“You mean to say you despise my past, and you are right,” she said, deeply stirred. “You belong to a special class of men who cannot be judged by ordinary standards; your moral requirements are exceptionally rigorous, and I understand you can’t forgive things. I understand you, and if sometimes I say the opposite, it doesn’t mean that I look at things differently from you; I speak the same old nonsense simply because I haven’t had time yet to wear out my old clothes and prejudices. I, too, hate and despise my past, and Orlov and my love. . . . What was that love? It’s positively absurd now,” she said, going to the window and looking down at the canal. “All this love only clouds the conscience and confuses the mind. The meaning of life is to be found only in one thing—fighting. To get one’s heel on the vile head of the serpent and to crush it! That’s the meaning of life. In that alone or in nothing.”
I told her long stories of my past, and described my really astounding adventures. But of the change that had taken place in me I did not say one word. She always listened to me with great attention, and at interesting places she rubbed her hands as though vexed that it had not yet been her lot to experience such adventures, such joys and terrors. Then she would suddenly fall to musing and retreat into herself, and I could see from her face that she was not attending to me.
I closed the windows that looked out on the canal and asked whether we should not have the fire lighted.
“No, never mind. I am not cold,” she said, smiling listlessly. “I only feel weak. Do you know, I fancy I have grown much wiser lately. I have extraordinary, original ideas now. When I think of my past, of my life then . . . people in general, in fact, it is all summed up for me in the image of my stepmother. Coarse, insolent, soulless, false, depraved, and a morphia maniac too. My father, who was feeble and weak-willed, married my mother for her money and drove her into consumption; but his second wife, my stepmother, he loved passionately, insanely. . . . What I had to put up with! But what is the use of talking! And so, as I say, it is all summed up in her image. . . . And it vexes me that my stepmother is dead. I should like to meet her now!”
“I don’t know,” she answered with a laugh and a graceful movement of her head. “Good-night. You must get well. As soon as you are well, we’ll take up our work. . . It’s time to begin.”
After I had said good-night and had my hand on the door-handle, she said:
“What do you think? Is Polya still living there?”
And I went off to my room. So we spent a whole month. One grey morning when we both stood at my window, looking at the clouds which were moving up from the sea, and at the darkening canal, expecting every minute that it would pour with rain, and when a thick, narrow streak of rain covered the sea as though with a muslin veil, we both felt suddenly dreary. The same day we both set off for Florence.