Lizaveta Ivanovna was sitting in her room, still in her ball dress,
lost in deep thought. On returning home, she had hastily dismissed the
chambermaid who very reluctantly came forward to assist her, saying
that she would undress herself, and with a trembling heart had gone up
to her own room, expecting to find Hermann there, but yet hoping not
to find him. At the first glance she convinced herself that he was not
there, and she thanked her fate for having prevented him keeping the
appointment. She sat down without undressing, and began to recall to
mind all the circumstances which in so short a time had carried her so
far. It was not three weeks since the time when she first saw the
young officer from the window--and yet she was already in
correspondence with him, and he had succeeded in inducing her to grant
him a nocturnal interview! She knew his name only through his having
written it at the bottom of some of his letters; she had never spoken
to him, had never heard his voice, and had never heard him spoken of
until that evening. But, strange to say, that very evening at the
ball, Tomsky, being piqued with the young Princess Pauline N----, who,
contrary to her usual custom, did not flirt with him, wished to
revenge himself by assuming an air of indifference: he therefore
engaged Lizaveta Ivanovna and danced an endless mazurka with her.
During the whole of the time he kept teasing her about her partiality
for Engineer officers; he assured her that he knew far more than she
imagined, and some of his jests were so happily aimed, that Lizaveta
thought several times that her secret was known to him.
"From whom have you learnt all this?" she asked, smiling.
"From a friend of a person very well known to you," replied Tomsky,
"from a very distinguished man."
"And who is this distinguished man?"
"His name is Hermann."
Lizaveta made no reply; but her hands and feet lost all sense of
"This Hermann," continued Tomsky, "is a man of romantic personality.
He has the profile of a Napoleon, and the soul of a Mephistopheles. I
believe that he has at least three crimes upon his conscience... How
pale you have become!"
"I have a headache... But what did this Hermann--or whatever his name
"Hermann is very much dissatisfied with his friend: he says that in
his place he would act very differently... I even think that Hermann
himself has designs upon you; at least, he listens very attentively to
all that his friend has to say about you."
"And where has he seen me?"
"In church, perhaps; or on the parade--God alone knows where. It may
have been in your room, while you were asleep, for there is nothing
Three ladies approaching him with the question: "_oubli ou regret_?"
interrupted the conversation, which had become so tantalisingly
interesting to Lizaveta.
The lady chosen by Tomsky was the Princess Pauline herself. She
succeeded in effecting a reconciliation with him during the numerous
turns of the dance, after which he conducted her to her chair. On
returning to his place, Tomsky thought no more either of Hermann or
Lizaveta. She longed to renew the interrupted conversation, but the
mazurka came to an end, and shortly afterwards the old Countess took
Tomsky's words were nothing more than the customary small talk of the
dance, but they sank deep into the soul of the young dreamer. The
portrait, sketched by Tomsky, coincided with the picture she had
formed within her own mind, and thanks to the latest romances, the
ordinary countenance of her admirer became invested with attributes
capable of alarming her and fascinating her imagination at the same
time. She was now sitting with her bare arms crossed and with her
head, still adorned with flowers, sunk upon her uncovered bosom.
Suddenly the door opened and Hermann entered. She shuddered.
"Where were you?" she asked in a terrified whisper.
"In the old Countess's bedroom," replied Hermann: "I have just left
her. The Countess is dead."
"My God! What do you say?"
"And I am afraid," added Hermann, "that I am the cause of her death."
Lizaveta looked at him, and Tomsky's words found an echo in her soul:
"This man has at least three crimes upon his conscience!" Hermann sat
down by the window near her, and related all that had happened.
Lizaveta listened to him in terror. So all those passionate letters,
those ardent desires, this bold obstinate pursuit--all this was not
love! Money--that was what his soul yearned for! She could not satisfy
his desire and make him, happy I The poor girl had been nothing but
the blind tool of a robber, of the murderer of her aged
benefactress!... She wept bitter tears of agonised repentance. Hermann
gazed at her in silence: his heart, too, was a prey to violent
emotion, but neither the tears of the poor girl, nor the wonderful
charm of her beauty, enhanced by her grief, could produce any
impression upon his hardened soul. He felt no pricking of conscience
at the thought of the dead old woman. One thing only grieved him: the
irreparable loss of the secret from which he had expected to obtain
"You are a monster!" said Lizaveta at last.
"I did not wish for her death," replied Hermann: "my pistol was not
Both remained silent.
The day began to dawn. Lizaveta extinguished her candle: a pale light
illumined her room. She wiped her tear-stained eyes and raised them
towards Hermann: he was sitting near the window, with his arms crossed
and with a fierce frown upon his forehead. In this attitude he bore a
striking resemblance to the portrait of Napoleon. This resemblance
struck Lizaveta even.
"How shall I get you out of the house?" said she at last. "I thought
of conducting you down the secret staircase, but in that case it would
be necessary to go through the Countess's bedroom, and I am afraid."
"Tell me how to find this secret staircase--I will go alone."
Lizaveta arose, took from her drawer a key, handed it to Hermann and
gave him the necessary instructions. Hermann pressed her cold, limp
hand, kissed her bowed head, and left the room.
He descended the winding staircase, and once more entered the
Countess's bedroom. The dead old lady sat as if petrified; her face
expressed profound tranquillity. Hermann stopped before her, and gazed
long and earnestly at her, as if he wished to convince himself of the
terrible reality; at last he entered the cabinet, felt behind the
tapestry for the door, and then began to descend the dark staircase,
filled with strange emotions. "Down this very staircase," thought he,
"perhaps coming from the very same room, and at this very same hour
sixty years ago, there may have glided, in an embroidered coat, with
his hair dressed _a l'oiseau royal_ and pressing to his heart his
three-cornered hat, some young gallant, who has long been mouldering
in the grave, but the heart of his aged mistress has only to-day
ceased to beat..."
At the bottom of the staircase Hermann found a door, which he opened
with a key, and then traversed a corridor which conducted him into the