She looked at him kindly. And truly, she had this morning, for the first time in all her brief but distorted life, given her body to a man—even though without enjoyment but more out of gratitude and pity, yet voluntarily—not for money, not under compulsion, not under threat of dismissal and scandal. And her feminine heart, always unwithering, always drawn to love, like a sunflower to the sun, was at this moment pure and inclined to tenderness.
But Lichonin suddenly felt a prickling, shameful awkwardness and something inimical toward this woman, yesterday unknown to him, now—his chance mistress. “The charms of the family hearth have begun,” he thought involuntarily; still, he got up from his chair, walked up to Liubka, and having taken her by the hand, drew her to him and patted her on the head.
“My dear, my darling sister,” he said touchingly and falsely; “that which has happened to-day must never more be repeated. In everything only I alone am guilty, and, if you desire, I am ready to beg forgiveness of you on my knees. Understand—oh, understand, that all this came about against my will, somehow elementally, suddenly, unexpectedly. And I myself didn’t think that it would be like that! You understand, for a very long time ... I have not known woman intimately ... A repulsive, unbridled beast awoke within me ... and ... But, Lord, is my fault so great, then? Holy people, anchorites, recluses, ascetics, stylites, hermits in deserts, are no match for me in fortitude of spirit—yet even they fell in the struggle with the temptation of the diabolical flesh. But then, I swear by whatever you wish, that this won’t be repeated any more ... Isn’t that so?”
Liubka was stubbornly trying to pull his hand away from hers. Her lips had become a little stuck out and the lowered lids began to wink frequently.
“Ye-es,” she drawled, like a child that stubbornly refuses to “make up.” “Well, I can see that I don’t please you. Well, then, you’d best tell me so straight and give me a little for a cab, and some more, now; as much as you want ... The money for the night is paid anyway, and I only have to ride up to ... there.”
Lichonin seized his hair, flung himself about the room and began to declaim:
“Ah, not that, not that, not that! Just understand me, Liuba! To go on with that which happened in the morning—that’s ... that’s swinishness, bestiality, and unworthy of a man who respects himself. Love! Love—this is a full blending of minds, thoughts, souls, interests, and not of the bodies alone. Love is a tremendous, great emotion, mighty as the universe, and not the sprawling in bed. There’s no such love between us, Liubochka. If it’ll come, it will be wonderful happiness both for you and for me. But in the meantime—I’m your friend, your faithful comrade, on the path of life. And that’s enough, and that will do ... And though I’m no stranger to human frailties, still, I count myself an honest man.”