“I don’t believe you,” I said one day. “You wouldn’t go there.”
“Don’t agitate yourself. I can’t lose much.”
“It’s not the question of what you lose,” I said with annoyance. “Has it never occurred to you while you were playing there that the glitter of gold, all these women, young and old, the croupiers, all the surroundings—that it is all a vile, loathsome mockery at the toiler’s labour, at his bloody sweat?
“If one doesn’t play, what is one to do here?” she asked. “The toiler’s labour and his bloody sweat—all that eloquence you can put off till another time; but now, since you have begun, let me go on. Let me ask you bluntly, what is there for me to do here, and what am I to do?”
“What are you to do?” I said, shrugging my shoulders. “That’s a question that can’t be answered straight off.”
“I beg you to answer me honestly, Vladimir Ivanitch,” she said, and her face looked angry. “Once I have brought myself to ask you this question, I am not going to listen to stock phrases. I am asking you,” she went on, beating her hand on the table, as though marking time, “what ought I to do here? And not only here at Nice, but in general?”
I did not speak, but looked out of window to the sea. My heart was beating terribly.
“Vladimir Ivanitch,” she said softly and breathlessly; it was hard for her to speak—“Vladimir Ivanitch, if you do not believe in the cause yourself, if you no longer think of going back to it, why . . . why did you drag me out of Petersburg? Why did you make me promises, why did you rouse mad hopes? Your convictions have changed; you have become a different man, and nobody blames you for it— our convictions are not always in our power. But . . . but, Vladimir Ivanitch, for God’s sake, why are you not sincere?” she went on softly, coming up to me. “All these months when I have been dreaming aloud, raving, going into raptures over my plans, remodelling my life on a new pattern, why didn’t you tell me the truth? Why were you silent or encouraged me by your stories, and behaved as though you were in complete sympathy with me? Why was it? Why was it necessary?”
“It’s difficult to acknowledge one’s bankruptcy,” I said, turning round, but not looking at her. “Yes, I have no faith; I am worn out. I have lost heart. . . . It is difficult to be truthful— very difficult, and I held my tongue. God forbid that any one should have to go through what I have been through.”
I felt that I was on the point of tears, and ceased speaking.
“Vladimir Ivanitch,” she said, and took me by both hands, “you have been through so much and seen so much of life, you know more than I do; think seriously, and tell me, what am I to do? Teach me! If you haven’t the strength to go forward yourself and take others with you, at least show me where to go. After all, I am a living, feeling, thinking being. To sink into a false position . . . to play an absurd part . . . is painful to me. I don’t reproach you, I don’t blame you; I only ask you.”