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Published by aravindpunna

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Published by: aravindpunna on Mar 16, 2013
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Three Years
IIT was dark, and already lights had begun to gleam here and there in the houses, and a pale moon wasrising behind the barracks at the end of the street. Laptev was sitting on a bench by the gate waiting for the end of the evening service at the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul. He was reckoning that YuliaSergeyevna would pass by on her way from the service, and then he would speak to her, and perhapsspend the whole evening with her.He had been sitting there for an hour and a half already, and all that time his imagination had been busy picturing his Moscow rooms, his Moscow friends, his man Pyotr, and his writing-table. He gazed half wonderingly at the dark, motionless trees, and it seemed strange to him that he was living now, not in hissummer villa at Sokolniki, but in a provincial town in a house by which a great herd of cattle was drivenevery morning and evening, accompanied by terrible clouds of dust and the blowing of a horn. Hethought of long conversations in which he had taken part quite lately in Moscow -- conversations inwhich it had been maintained that one could live without love, that passionate love was an obsession,that finally there is no such love, but only a physical attraction between the sexes -- and so on, in thesame style; he remembered them and thought mournfully that if he were asked now what love was, hecould not have found an answer.The service was over, the people began to appear. Laptev strained his eyes gazing at the dark figures.The bishop had been driven by in his carriage, the bells had stopped ringing, and the red and green lightsin the belfry were one after another extinguished -- there had been an illumination, as it was dedicationday -- but the people were still coming out, lingering, talking, and standing under the windows. But atlast Laptev heard a familiar voice, his heart began beating violently, and he was overcome with despair on seeing that Yulia Sergeyevna was not alone, but walking with two ladies."It's awful, awful!" he whispered, feeling jealous. "It's awful!"At the corner of the lane, she stopped to say good-bye to the ladies, and while doing so glanced atLaptev."I was coming to see you," he said. "I'm coming for a chat with your father. Is he at home?""Most likely," she answered. "It's early for him to have gone to the club."There were gardens all along the lane, and a row of lime-trees growing by the fence cast a broad patchof shadow in the moonlight, so that the gate and the fences were completely plunged in darkness on oneside, from which came the sounds of women whispering, smothered laughter, and someone playingsoftly on a balalaika. There was a fragrance of lime-flowers and of hay. This fragrance and the murmur of the unseen whispers worked upon Laptev. He was all at once overwhelmed with a passionate longingto throw his arms round his companion, to shower kisses on her face, her hands, her shoulders, to burstinto sobs, to fall at her feet and to tell her how long he had been waiting for her. A faint scarcely perceptible scent of incense hung about her; and that scent reminded him of the time when he, too, believed in God and used to go to evening service, and when he used to dream so much of pure romanticlove. And it seemed to him that, because this girl did not love him, all possibility of the happiness he haddreamed of then was lost to him forever.She began speaking sympathetically of the illness of his sister, Nina Fyodorovna. Two months before
his sister had undergone an operation for cancer, and now every one was expecting a return of thedisease."I went to see her this morning," said Yulia Sergeyevna, "and it seemed to me that during the last week she has, not exactly grown thin, but has, as it were, faded.""Yes, yes," Laptev agreed. "There's no return of the symptoms, but every day I notice she grows weaker and weaker, and is wasting before my eyes. I don't understand what's the matter with her.""Oh dear! And how strong she used to be, plump and rosy!" said Yulia Sergeyevna after a moment'ssilence. "Every one here used to call her the Moscow lady. How she used to laugh! On holidays she usedto dress up like a peasant girl, and it suited her so well."Doctor Sergey Borisovitch was at home; he was a stout, red-faced man, wearing a long coat that reached below his knees, and looking as though he had short legs. He was pacing up and down his study, withhis hands in his pockets, and humming to himself in an undertone, "Ru-ru-ru-ru." His grey whiskerslooked unkempt, and his hair was unbrushed, as though he had just got out of bed. And his study with pillows on the sofa, with stacks of papers in the corners, and with a dirty invalid poodle lying under thetable, produced the same impression of unkemptness and untidiness as himself."M. Laptev wants to see you," his daughter said to him, going into his study."Ru-ru-ru-ru," he hummed louder than ever, and turning into the drawing-room, gave his hand toLaptev, and asked: "What good news have you to tell me?"It was dark in the drawing-room. Laptev, still standing with his hat in his hand, began apologising for disturbing him; he asked what was to be done to make his sister sleep at night, and why she was growingso thin; and he was embarrassed by the thought that he had asked those very questions at his visit thatmorning."Tell me," he said, "wouldn't it be as well to send for some specialist on internal diseases from Moscow?What do you think of it?"The doctor sighed, shrugged his shoulders, and made a vague gesture with his hands.It was evident that he was offended. He was a very huffy man, prone to take offence, and always readyto suspect that people did not believe in him, that he was not recognised or properly respected, that his patients exploited him, and that his colleagues showed him ill-will. He was always jeering at himself,saying that fools like him were only made for the public to ride rough-shod over them.Yulia Sergeyevna lighted the lamp. She was tired out with the service, and that was evident from her  pale, exhausted face, and her weary step. She wanted to rest. She sat down on the sofa, put her hands onher lap, and sank into thought. Laptev knew that he was ugly, and now he felt as though he wereconscious of his ugliness all over his body. He was short, thin, with ruddy cheeks, and his hair hadgrown so thin that his head felt cold. In his expression there was none of that refined simplicity whichmakes even rough, ugly faces attractive; in the society of women, he was awkward, over-talkative,affected. And now he almost despised himself for it. He must talk that Yulia Sergeyevna might not be bored in his company. But what about? About his sister's illness again?And he began to talk about medicine, saying what is usually said. He approved of hygiene, and said thathe had long ago wanted to found a night-refuge in Moscow -- in fact, he had already calculated the costof it. According to his plan the workmen who came in the evening to the night-refuge were to receive a
supper of hot cabbage soup with bread, a warm, dry bed with a rug, and a place for drying their clothesand their boots.Yulia Sergeyevna was usually silent in his presence, and in a strange way, perhaps by the instinct of alover, he divined her thoughts and intentions. And now, from the fact that after the evening service shehad not gone to her room to change her dress and drink tea, he deduced that she was going to pay somevisit elsewhere."But I'm in no hurry with the night-refuge," he went on, speaking with vexation and irritability, andaddressing the doctor, who looked at him, as it were, blankly and in perplexity, evidently unable tounderstand what induced him to raise the question of medicine and hygiene. "And most likely it will bea long time, too, before I make use of our estimate. I fear our night-shelter will fall into the hands of our  pious humbugs and philanthropic ladies, who always ruin any undertaking."Yulia Sergeyevna got up and held out her hand to Laptev."Excuse me," she said, "it's time for me to go. Please give my love to your sister.""Ru-ru-ru-ru," hummed the doctor. "Ru-ru-ru-ru."Yulia Sergeyevna went out, and after staying a little longer, Laptev said good-bye to the doctor and wenthome. When a man is dissatisfied and feels unhappy, how trivial seem to him the shapes of the lime-trees, the shadows, the clouds, all the beauties of nature, so complacent, so indifferent! By now themoon was high up in the sky, and the clouds were scudding quickly below. "But how naïve and provincial the moon is, how threadbare and paltry the clouds!" thought Laptev. He felt ashamed of theway he had talked just now about medicine, and the night-refuge. He felt with horror that next day hewould not have will enough to resist trying to see her and talk to her again, and would again beconvinced that he was nothing to her. And the day after -- it would be the same. With what object? Andhow and when would it all end?At home he went in to see his sister. Nina Fyodorovna still looked strong and gave the impression o being a well-built, vigorous woman, but her striking pallor made her look like a corpse, especially when,as now, she was lying on her back with her eyes closed; her eldest daughter Sasha, a girl of ten yearsold, was sitting beside her reading aloud from her reading-book."Alyosha has come," the invalid said softly to herself.There had long been established between Sasha and her uncle a tacit compact, to take turns in sittingwith the patient. On this occasion Sasha closed her reading-book, and without uttering a word, wentsoftly out of the room. Laptev took an historical novel from the chest of drawers, and looking for theright page, sat down and began reading it aloud. Nina Fyodorovna was born in Moscow of a merchant family. She and her two brothers had spent their childhood and early youth, living at home in Pyatnitsky Street. Their childhood was long andwearisome; her father treated her sternly, and had even on two or three occasions flogged her, and her mother had had a long illness and died. The servants were coarse, dirty, and hypocritical; the house wasfrequented by priests and monks, also hypocritical; they ate and drank and coarsely flattered her father,whom they did not like. The boys had the good-fortune to go to school, while Nina was left practicallyuneducated. All her life she wrote an illegible scrawl, and had read nothing but historical novels.Seventeen years ago, when she was twenty-two, on a summer holiday at Himki, she made theacquaintance of her present husband, a landowner called Panaurov, had fallen in love with him, andmarried him secretly against her father's will. Panaurov, a handsome, rather impudent fellow, who

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