“I’ll come over sometimes for a night,” he said.
But it sounded as though he were making a concession, and did not satisfy him. When they stopped near Koltovitch’s copse to say good-bye, he bent down to Zina, touched her shoulder, and said:
“You are right, Zina! You have done well.” To avoid saying more and bursting into tears, he lashed his horse and galloped into the wood. As he rode into the darkness, he looked round and saw Vlassitch and Zina walking home along the road—he taking long strides, while she walked with a hurried, jerky step beside him—talking eagerly about something.
“I am an old woman!” thought Pyotr Mihalitch. “I went to solve the question and I have only made it more complicated—there it is!”
He was heavy at heart. When he got out of the copse he rode at a walk and then stopped his horse near the pond. He wanted to sit and think without moving. The moon was rising and was reflected in a streak of red on the other side of the pond. There were low rumbles of thunder in the distance. Pyotr Mihalitch looked steadily at the water and imagined his sister’s despair, her martyr-like pallor, the tearless eyes with which she would conceal her humiliation from others. He imagined her with child, imagined the death of their mother, her funeral, Zina’s horror. . . . The proud, superstitious old woman would be sure to die of grief. Terrible pictures of the future rose before him on the background of smooth, dark water, and among pale feminine figures he saw himself, a weak, cowardly man with a guilty face.
A hundred paces off on the right bank of the pond, something dark was standing motionless: was it a man or a tall post? Pyotr Mihalitch thought of the divinity student who had been killed and thrown into the pond.
“Olivier behaved inhumanly, but one way or another he did settle the question, while I have settled nothing and have only made it worse,” he thought, gazing at the dark figure that looked like a ghost. “He said and did what he thought right while I say and do what I don’t think right; and I don’t know really what I do think. . . .”
He rode up to the dark figure: it was an old rotten post, the relic of some shed.
From Koltovitch’s copse and garden there came a strong fragrant scent of lilies of the valley and honey-laden flowers. Pyotr Mihalitch rode along the bank of the pond and looked mournfully into the water. And thinking about his life, he came to the conclusion he had never said or acted upon what he really thought, and other people had repaid him in the same way. And so the whole of life seemed to him as dark as this water in which the night sky was reflected and water-weeds grew in a tangle. And it seemed to him that nothing could ever set it right.