“J’ai force la consigne,” she said, walking in with rapid steps and breathing hard with excitement and rapid exercise. “I have heard all! Alexey Alexandrovitch! Dear friend!” she went on, warmly squeezing his hand in both of hers and gazing with her fine pensive eyes into his.
Alexey Alexandrovitch, frowning, got up, and disengaging his hand, moved her a chair.
“Won’t you sit down, countess? I’m seeing no one because I’m unwell, countess,” he said, and his lips twitched.
“Dear friend!” repeated Countess Lidia Ivanovna, never taking her eyes off his, and suddenly her eyebrows rose at the inner corners, describing a triangle on her forehead, her ugly yellow face became still uglier, but Alexey Alexandrovitch felt that she was sorry for him and was preparing to cry. And he too was softened; he snatched her plump hand and proceeded to kiss it.
“Dear friend!” she said in a voice breaking with emotion. “You ought not to give way to grief. Your sorrow is a great one, but you ought to find consolation.”
“I am crushed, I am annihilated, I am no longer a man!” said Alexey Alexandrovitch, letting go her hand, but still gazing into her brimming eyes. “My position is so awful because I can find nowhere, I cannot find within me strength to support me.”
“You will find support; seek it—not in me, though I beseech you to believe in my friendship,” she said, with a sigh. “Our support is love, that love that He has vouchsafed us. His burden is light,” she said, with the look of ecstasy Alexey Alexandrovitch knew so well. “He will be your support and your succor.”
Although there was in these words a flavor of that sentimental emotion at her own lofty feelings, and that new mystical fervor which had lately gained ground in Petersburg, and which seemed to Alexey Alexandrovitch disproportionate, still it was pleasant to him to hear this now.
“I am weak. I am crushed. I foresaw nothing, and now I understand nothing.”
“Dear friend,” repeated Lidia Ivanovna.
“It’s not the loss of what I have not now, it’s not that!” pursued Alexey Alexandrovitch. “I do not grieve for that. But I cannot help feeling humiliated before other people for the position I am placed in. It is wrong, but I can’t help it, I can’t help it.”
“Not you it was performed that noble act of forgiveness, at which I was moved to ecstasy, and everyone else too, but He, working within your heart,” said Countess Lidia Ivanovna, raising her eyes rapturously, “and so you cannot be ashamed of your act.”
Alexey Alexandrovitch knitted his brows, and crooking his hands, he cracked his fingers.