“He does not despise ideas; he is afraid of them,” I cried. “He is a coward and a liar.”
“Oh, very well. He is a coward and a liar, and deceived me. And you? Excuse my frankness; what are you? He deceived me and left me to take my chance in Petersburg, and you have deceived me and abandoned me here. But he did not mix up ideas with his deceit, and you . . .”
“For goodness’ sake, why are you saying this?” I cried in horror, wringing my hands and going up to her quickly. “No, Zinaida Fyodorovna, this is cynicism. You must not be so despairing; listen to me,” I went on, catching at a thought which flashed dimly upon me, and which seemed to me might still save us both. “Listen. I have passed through so many experiences in my time that my head goes round at the thought of them, and I have realised with my mind, with my racked soul, that man finds his true destiny in nothing if not in self-sacrificing love for his neighbour. It is towards that we must strive, and that is our destination! That is my faith!”
I wanted to go on to speak of mercy, of forgiveness, but there was an insincere note in my voice, and I was embarrassed.
“I want to live!” I said genuinely. “To live, to live! I want peace, tranquillity; I want warmth—this sea here—to have you near. Oh, how I wish I could rouse in you the same thirst for life! You spoke just now of love, but it would be enough for me to have you near, to hear your voice, to watch the look in your face . . . !”
She flushed crimson, and to hinder my speaking, said quickly:
“You love life, and I hate it. So our ways lie apart.”
She poured herself out some tea, but did not touch it, went into the bedroom, and lay down.
“I imagine it is better to cut short this conversation,” she said to me from within. “Everything is over for me, and I want nothing . . . . What more is there to say?”
“No, it’s not all over!”
“Oh, very well! . . . I know! I am sick of it. . . . That’s enough.”
I got up, took a turn from one end of the room to the other, and went out into the corridor. When late at night I went to her door and listened, I distinctly heard her crying.
Next morning the waiter, handing me my clothes, informed me, with a smile, that the lady in number thirteen was confined. I dressed somehow, and almost fainting with terror ran to Zinaida Fyodorovna. In her room I found a doctor, a midwife, and an elderly Russian lady from Harkov, called Darya Milhailovna. There was a smell of ether. I had scarcely crossed the threshold when from the room where she was lying I heard a low, plaintive moan, and, as though it had been wafted me by the wind from Russia, I thought of Orlov, his irony, Polya, the Neva, the drifting snow, then the cab without an apron, the prediction I had read in the cold morning sky, and the despairing cry “Nina! Nina!”
“Go in to her,” said the lady.