“Misuce, go out of the room!” said Lida to her sister, apparently thinking my words pernicious to the young girl.
Genya looked mournfully at her mother and sister, and went out of the room.
“These are the charming things people say when they want to justify their indifference,” said Lida. “It is easier to disapprove of schools and hospitals, than to teach or heal.”
“That’s true, Lida—that’s true,” the mother assented.
“You threaten to give up working,” said Lida. “You evidently set a high value on your work. Let us give up arguing; we shall never agree, since I put the most imperfect dispensary or library of which you have just spoken so contemptuously on a higher level than any landscape.” And turning at once to her mother, she began speaking in quite a different tone: “The prince is very much changed, and much thinner than when he was with us last. He is being sent to Vichy.”
She told her mother about the prince in order to avoid talking to me. Her face glowed, and to hide her feeling she bent low over the table as though she were short-sighted, and made a show of reading the newspaper. My presence was disagreeable to her. I said good-bye and went home.
It was quite still out of doors; the village on the further side of the pond was already asleep; there was not a light to be seen, and only the stars were faintly reflected in the pond. At the gate with the lions on it Genya was standing motionless, waiting to escort me.
“Every one is asleep in the village,” I said to her, trying to make out her face in the darkness, and I saw her mournful dark eyes fixed upon me. “The publican and the horse-stealers are asleep, while we, well-bred people, argue and irritate each other.”
It was a melancholy August night—melancholy because there was already a feeling of autumn; the moon was rising behind a purple cloud, and it shed a faint light upon the road and on the dark fields of winter corn by the sides. From time to time a star fell. Genya walked beside me along the road, and tried not to look at the sky, that she might not see the falling stars, which for some reason frightened her.
“I believe you are right,” she said, shivering with the damp night air. “If people, all together, could devote themselves to spiritual ends, they would soon know everything.”
“Of course. We are higher beings, and if we were really to recognise the whole force of human genius and lived only for higher ends, we should in the end become like gods. But that will never be—mankind will degenerate till no traces of genius remain.”
When the gates were out of sight, Genya stopped and shook hands with me.
“Good-night,” she said, shivering; she had nothing but her blouse over her shoulders and was shrinking with cold. “Come to-morrow.”
I felt wretched at the thought of being left alone, irritated and dissatisfied with myself and other people; and I, too, tried not to look at the falling stars. “Stay another minute,” I said to her, “I entreat you.”