BORIS had not succeeded in marrying a wealthy heiress in Petersburg, and it was with that object that he had come to Moscow. In Moscow Boris found himself hesitating between two of the wealthiest heiresses,— Julie and Princess Marya. Though Princess Marya, in spite of her plainness, seemed to him anyway more attractive than Julie, he felt vaguely awkward in paying court to the former. In his last conversation with her, on the old prince's name-day, she had met all his attempts to talk of the emotions with irrelevant replies, and had obviously not heard what he was saying.
Julie, on the contrary, received his attentions eagerly, though she showed it in a peculiar fashion of her own.
Julie was seven-and-twenty. By the death of her two brothers she had become extremely wealthy. She had by now become decidedly plain. But she believed herself to be not merely as pretty as ever, but actually far more attractive than she had ever been. She was confirmed in this delusion by having become a very wealthy heiress, and also by the fact that as she grew older her society involved less risk for men, and they could behave with more freedom in their intercourse with her, and could profit by her suppers, her soirées, and the lively society that gathered about her, without incurring any obligations to her. A man who would have been afraid of going ten years before to a house where there was a young girl of seventeen, for fear of compromising her and binding himself, would now boldly visit her every day, and treat her not as a marriageable girl, but as an acquaintance of no sex.
The Karagins' house was that winter one of the most agreeable and hospitable houses in Moscow. In addition to the dinner-parties and soirées, to which guests came by invitation, there were every day large informal gatherings at the Karagins', principally of men, who had supper there at midnight and stayed on till three o'clock in the morning. Julie did not miss a single ball, entertainment, or theatre. Her dresses were always of the most fashionable. But in spite of that, Julie appeared to have lost all illusions, told every one that she had no faith in love or friendship, or any of the joys of life, and looked for consolation only to the realm beyond. She had adopted the tone of a girl who has suffered a great disappointment, a girl who has lost her lover or been cruelly deceived by him. Though nothing of the kind had ever happened to her, she was looked upon as having been disappointed in that way, and she did in fact believe herself that she had suffered a great deal in her life. This melancholy neither hindered her from enjoying herself nor hindered young men from spending their time very agreeably in her society. Every guest who visited at the house paid his tribute to the melancholy temper of the hostess, and then proceeded to enjoy himself in society gossip, dancing, intellectual games, or bouts rimés which were in fashion at the Karagins'. A few young men only, among them Boris, entered more deeply into Julie's melancholy, and with these young men she had more prolonged and secluded conversations on the nothingness of all things earthly, and to them she opened her albums, full of mournful sketches, sentences, and verses.
Julie was particularly gracious to Boris. She deplored his early disillusionment with life, offered him those consolations of friendship she was so well able to offer, having herself suffered so cruelly in life, and opened her album to him. Boris sketched two trees in her album, and wrote under them: “Rustic trees, your gloomy branches shed darkness and melancholy upon me.”
In another place he sketched a tomb and inscribed below it:—
Ah, there is no other refuge from sorrow!”
Julie said that couplet was exquisite.
“There is something so ravishing in the smile of melancholy,” she said to Boris, repeating word for word a passage copied from a book. “It is a ray of light in the shadow, a blend between grief and despair, which shows consolation possible.”
Upon that Boris wrote her the following verses in French:—
Thou, without whom happiness would be impossible to me,
Tender melancholy, ah, come and console me,
Come, calm the torments of my gloomy retreat,
And mingle a secret sweetness with the tears I feel flowing.”
Julie played to Boris the most mournful nocturnes on the harp. Boris read aloud to her the romance of Poor Liza, and more than once broke down in reading it from the emotion that choked his utterance. When they met in general society Julie and Boris gazed at one another as though they were the only people existing in the world, disillusioned and comprehending each other.
Anna Mihalovna, who often visited the Karagins, took a hand at cards with the mother, and meanwhile collected trustworthy information as to the portion that Julie would receive on her marriage (her dowry was to consist of two estates in the Penza province and forests in the Nizhnigorod province). With tender emotion and deep resignation to the will of Providence, Anna Mihalovna looked on at the refined sadness that united her soul to the wealthy Julie.
“Still as charming and as melancholy as ever, my sweet Julie,” she would say to the daughter. “Boris says he finds spiritual refreshment in your house. He has suffered such cruel disillusionment, and he is so sensitive,” she would say to the mother.
“Ah, my dear, how attached I have grown to Julie lately,” she would say to her son, “I can't tell you. But, indeed, who could help loving her! A creature not of this earth! Ah, Boris! Boris!” She paused for a moment. “And how I feel for her mother,” she would go on. “She showed me today the letters and accounts from Penza (they have an immense estate there), and she, poor thing, with no one to help her. They do take such advantage of her!”
Boris heard his mother with a faintly perceptible smile. He laughed blandly at her simple-hearted wiles, but he listened to her and sometimes questioned her carefully about the Penza and Nizhnigorod estates.
Julie had long been expecting an offer from her melancholy adorer, and was fully prepared to accept it. But a sort of secret feeling of repulsion for her, for her passionate desire to be married, for her affectation and a feeling of horror at renouncing all possibility of real love made Boris still delay. The term of his leave was drawing to a close. Whole days at a time, and every day he spent at the Karagins'; and each day Boris resolved, as he thought things over, that he would make an offer on the morrow. But in Julie's presence, as he watched her red face and her chin, almost always sprinkled with powder, her moist eyes, and the expression of her countenance, which betokened a continual readiness to pass at once from melancholy to the unnatural ecstasies of conjugal love, Boris could not utter the decisive word, although in imagination he had long regarded himself as the owner of the Penza and Nizhnigorod estates, and had disposed of the expenditure of their several revenues. Julie saw the hesitation of Boris, and the idea did sometimes occur to her that she was distasteful to him. But feminine self-flattery promptly afforded her comfort, and she assured herself that it was love that made him retiring. Her melancholy was, however, beginning to pass into irritability, and not long before the end of Boris's leave she adopted a decisive plan of action. Just before the expiration of Boris's leave there appeared in Moscow, and—it need hardly be said—also in the drawing-room of the Karagins', no less a person than Anatole Kuragin, and Julie, abruptly abandoning her melancholy, became exceedingly lively and cordial to Kuragin.
“My dear,” said Anna Mihalovna to her son, “I know from a trust-worthy source that Prince Vassily is sending his son to Moscow to marry him to Julie. I am so fond of Julie that I should be most sorry for her. What do you think about it, my dear?” said Anna Mihalovna.
Boris was mortified at the idea of being unsuccessful, of having wasted all that month of tedious, melancholy courtship of Julie, and of seeing all the revenues of those Penza estates—which he had mentally assigned to the various purposes for which he needed them—pass into other hands, especially into the hands of that fool Anatole. He drove off to the Karagins' with the firm determination to make an offer. Julie met him with a gay and careless face, casually mentioned how much she had enjoyed the ball of the evening, and asked him when he was leaving. Although Boris had come with the intention of speaking of his love, and was therefore resolved to take a tender tone, he began to speak irritably of the fickleness of woman; saying that women could so easily pass from sadness to joy, and their state of mind depended entirely on what sort of man happened to be paying them attention. Julie was offended, and said that that was quite true, indeed, that a woman wanted variety, and that always the same thing would bore any one.
“Then I would advise you…” Boris was beginning, meaning to say something cutting; but at that instant the mortifying reflection occurred to him that he might leave Moscow without having attained his object, and having wasted his efforts in vain (an experience he had never had yet). He stopped short in the middle of a sentence, dropped his eyes, to avoid seeing her disagreeably exasperated and irresolute face, and said, “But it was not to quarrel with you that I have come here. On the contrary…” He glanced at her to make sure whether he could go on. All irritation had instantly vanished from her face, and her uneasy and imploring eyes were fastened upon him in greedy expectation.
“I can always manage so as to see very little of her,” thought Boris. “And the thing's been begun and must be finished!” He flushed crimson, raised his eyes to her face, and said to her, “You know my feeling for you!” There was no need to say more. Julie's countenance beamed with triumph and self-satisfaction; but she forced Boris to say everything that is usually said on such occasions, to say that he loved her, and had never loved any woman more than her. She knew that for her Penza estates and her Nizhnigorod forests she could demand that, and she got all she demanded.
The young engaged couple, with no further allusions to trees that enfolded them in gloom and melancholy, made plans for a brilliant establishment in Petersburg, paid visits, and made every preparation for a splendid wedding.