Madame Milovidoff withdrew. When Aratoff was left alone with Anna Semyonovna he repeated his speech; but from the first glance he understood that he had to deal with a girl who really was cultured, not with a merchant’s daughter,—and so he enlarged somewhat, and employed different expressions;—and toward the end he became agitated, flushed, and felt conscious that his heart was beating hard. Anna Semyonovna listened to him in silence, with her hands folded; the sad smile did not leave her face ... bitter woe which had not ceased to cause pain, was expressed in that smile.
“Did you know my sister?” she asked Aratoff.
“No; properly speaking, I did not know her,” he replied. “I saw and heard your sister once ... but all that was needed was to hear and see your sister once, in order to....”
“Do you mean to write her biography?” Anna put another question.
Aratoff had not expected that word; nevertheless, he immediately answered “Why not?” But the chief point was that he wished to acquaint the public....
Anna stopped him with a gesture of her hand.
“To what end? The public caused her much grief without that; and Katya had only just begun to live. But if you yourself” (Anna looked at him and again smiled that same sad smile, only now it was more cordial ... apparently she was thinking: “Yes, thou dost inspire me with confidence”) ... “if you yourself cherish such sympathy for her, then permit me to request that you come to us this evening ... after dinner. I cannot now ... so suddenly.... I will collect my forces.... I will make an effort.... Akh, I loved her too greatly!”
Anna turned away; she was on the point of bursting into sobs.
Aratoff rose alertly from his chair, thanked her for her proposal, said that he would come without fail ... without fail! and went away, bearing in his soul an impression of a quiet voice, of gentle and sorrowful eyes—and burning with the languor of anticipation.
Aratoff returned to the Milovidoffs’ house that same day, and conversed for three whole hours with Anna Semyonovna. Madame Milovidoff went to bed immediately after dinner—at two o’clock—and “rested” until evening tea, at seven o’clock. Aratoff’s conversation with Clara’s sister was not, properly speaking, a conversation: she did almost the whole of the talking, at first with hesitation, with confusion, but afterward with uncontrollable fervour. She had, evidently, idolised her sister. The confidence wherewith Aratoff had inspired her waxed and strengthened; she was no longer embarrassed; she even fell to weeping softly, twice, in his presence. He seemed to her worthy of her frank revelations and effusions. Nothing of that sort had ever before come into her own dull life!... And he ... he drank in her every word.
This, then, is what he learned ... much of it, as a matter of course, from what she refrained from saying ... and much he filled out for himself.