“I entreat you, give it me. I shall keep it in memory of you . . . of our acquaintance. It’s so wonderful!”
“Take it,” she said, and blushed; “but there’s nothing wonderful about it.”
He looked at her in ecstasy, in silence, not knowing what to say.
“Why am I keeping you here in the heat?” she said after a brief pause, laughing. “Let us go indoors.”
“I am not disturbing you?”
They went into the hall. Yulia Sergeyevna ran upstairs, her white dress with blue flowers on it rustling as she went.
“I can’t be disturbed,” she answered, stopping on the landing. “I never do anything. Every day is a holiday for me, from morning till night.”
“What you say is inconceivable to me,” he said, going up to her. “I grew up in a world in which every one without exception, men and women alike, worked hard every day.”
“But if one has nothing to do?” she asked. “One has to arrange one’s life under such conditions, that work is inevitable. There can be no clean and happy life without work.”
Again he pressed the parasol to his bosom, and to his own surprise spoke softly, in a voice unlike his own:
“If you would consent to be my wife I would give everything—I would give everything. There’s no price I would not pay, no sacrifice I would not make.”
She started and looked at him with wonder and alarm.
“What are you saying!” she brought out, turning pale. “It’s impossible, I assure you. Forgive me.”
Then with the same rustle of her skirts she went up higher, and vanished through the doorway.
Laptev grasped what this meant, and his mood was transformed, completely, abruptly, as though a light in his soul had suddenly been extinguished. Filled with the shame of a man humiliated, of a man who is disdained, who is not liked, who is distasteful, perhaps disgusting, who is shunned, he walked out of the house.
“I would give everything,” he thought, mimicking himself as he went home through the heat and recalled the details of his declaration. “I would give everything—like a regular tradesman. As though she wanted your everything!”
All he had just said seemed to him repulsively stupid. Why had he lied, saying that he had grown up in a world where every one worked, without exception? Why had he talked to her in a lecturing tone about a clean and happy life? It was not clever, not interesting; it was false—false in the Moscow style. But by degrees there followed that mood of indifference into which criminals sink after a severe sentence. He began thinking that, thank God! everything was at an end and that the terrible uncertainty was over; that now there was no need to spend whole days in anticipation, in pining, in thinking always of the same thing. Now everything was clear; he must give up all hope of personal happiness, live without desires, without hopes, without dreams, or