Chapter 5

It was nearly a fortnight after her mother’s funeral that I saw Natalia Haldin for the last time.

In those silent, sombre days the doors of the appartement on the Boulevard des Philosophes were closed to every one but myself. I believe I was of some use, if only in this, that I alone was aware of the incredible part of the situation. Miss Haldin nursed her mother alone to the last moment. If Razumov’s visit had anything to do with Mrs. Haldin’s end (and I cannot help thinking that it hastened it considerably), it is because the man, trusted impulsively by the ill-fated Victor Haldin, had failed to gain the confidence of Victor Haldin’s mother. What tale, precisely, he told her cannot be known—at any rate, I do not know it—but to me she seemed to die from the shock of an ultimate disappointment borne in silence. She had not believed him. Perhaps she could not longer believe any one, and consequently had nothing to say to any one—not even to her daughter. I suspect that Miss Haldin lived the heaviest hours of her life by that silent death-bed. I confess I was angry with the broken-hearted old woman passing away in the obstinacy of her mute distrust of her daughter.

When it was all over I stood aside, Miss Haldin had her compatriots round her then. A great number of them attended the funeral. I was there too, but afterwards managed to keep away from Miss Haldin, till I received a short note rewarding my self-denial. “It is as you would have it. I am going back to Russia at once. My mind is made up. Come and see me.”

Verily, it was a reward of discretion. I went without delay to receive it. The appartement of the Boulevard des Philosophes presented the dreary signs of impending abandonment. It looked desolate and as if already empty to my eyes.

Standing, we exchanged a few words about her health, mine, remarks as to some people of the Russian colony, and then Natalia Haldin, establishing me on the sofa, began to talk openly of her future work, of her plans. It was all to be as I had wished it. And it was to be for life. We should never see each other again. Never!

I gathered this success to my breast. Natalia Haldin looked matured by her open and secret experiences. With her arms folded she walked up and down the whole length of the room, talking slowly. smooth- browed, with a resolute profile. She gave me a new view of herself, and I marvelled at that something grave and measured in her voice, in her movements, in her manner. It was the perfection of collected independence. The strength of her nature had come to surface because the obscure depths had been stirred.

“We two can talk of it now,” she observed, after a silence and stopping short before me. “Have you been to inquire at the hospital lately?”

“Yes, I have.” And as she looked at me fixedly, “He will live, the doctors say. But I thought that Tekla…”

“Tekla has not been near me for several days,” explained Miss Haldin quickly. “As I never offered to go to the hospital with her, she thinks that I have no heart. She is disillusioned about me.”

And Miss Haldin smiled faintly.

“Yes. She sits with him as long and as often as they will let her,” I said. “She says she must never abandon him—never as long as she lives. He’ll need somebody— a hopeless cripple, and stone deaf with that.”

“Stone deaf? I didn’t know,” murmured Natalia Haldin.

“He is. It seems strange. I am told there were no apparent injuries to the head. They say, too, that it is not very likely that he will live so very long for Tekla to take care of him.”

Miss Haldin shook her head.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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