“Oh, well!” he thought, walking quickly along the street, “the very beginning has been laid down, the most difficult part has been done. Hold fast, now, Lichonin, and don’t fall in spirit! What you’ve done is splendid and lofty. Let me be even a victim of this deed—it’s all one! It’s a shame, having done a good deed, to expect rewards for it right away. I’m not a little circus dog, and not a trained camel, and not the first pupil of a young ladies’ genteel institute. Only it was useless for me to let loose yesterday before these bearers of enlightenment. It all turned out to be silly, tactless, and, in any case, premature. But everything in life is reparable. A person will sustain the heaviest, most disgraceful things; but, time passes, and they are recalled as trifles ...”
To his amazement, Liubka was not especially struck, and did not at all become overjoyed when he triumphantly showed her the passport. She was only glad to see Lichonin again. Perhaps, this primitive, naive soul had already contrived to cleave to its protector? She did throw herself upon his neck, but he stopped her, and quietly, almost in her ear, asked her:
“Liubka, tell me ... don’t be afraid to tell the truth, no matter what it may be ... They told me just now, there in the house, that you’re sick with a certain disease ... you know, that which is called the evil sickness. If you believe in me even to some extent, tell me, my darling, tell me, is that so or not?”
She turned red, covered her face with her hands, fell down on the divan and burst into tears.
“My dearie! Vassil Vassilich! Vasinka! Honest to God! Honest to God, now, there never was anything of the kind! I always was so careful! I was awfully afraid of this. I love you so! I would have told you without fail.” She caught his hands, pressed them to her wet face and continued to assure him with the absurd and touching sincerity of an unjustly accused child.
And he at once believed her in his soul.
“I believe you, my child,” he said quietly, stroking her hair. “Don’t excite yourself, don’t cry. Only let us not again give in to our weakness. Well, it has happened—let it have happened; but let us not repeat it any more.’
“As you wish,” prattled the girl, kissing now his hands, now the cloth of his coat. “If I displease you so, then, of course, let it be as you wish.”
However, this evening also the temptation was again repeated, and kept on repeating until the falls from grace ceased to arouse a burning shame in Lichonin, and turned into a habit, swallowing and extinguishing remorse.