Tell me one thing, one thing, he said (as though it all depended upon me), my wife, my children! My wife may die of grief, and though my children wont lose their rank and property, theyll be a convicts children and for ever! And what a memory, what a memory of me I shall leave in their hearts!
I said nothing.
And to part from them, to leave them for ever? Its for ever, you know, for ever!
I sat still and repeated a silent prayer. I got up at last, I felt afraid.
Well? He looked at me.
Go! said I, confess. Everything passes, only the truth remains. Your children will understand, when they grow up, the nobility of your resolution.
He left me that time as though he had made up his mind. Yet for more than a fortnight afterwards, he came to me every evening, still preparing himself, still unable to bring himself to the point. He made my heart ache. One day he would come determined and say fervently:
I know it will be heaven for me, heaven, the moment I confess. Fourteen years Ive been in hell. I want to suffer. I will take my punishment and begin to live. You can pass through the world doing wrong, but theres no turning back. Now I dare not love my neighbour nor even my own children. Good God, my children will understand, perhaps, what my punishment has cost me and will not condemn me! God is not in strength but in truth.
All will understand your sacrifice, I said to him, if not at once, they will understand later; for you have served truth, the higher truth, not of the earth.
And he would go away seeming comforted, but next day he would come again, bitter, pale, sarcastic.
Every time I come to you, you look at me so inquisitively as though to say, he has still not confessed! Wait a bit, dont despise me too much. Its not such an easy thing to do, as you would think. Perhaps I shall not do it at all. You wont go and inform against me then, will you?
And far from looking at him with indiscreet curiosity, I was afraid to look at him at all. I was quite ill from anxiety, and my heart was full of tears. I could not sleep at night.
I have just come from my wife, he went on. Do you understand what the word wife means? When I went out, the children called to me, Good-bye, father, make haste back to read The Childrens Magazine with us. No, you dont understand that! No one is wise from another mans woe.
His eyes were glittering, his lips were twitching. Suddenly he struck the table with his fist so that everything on it dancedit was the first time he had done such a thing, he was such a mild man.
But need I? he exclaimed, must I? No one has been condemned, no one has been sent to Siberia in my place, the man died of fever. And Ive been punished by my sufferings for the blood I shed. And I shant be believed, they wont believe my proofs. Need I confess, need I? I am ready to go on suffering all my life for the blood I have shed, if only my wife and children may be spared. Will it be just to ruin them with me? Arent we making a mistake? What is right in this case? And will people recognise it, will they appreciate it, will they respect it?
Good Lord! I thought to myself, he is thinking of other peoples respect at such a moment! And I felt so sorry for him then, that I believe I would have shared his fate if it could have comforted him. I saw he was beside himself. I was aghast, realising with my heart as well as my mind what such a resolution meant.
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