A sort of sinister jocularity had crept into the tones of the burly feminist. He seized Razumov’s arm above the elbow, and gave it a slight shake.
“Do you understand, enigmatical young man? It has got to be just filled up.”
Razumov kept an unmoved countenance.
“Don’t you think that I have already gone beyond meditation on that subject?” he said, freeing his arm by a quiet movement which increased the distance a little between himself and Peter Ivanovitch, as they went on strolling abreast. And he added that surely whole cartloads of words and theories could never fill that chasm. No meditation was necessary. A sacrifice of many lives could alone—He fell silent without finishing the phrase.
Peter Ivanovitch inclined his big hairy head slowly. After a moment he proposed that they should go and see if Madame de S— was now visible.
“We shall get some tea,” he said, turning out of the shaded gloomy walk with a brisker step.
The lady companion had been on the look out. Her dark skirt whisked into the doorway as the two men came in sight round the corner. She ran off somewhere altogether, and had disappeared when they entered the hall. In the crude light falling from the dusty glass skylight upon the black and white tessellated floor, covered with muddy tracks, their footsteps echoed faintly. The great feminist led the way up the stairs. On the balustrade of the first-floor landing a shiny tall hat reposed, rim upwards, opposite the double door of the drawing-room, haunted, it was said, by evoked ghosts, and frequented, it was to be supposed, by fugitive revolutionists. The cracked white paint of the panels, the tarnished gilt of the mouldings, permitted one to imagine nothing but dust and emptiness within. Before turning the massive brass handle, Peter Ivanovitch gave his young companion a sharp, partly critical, partly preparatory glance.
“No one is perfect,” he murmured discreetly. Thus, the possessor of a rare jewel might, before opening the casket, warn the profane that no gem perhaps is flawless.
He remained with his hand on the door-handle so long that Razumov assented by a moody “No.”
“Perfection itself would not produce that effect,” pursued Peter Ivanovitch, “in a world not meant for it. But you shall find there a mind—no!—the quintessence of feminine intuition which will understand any perplexity you may be suffering from by the irresistible, enlightening force of sympathy. Nothing can remain obscure before that—that—inspired, yes, inspired penetration, this true light of femininity.”
The gaze of the dark spectacles in its glossy steadfastness gave his face an air of absolute conviction. Razumov felt a momentary shrinking before that closed door.
“Penetration? Light,” he stammered out. “Do you mean some sort of thought-reading?”
Peter Ivanovitch seemed shocked.
“I mean something utterly different,” he retorted, with a faint, pitying smile.