“We remained looking at each other for a time.”
“Do you know who he is?”
Miss Haldin, coming forward, put this question to me in English.
I took her offered hand.
“Everybody knows. He is a revolutionary feminist, a great writer, if you like, and—how shall I say it—the—the familiar guest of Madame de S—’s mystic revolutionary salon.”
Miss Haldin passed her hand over her forehead.
“You know, he was with me for more than an hour before you came in. I was so glad mother was lying down. She has many nights without sleep, and then sometimes in the middle of the day she gets a rest of several hours. It is sheer exhaustion—but still, I am thankful.... If it were not for these intervals....”
She looked at me and, with that extraordinary penetration which used to disconcert me, shook her head.
“No. She would not go mad.”
“My dear young lady,” I cried, by way of protest, the more shocked because in my heart I was far from thinking Mrs. Haldin quite sane.
“You don’t know what a fine, lucid intellect mother had,” continued Nathalie Haldin, with her calm, clear-eyed simplicity, which seemed to me always to have a quality of heroism.
“I am sure....” I murmured.
“I darkened mother’s room and came out here. I’ve wanted for so long to think quietly.”
She paused, then, without giving any sign of distress, added, “It’s so difficult,” and looked at me with a strange fixity, as if watching for a sign of dissent or surprise.
I gave neither. I was irresistibly impelled to say—
“The visit from that gentleman has not made it any easier, I fear.”
Miss Haldin stood before me with a peculiar expression in her eyes.
“I don’t pretend to understand completely. Some guide one must have, even if one does not wholly give up the direction of one’s conduct to him. I am an inexperienced girl, but I am not slavish, There has been too much of that in Russia. Why should I not listen to him? There is no harm in having one’s thoughts directed. But I don’t mind confessing to you that I have not been completely candid with Peter Ivanovitch. I don’t quite know what prevented me at the moment....”
She walked away suddenly from me to a distant part of the room; but it was only to open and shut a drawer in a bureau. She returned with a piece of paper in her hand. It was thin and blackened with close handwriting. It was obviously a letter.
“I wanted to read you the very words,” she said. “This is one of my poor brother’s letters. He never doubted. How could he doubt? They make only such a small handful, these miserable oppressors, before the unanimous will of our people.”
“Your brother believed in the power of a people’s will to achieve anything?”
“It was his religion,” declared Miss Haldin.