“We keep going round and round and never reach the real point. The real point is that you made a mistake, and you won’t acknowledge it aloud. You imagined that I was a hero, and that I had some extraordinary ideas and ideals, and it has turned out that I am a most ordinary official, a cardplayer, and have no partiality for ideas of any sort. I am a worthy representative of the rotten world from which you have run away because you were revolted with its triviality and emptiness. Recognise it and be just: don’t be indignant with me, but with yourself, as it is your mistake, and not mine.”
“Yes, I admit I was mistaken.”
“Well, that’s all right, then. We’ve reached that point at last, thank God. Now hear something more, if you please: I can’t rise to your level—I am too depraved; you can’t descend to my level, either, for you are too exalted. So there is only one thing left to do. . . .”
“What?” Zinaida Fyodorovna asked quickly, holding her breath and turning suddenly as white as a sheet of paper.
“To call logic to our aid. . . .”
“Georgy, why are you torturing me?” Zinaida Fyodorovna said suddenly in Russian in a breaking voice. “What is it for? Think of my misery . . . .”
Orlov, afraid of tears, went quickly into his study, and I don’t know why—whether it was that he wished to cause her extra pain, or whether he remembered it was usually done in such cases—he locked the door after him. She cried out and ran after him with a rustle of her skirt.
“What does this mean?” she cried, knocking at his door. “What . . . what does this mean?” she repeated in a shrill voice breaking with indignation. “Ah, so this is what you do! Then let me tell you I hate you, I despise you! Everything is over between us now.”
I heard hysterical weeping mingled with laughter. Something small in the drawing-room fell off the table and was broken. Orlov went out into the hall by another door, and, looking round him nervously, he hurriedly put on his great-coat and went out.
Half an hour passed, an hour, and she was still weeping. I remembered that she had no father or mother, no relations, and here she was living between a man who hated her and Polya, who robbed her—and how desolate her life seemed to me! I do not know why, but I went into the drawing-room to her. Weak and helpless, looking with her lovely hair like an embodiment of tenderness and grace, she was in anguish, as though she were ill; she was lying on a couch, hiding her face, and quivering all over.
“Madam, shouldn’t I fetch a doctor?” I asked gently.
“No, there’s no need . . . it’s nothing,” she said, and she looked at me with her tear-stained eyes. “I have a little headache. . . . Thank you.”
I went out, and in the evening she was writing letter after letter, and sent me out first to Pekarsky, then to Gruzin, then to Kukushkin, and finally anywhere I chose, if only I could find Orlov and give him the letter. Every time I came back with the letter she scolded me, entreated me, thrust money into my hand—as though she were in a fever. And all the night she did not sleep, but sat in the drawing-room, talking to herself.