“You’re a scoundrel and a blackguard; and I don’t know what prevents me from permitting myself the pleasure of braining you with this, see,” said Pierre, expressing himself so artificially, because he was speaking French. He took up a heavy paper-weight, and lifted it in a menacing way, but at once hurriedly put it down in its place.

“Did you promise to marry her?”

“I, I, … I … didn’t think … I never promised, though, because …”

Pierre interrupted him.

“Have you any of her letters? Have you any letters?” Pierre repeated, advancing upon Anatole. Anatole glanced at him, and at once thrust his hand in his pocket, and took out a pocket-book.

Pierre took the letter he gave him, and pushing away a table that stood in the way, he plumped down on the sofa.

“I won’t be violent, don’t be afraid,” said Pierre, in response to a gesture of alarm from Anatole. “Letters—one,” said Pierre, as though repeating a lesson to himself. “Two”—after a moment’s silence he went on, getting up again and beginning to walk about—“to-morrow you are to leave Moscow.”

“But how can I …?”

“Three”—Pierre went on, not heeding him—“you are never to say a word of what has passed between you and the young countess. That I know I can’t prevent your doing; but if you have a spark of conscience …” Pierre walked several times up and down the room. Anatole sat at the table, scowling and biting his lips.

“You surely must understand that, apart from your own pleasure, there’s the happiness, the peace of other people; that you are ruining a whole life, simply because you want to amuse yourself. Amuse yourself with women like my wife—with them you’re within your rights, they know what it is you want of them. They are armed against you by the same experience of vice; but to promise a girl to marry her … to deceive, to steal … Surely you must see that it’s as base as attacking an old man or a child!…”

Pierre paused and glanced at Anatole, more with inquiry now than with wrath.

“I don’t know about that. Eh?” said Anatole, growing bolder as Pierre gained control over his rage. “I don’t know about that, and I don’t want to,” he said, looking away from Pierre, and speaking with a slight quiver of his lower jaw, “but you have said words to me, base and all that sort of thing, which as a man of honour I can’t allow any one to do.”

Pierre looked at him in amazement, not able to understand what it was he wanted.

“Though it has been only tête-à-tête,” Anatole went on, “still I can’t …”

“What, do you want satisfaction?” said Pierre sarcastically.

“At any rate you might take back your words. Eh? If you want me to do as you wish. Eh!”

“I’ll take them back, I’ll take them back,” said Pierre, “and beg you to forgive me.” Pierre could not help glancing at the loose button. “And here’s money too, if you want some for your journey.”

Anatole smiled.

The expression of that base and cringing smile, that he knew so well in his wife, infuriated Pierre. “Oh, you vile, heartless tribe!” he cried, and walked out of the room.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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