busy twisting or tearing something, she kept her eyes fixed in a set stare on the first object that met them. This solitude exhausted and tortured her; but it was what she needed. As soon as any one went in to her, she got up quickly, changed her attitude and expression, and picked up a book or some needlework, obviously waiting with impatience for the intruder to leave her.

It seemed to her continually that she was on the very verge of understanding, of penetrating to the mystery on which her spiritual vision was fastened with a question too terrible for her to bear.

One day towards the end of December, Natasha, thin and pale in a black woollen gown, with her hair fastened up in a careless coil, sat perched up in the corner of her sofa, her fingers nervously crumpling and smoothing out the ends of her sash, while she gazed at the corner of the door.

She was inwardly gazing whither he had gone, to that further shore. And that shore, of which she had never thought in old days, which had seemed to her so far away, so incredible, was now closer to her, and more her own, more comprehensible than this side of life, in which all was emptiness and desolation or suffering and humiliation.

She was gazing into that world where she knew he was. But she could not see him, except as he had been here on earth. She was seeing him again as he had been at Mytishtchy, at Troitsa, at Yaroslavl.

She was seeing his face, hearing his voice, and repeating his words, and words of her own that she had put into his mouth; and sometimes imagining fresh phrases for herself and him which could only have been uttered in the past.

Now she saw him as he had once been, lying on a low chair in his velvet, fur-lined cloak, his head propped on his thin, pale hand. His chest looked fearfully hollow, and his shoulders high. His lips were firmly closed, his eyes shining, and there was a line on his white brow that came and vanished again. There was a rapid tremor just perceptible in one foot. Natasha knew he was struggling to bear horrible pain. “What was that pain like? Why was it there? What was he feeling? How did it hurt?” Natasha had wondered. He had noticed her attention, raised his eyes, and, without smiling, began to speak.

“One thing would be awful,” he said: “to bind oneself for ever to a suffering invalid. It would be an everlasting torture.” And he had looked with searching eyes at her. Natasha, as she always did, had answered without giving herself time to think; she had said: “It can’t go on like this, it won’t be so, you will get well—quite well.”

She was seeing him now as though it were the first time, and going through all she had felt at that time. She recalled the long, mournful, stern gaze he had given her at those words, and she understood all the reproach and the despair in that prolonged gaze.

“I agreed,” Natasha said to herself now, “that it would be awful if he were to remain always suffering. I said that then only because it would be so awful for him, but he did not understand it so. He thought that it would be awful for me. Then he still wanted to live, and was afraid of death. And I said it so clumsily, so stupidly. I was not thinking that. I was thinking something quite different. If I had said what I was thinking, I should have said: ‘Let him be dying, dying all the time before my eyes, and I should be happy in comparison with what I am now.’ Now … there is nothing, no one. Did he know that? No. He did not know, and never will know it. And now it can never, never be made up for.”

And again he was saying the same words; but this time Natasha in her imagination made him a different answer. She stopped him, and said: “Awful for you, but not for me. You know that I have nothing in life but you, and to suffer with you is the greatest happiness possible for me.” And he took her hand and pressed it, just as he had pressed it on that terrible evening four days before his death. And in her imagination she said to him other words of tenderness and love, which she might have said then, which she only said now … “I love thee! … thee … I love, love thee …” she said, wringing her hands convulsively, and setting her teeth with bitter violence.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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