HAPPENING to go one day in Varvara Pavlovnas absence into her boudoir, Lavretsky saw on the floor a carefully folded little paper. He mechanically picked it up, unfolded it, and read the following note, written in French:
Sweet angel Betsy (I never can make up my mind to call you Barbe or Varvara), I waited in vain for you at the corner of the boulevard; come to our little room at half-past one to-morrow. Your stout good-natured husband (ton gros bonhomme de mari) is usually buried in his books at that time; we will sing once more the song of your poet Pouskine (de votre poète Pouskine) that you taught me: Old husband, cruel husband! A thousand kisses on your little hands and feet. I await you.
Lavretsky did not at once understand what he had read; he read it a second time, and his head began to swim, the ground began to sway under his feet like the deck of a ship in a rolling sea. He began to cry out and gasp and weep all at the same instant.
He was utterly overwhelmed. He had so blindly believed in his wife; the possibility of deception, of treason, had never presented itself to his mind. This Ernest, his wifes lover, was a fair-haired pretty boy of three-and-twenty, with a little turned-up nose and refined little moustaches, almost the most insignificant of all her acquaintances. A few minutes passed, half an hour passed, Lavretsky still stood, crushing the fatal note in his hands, and gazing senselessly at the floor; across a kind of tempest of darkness pale shapes hovered about him; his heart was numb with anguish; he seemed to be falling, fallingand a bottomless abyss was opening at his feet. A familiar light rustle of a silk dress roused him from his numbness; Varvara Pavlovna in her hat and shawl was returning in haste from her walk. Lavretsky trembled all over and rushed away; he felt that at that instant he was capable of tearing her to pieces, beating her to death, as a peasant might do, strangling her with his own hands. Varvara Pavlovna in amazement tried to stop him; he could only whisper, Betsy,and ran out of the house.
Lavretsky took a cab and ordered the man to drive him out of the town. All the rest of the day and the whole night he wandered about, constantly stopping short and wringing his hands, at one moment he was mad, and the next he was ready to laugh, was even merry after a fashion. By the morning he grew calm through exhaustion, and went into a wretched tavern in the outskirts, asked for a room and sat down on a chair before the window. He was overtaken by a fit of convulsive yawning. He could scarcely stand upright, his whole body was worn out, and he did not even feel fatigue, though fatigue began to do its work; he sat and gazed and comprehended nothing; he did not understand what had happened to him, why he found himself alone, with his limbs stiff, with a taste of bitterness in his mouth, with a load on his heart, in an empty unfamiliar room; he did not understand what had impelled her, his Varya, to give herself to this Frenchman, and how, knowing herself unfaithful, she could go on being just as calm, just as affectionate, as confidential with him as before! I cannot understand it! his parched lips whispered. Who can guarantee now that even in Petersburg And he did not finish the question, and yawned again, shivering and shaking all over. Memoriesbright and gloomyfretted him alike; suddenly it crossed his mind how some days before she had sat down to the piano and sung before him and Ernest the song, Old husband, cruel husband! He recalled the expression of her face, the strange light in her eyes, and the colour on her cheeksand he got up from his seat, he would have liked to go to them, to tell them: You were wrong to play your tricks on me; my great-grandfather used to hang the peasants up by their ribs, and my grandfather was himself a peasant, and to kill them both. Then all at once it seemed to him as if all that was happening was a dream, scarcely even a dream, but some kind of foolish joke; that he need only shake himself and look round. He looked round, and like a hawk clutching its captured prey, anguish gnawed deeper and deeper into his heart. To complete it all, Lavretsky had been hoping in a few months to be a father. The past, the future, his whole life was poisoned. He went back at last to Paris, stopped at an hotel and sent M. Ernests note to Varvara Pavlovna with the following letter:
The enclosed scrap of paper will explain everything to you. Let me tell you by the way, that I was surprised at you; you, who are always so careful, to leave such valuable papers lying about. (Poor Lavretsky had spent hours preparing and gloating over this phrase.) I cannot see you again; I imagine that you, too, would hardly desire an interview with me. I am assigning you 15,000 francs a year; I cannot give more. Send your address to the office of the estate. Do what you please; live where you please. I wish you happiness. No answer is needed.
Lavretsky wrote to his wife that he needed no answer but he waited, he thirsted for a reply, for an explanation of this incredible, inconceivable thing. Varvara Pavlovna wrote him the same day a long letter in French. It put the finishing touch; his last doubts vanished,and he began to feel ashamed that he had still had any doubt left. Varvara Pavlovna did not attempt to defend herself; her only desire was to see him, she besought him not to condemn her irrevocably. The letter was cold and constrained, though here and there traces of tears were visible. Lavretsky smiled bitterly, and sent word by the messenger that it was all right. Three days later he was no longer in Paris; but he did not go to Russia, but to Italy. He did not know himself why he fixed upon Italy; he did not really care where he wentso long as it was not home. He sent instructions to his steward on the subject of his wifes allowance, and at the same time told him to take all control of his property out of General Korobyins hands at once, without waiting for him to draw up an account, and to make arrangements for his Excellencys departure from Lavriky; he could picture vividly the confusion, the vain airs of self-importance of the dispossessed general, and in the midst of all his sorrow, he felt a kind of spiteful satisfaction. At the same time he asked Glafira Petrovna by letter to return to Lavriky, and drew up a deed authorising her to take possession; Glafira Petrovna did not return to Lavriky, and printed in the newspapers that the deed was cancelled, which was perfectly unnecessary on her part. Lavretsky kept out of sight in a small Italian town, but for a long time he could not help following his wifes movements. From the newspapers he learned that she had gone from Paris to Baden as she had arranged; her name soon appeared in an article written by the same M. Jules. In this article there was a kind of sympathetic condolence apparent under the habitual playfulness; there was a deep sense of disgust in the soul of Fedor Ivanitch as he read this article. Afterwards he learned that a daughter had been born to him; two months later he received a notification from his steward that Varvara Pavlovna had asked for the first quarters allowance. Then worse and worse rumours began to reach him; at last, a tragic-comic story was reported with acclamations in all the papers. His wife played an unenviable part in it. It was the finishing stroke; Varvara Pavlovna had become a notoriety.
Lavretsky ceased to follow her movements; but he could not quickly gain mastery over himself. Sometimes he was overcome by such a longing for his wife that he would have given up everything, he thought, even, perhaps could have forgiven her, only to hear her caressing voice again, to feel again her hand in his. Time, however, did not pass in vain. He was not born to be a victim; his healthy nature reasserted its rights. Much became clear to him; even the blow that had fallen on him no longer seemed to him to have been quite unforeseen; he understood his wife,we can only fully understand those who are near to us, when we are separated from them. He could take up his interests, could work again, though with nothing like his former zeal; scepticism, half-formed already by the experiences of his life, and by his education, took complete possession of his heart. He became indifferent to everything. Four years passed by, and he felt himself strong enough to return to his country, to meet his own people. Without stopping at Petersburg or at Moscow he came to the town of O, where we parted from him, and whither we will now ask the indulgent reader to return with us.