And lo! one day as he was skimming over some not quite fresh numbers of the Moscow News, Aratoff hit upon the following correspondence:
“With great sorrow,” wrote a certain local literary man from Kazan, “we insert in our theatrical chronicle the news of the sudden death of our gifted actress, Clara Militch, who had succeeded in the brief space of her engagement in becoming the favourite of our discriminating public. Our sorrow is all the greater because Miss Militch herself put an end to her young life, which held so much of promise, by means of poison. And this poisoning is all the more dreadful because the actress took the poison on the stage itself! They barely got her home, where, to universal regret, she died. Rumours are current in the town to the effect that unrequited love led her to that terrible deed.”
Aratoff softly laid the newspaper on the table. To all appearances he remained perfectly composed ... but something smote him simultaneously in his breast and in his head, and then slowly diffused itself through all his members. He rose to his feet, stood for a while on one spot, and again seated himself, and again perused the letter. Then he rose once more, lay down on his bed and placing his hands under his head, he stared for a long time at the wall like one dazed. Little by little that wall seemed to recede ... to vanish ... and he beheld before him the boulevard beneath grey skies and her in her black mantilla ... then her again on the platform ... he even beheld himself by her side.—That which had smitten him so forcibly in the breast at the first moment, now began to rise up ... to rise up in his throat.... He tried to cough, to call some one, but his voice failed him, and to his own amazement, tears which he could not restrain gushed from his eyes.... What had evoked those tears? Pity? Regret? Or was it simply that his nerves had been unable to withstand the sudden shock? Surely, she was nothing to him? Was not that the fact?
“But perhaps that is not true,” the thought suddenly occurred to him. “I must find out! But from whom? From the Princess?—No, from Kupfer ... from Kupfer? But they say he is not in Moscow.—Never mind! I must apply to him first!”
With these ideas in his head Aratoff hastily dressed himself, summoned a cab and dashed off to Kupfer.
He had not hoped to find him ... but he did. Kupfer actually had been absent from Moscow for a time, but had returned about a week previously and was even preparing to call on Aratoff again. He welcomed him with his customary cordiality, and began to explain something to him ... but Aratoff immediately interrupted him with the impatient question:
“Hast thou read it?—Is it true?”
“Is what true?” replied the astounded Kupfer.
“About Clara Militch?”
Kupfer’s face expressed compassion.—“Yes, yes, brother, it is true; she has poisoned herself. It is such a misfortune!”