doubt,” I said to myself, “he seems a sombre, even a desperate revolutionist; but he is young, he may be unselfish and humane, capable of compassion, of…”

I heard him clear gratingly his parched throat, and became all attention.

“This is beyond everything,” were his first words. “It is beyond everything! I find you here, for no reason that I can understand, in possession of something I cannot be expected to understand! A confidant! A foreigner! Talking about an admirable Russian girl. Is the admirable girl a fool, I begin to wonder? What are you at? What is your object?”

He was barely audible, as if his throat had no more resonance than a dry rag, a piece of tinder. It was so pitiful that I found it extremely easy to control my indignation.

“When you have lived a little longer, Mr. Razumov, you will discover that no woman is an absolute fool. I am not a feminist, like that illustrious author, Peter Ivanovitch, who to say the truth, is not a little suspect to me.…”

He interrupted me, in a surprising note of whispering astonishment.

“Suspect to you! Peter Ivanovitch suspect to you! To you!…”

“Yes, in a certain aspect he is,” I said, dismissing my remark lightly. “As I was saying, Mr. Razumov, when you have lived long enough, you will learn to discriminate between the noble trustfulness of a nature foreign to every meanness and the flattered credulity of some women; though even the credulous, silly as they may be, unhappy as they are sure to be, are never absolute fools. It is my belief that no woman is ever completely deceived. Those that are lost leap into the abyss with their eyes open, if all the truth were known.”

“Upon my word,” he cried at my elbow, “what is it to me whether women are fools or lunatics? I really don’t care what you think of them. I—I am not interested in them. I let them be. I am not a young man in a novel. How do you know that I want to learn anything about women?… What is the meaning of all this?”

“The object, you mean, of this conversation, which I admit I have forced upon you in a measure.”

“Forced! Object!” he repeated, still keeping half a pace or so behind me. “You wanted to talk about women, apparently. That’s a subject. But I don’t care for it. I have never… In fact, I have had other subjects to think about.”

“I am concerned here with one woman only—a young girl—the sister of your dead friend—Miss Haldin. Surely you can think a little of her. What I meant from the first was that there is a situation which you cannot be expected to understand.”

I listened to his unsteady footfalls by my side for the space of several strides.

“I think that it may prepare the ground for your next interview with Miss Haldin if I tell you of it. I imagine that she might have had something of the kind in her mind when she left us together. I believe myself authorized to speak. The peculiar situation I have alluded to has arisen in the first grief and distress of Victor Haldin’s execution. There was something peculiar in the circumstances of his arrest. You no doubt know the whole truth.…”

I felt my arm seized above the elbow, and next instant found myself swung so as to face Mr. Razumov.

“You spring up from the ground before me with this talk. Who the devil are you? This is not to be borne! Why! What for? What do you know what is or is not peculiar? What have you to do with any confounded circumstances, or with anything that happens in Russia, anyway?”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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