whatever comes into his mind. He writes new ones, and burns the old ones. But what can you do? We must submit to each new fancy. We cannot contradict a sick man."
Olga Vseslavovna went back to her room. She only left her bedroom for a few minutes that day, to hear the final word of the lights of the medical profession, who had come together for a general consultation in the afternoon; all the rest of the day she shut herself up. The conclusions of the physicians, though they differed completely in detail, were similar in the main, and far from comforting; the life and continued suffering of the sick man could not last more than a few days.
In the evening a telegram came from Anna Iurievna; she informed her father that she would be with him on the following day, at five in the afternoon.
"Shall I be able to hold out? Shall I last so long?" sighed the sick man, all day long. And the more he was disturbed in mind, the more threatening were his attacks of pain. He passed a bad night. Toward morning a violent attack, much worse than any that had gone before, almost carried him away. He could hardly breathe, owing to the sharp suffering. Hot baths for his hands and steam inhalations no longer had any beneficial effect, though they had alleviated his pain hitherto.
The doctor, the Sister of Mercy, and the servant wore themselves out. But still, as before, his wife alone was not admitted to him. She raged with anger, trying, and not without success, to convince everyone that she was going mad with despair. Little Olga had been taken away on the previous day by a friend of the general's, to stay there "during this terrible time." That night Madame Nazimoff did not go to bed at all; and, as befitted a devoted wife, did not quit her husband's door. When the violent attack just before dawn quieted down, she made an attempt to go in to him; but no sooner did the sick man see her at the head of his couch, on which he had at last been persuaded to lie, than strong displeasure was expressed in his face, and, no longer able to speak, he made an angry motion of his hand toward her, and groaned heavily. The Sister of Mercy with great firmness asked the general's wife not to trouble the sick man with her presence.
"And I am to put up with this. I am to submit to all this?" thought Olga Vseslavovna, writhing with wrath. "To endure all this from him, and after his death to suffer beggary? No, a thousand times no! Better death than penury and such insults." And she fell into gloomy thought.
That gesture of displeasure at the sight of his wife was the last conscious act of Iuri Pavlovitch Nazimoff. At eight in the morning he lost consciousness, in the midst of violent suffering, which lasted until the end. By the early afternoon he was no more.
During the last hour of his agony his wife knelt beside his couch without let or hindrance, and wept inconsolably. The formidable aristocrat and millionaire was dead.
Everything went on along the usual lines. The customary stir and unceremonious bustle, instead of cautious whispering, rose around the dead body, in preparation for a fashionable funeral. No near relatives were present except his wife, and she was confined to her room, half-fainting, half-hysterical. All responsibility fell on the humble doctor, and he busied himself indefatigably, conscientiously, in the sweat of his brow, making every effort to omit nothing. But, as always happens, he omitted the most important thing of all. The early twilight was already descending on St. Petersburg, shrouded in chilly mist, when Edouard Vicentevitch Polesski struck his brow in despair; he had suddenly remembered the keys and the box, committed to his care by the dying man. At that moment, the body, dressed in full uniform, with all his regalia, was lying in the great, darkened room on a table, covered with brocade, awaiting the coffin and the customary wreaths. The doctor rushed into the empty bedroom. Everything in it was already in order; the bed stood there, without mattress or pillows. There was nothing on the dressing table, either.
Where were the keys? Where was the box? The box was standing as before, untouched, locked. His heart at once felt lighter. But the keys? No doubt the police would come in a few minutes. It was astonishing that they had not come already. They would seal everything. Everything must be in order. Where was Yakov? Probably he had taken them. Or . . . the general's wife?
Polesski rushed to look for the manservant, but could not find him. There was so much to do; he had gone to buy something, to order something. "Oh Lord! And the announcement?" he suddenly remembered. It must be written at once, and sent to the newspapers. He must ask the general's wife, however, what words he should use. However much he might wish to avoid her, still she was now the most important person. And he could ask at the same time whether she had seen the keys.
The doctor went to the rooms of the general's wife. She was lying down, suffering severely, but she came out to him. "What words was he to use? It was all the same to her. 'With deep regret,' 'with heartfelt sorrow,' what did she care? The keys? What keys? No! she had not seen any keys, and did not know where they were. But why should he be disturbed about them? The servants were trustworthy; nothing would go astray."
"Yes, but we must have them ready for the police. They will come in a few minutes, to seal up the dead man's papers!"
"To seal up the papers? Why?"
"That is the law. So that everything should be intact, until after the last will and testament of the deceased has been read, according to his wishes."
General Nazimoff's wife paled perceptibly. She knew nothing of such an obstacle, and had not expected it. The doctor was too busy to notice her pallor.
"Very well; I shall write the announcement at once, and send it to the newspapers. I suppose 'Novoe Vremya' and 'Novosti' will be enough?"
"Do as you think best. Write it here, in my room. Here is everything you require; pens, paper. Write, and then read it to me. I shall be back in a moment. I want to put a bandage round my head. It aches so. Wait for me here." And the general's wife went from the sitting-room to her bedroom.