Chapter 5

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:—

“Death is helpful, and death is tranquil,
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.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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