Sofya Petrovna, the wife of Lubyantsev the notary, a handsome young woman of five-and-twenty, was walking slowly along a track that had been cleared in the wood, with Ilyin, a lawyer who was spending the summer in the neighbourhood. It was five oclock in the evening. Feathery-white masses of cloud stood overhead; patches of bright blue sky peeped out between them. The clouds stood motionless, as though they had caught in the tops of the tall old pinetrees. It was still and sultry.
Farther on, the track was crossed by a low railway embankment on which a sentinel with a gun was for some reason pacing up and down. Just beyond the embankment there was a large white church with six domes and a rusty roof.
I did not expect to meet you here, said Sofya Petrovna, looking at the ground and prodding at the last years leaves with the tip of her parasol, and now I am glad we have met. I want to speak to you seriously and once for all. I beg you, Ivan Mihalovitch, if you really love and respect me, please make an end of this pursuit of me! You follow me about like a shadow, you are continually looking at me not in a nice way, making love to me, writing me strange letters, and and I dont know where its all going to end! Why, what can come of it?
Ilyin said nothing. Sofya Petrovna walked on a few steps and continued:
And this complete transformation in you all came about in the course of two or three weeks, after five years friendship. I dont know you, Ivan Mihalovitch!
Sofya Petrovna stole a glance at her companion. Screwing up his eyes, he was looking intently at the fluffy clouds. His face looked angry, ill-humoured, and preoccupied, like that of a man in pain forced to listen to nonsense.
I wonder you dont see it yourself, Madame Lubyantsev went on, shrugging her shoulders. You ought to realize that its not a very nice part you are playing. I am married; I love and respect my husband. I have a daughter. Can you think all that means nothing? Besides, as an old friend you know my attitude to family life and my views as to the sanctity of marriage.
Ilyin cleared his throat angrily and heaved a sigh.
Sanctity of marriage he muttered. Oh, Lord!
Yes, yes. I love my husband, I respect him; and in any case I value the peace of my home. I would rather let myself be killed than be a cause of unhappiness to Andrey and his daughter. And I beg you, Ivan Mihalovitch, for Gods sake, leave me in peace! Let us be as good, true friends as we used to be, and give up these sighs and groans, which really dont suit you. Its settled and over! Not a word more about it. Let us talk of something else.
Sofya Petrovna again stole a glance at Ilyins face. Ilyin was looking up; he was pale, and was angrily biting his quivering lips. She could not understand why he was angry and why he was indignant, but his pallor touched her.
Dont be angry; let us be friends, she said affectionately. Agreed? Heres my hand.
Ilyin took her plump little hand in both of his, squeezed it, and slowly raised it to his lips.
I am not a schoolboy, he muttered. I am not in the least tempted by friendship with the woman I love.
Enough, enough! Its settled and done with. We have reached the seat; let us sit down.
Sofya Petrovnas soul was filled with a sweet sense of relief: the most difficult and delicate thing had been said, the painful question was settled and done with. Now she could breathe freely and look Ilyin straight in the face. She looked at him, and the egoistic feeling of the superiority of the woman over the
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