“Weren’t you ashamed,” I said to him, angrily, “thus to denounce us to the Commandant after giving me your solemn word not to do so?”
“As God is holy,” replied he, “I said nothing to Ivan Kouzmitch; it was Vassilissa Igorofna who wormed it all out of me. It was she who took all the necessary measures unknown to the Commandant. As it is, heaven be praised that it has all ended in this way.”
After this reply he returned to his quarters, and I remained alone with Chvabrine.
“Our affair can’t end thus,” I said to him.
“Certainly not,” rejoined Chvabrine. “You shall wash out your insolence in blood. But they will watch us; we must pretend to be friends for a few days. Good-bye.”
And we parted as if nothing had happened.
Upon my return to the Commandant’s, I sat down according to my custom by Marya Ivanofna; her father was not at home, and her mother was engaged with household cares. We spoke in a low voice Marya Ivanofna reproached me tenderly for the anxiety my quarrel with Chvabrine had occasioned her.
“My heart failed me,” said she, “when they came to tell us that you were going to draw swords on each other. How strange men are! For a word forgotten the next week they are ready to cut each other’s throats, and to sacrifice not only their life, but their honour, and the happiness of those who—But I am sure it was not you who began the quarrel; it was Alexey Ivanytch who was the aggressor.”
“What makes you think so, Marya?”
“Why, because—because he is so sneering. I do not like Alexey Ivanytch; I even dislike him. Yet, all the same, I should not have liked him to dislike me; it would have made me very uneasy.”
“And what do you think, Marya Ivanofna, does he dislike you or no?”
Marya Ivanofna looked disturbed, and grew very red.
“I think,” she said, at last, “I think he likes me.”
“Because he proposed to me.”
“Proposed to you! When?”
“Last year, two months before you came.”
“And you did not consent?”
“As you see, Alexey Ivanytch is a man of wit, and of good family, to be sure, well off, too; but only to think of being obliged to kiss him before everybody under the marriage crown! No, no; nothing in the world would induce me.”
The words of Marya Ivanofna enlightened me, and made many things clear to me. I understood now why Chvabrine so persistently followed her up. He had probably observed our mutual attraction, and was trying to detach us one from another.
The words which had provoked our quarrel seemed to me the more infamous when, instead of a rude and coarse joke, I saw in them a premeditated calumny.
The wish to punish the barefaced liar took more entire possession of me, and I awaited impatiently a favourable moment. I had not to wait long. On the morrow, just as I was busy composing an elegy, and I was biting my pen as I searched for a rhyme, Chvabrine tapped at my window. I laid down the pen, and I took up my sword and left the house.