Lisaveta was sitting in her room, still in her ball dress, lost in
the deepest meditation. On her return to the house, she had sent away
her maid, and had gone upstairs to her room, trembling at the idea of
finding Hermann there; desiring, indeed, _not_ to find him. One glance
showed her that he was not there, and she gave thanks to Providence
that he had missed the appointment. She sat down pensively, without
thinking of taking off her cloak, and allowed to pass through her
memory all the circumstances of the intrigue which had begun such a
short time back, and had already advanced so far. Scarcely three weeks
had passed since she had first seen the young officer from her window,
and already she had written to him, and he had succeeded in inducing
her to make an appointment. She knew his name, and that was all. She
had received a quantity of letters from him, but he had never spoken to
her; she did not know the sound of his voice, and until that evening,
strangely enough, she had never heard him spoken of.
But that very evening Tomski, fancying he had noticed that the young
Princess Pauline, to whom he had been paying assiduous court, was
flirting, contrary to her custom, with, another man, had wished to
revenge himself by making a show of indifference. With this noble
object he had invited Lisaveta to take part in an interminable mazurka;
but he teased her immensely about her partiality for Engineer officers,
and pretending all the time to know much more than he really did,
hazarded purely in fun a few guesses which were so happy that Lisaveta
thought her secret must have been discovered.
“But who tells you all this?” she said with a smile. “A friend of the
very officer you know, a most original man.”
“And who is this man that is so original?”
“His name is Hermann.”
She answered nothing, but her hands and feet seemed to be of ice.
“Hermann is a hero of romance,” continued Tomski. “He has the profile
of Napoleon, and the soul of Mephistopheles. I believe he has at least
three crimes on his conscience…. But how pale you are!”
“I have a bad headache. But what did this Mr. Hermann tell you? Is not
that his name?”
“Hermann is very much displeased with his friend, with the Engineer
officer who has made your acquaintance. He says that in his place he
would behave very differently. But I am quite sure that Hermann himself
has designs upon you. At least, he seems to listen with remarkable
interest to all that his friend tells him about you.”
“And where has he seen me?”
“Perhaps in church, perhaps in the street; heaven knows where.”
At this moment three ladies came forward according to the custom of
the mazurka, and asked Tomski to choose between “forgetfulness and
 The figures and fashions of the mazurka are reproduced in
the cotillon of Western Europe.–TRANSLATOR.]
And the conversation which had so painfully excited the curiosity of
Lisaveta came to an end.
The lady who, in virtue of the infidelities permitted by the mazurka,
had just been chosen by Tom ski, was the Princess Pauline. During the
rapid evolutions which the figure obliged them to make, there was a
grand explanation between them, until at last he conducted her to a
chair, and returned to his partner.
But Tomski could now think no more, either of Hermann or Lisaveta, and
he tried in vain to resume the conversation. But the mazurka was coming
to an end, and immediately afterwards the old Countess rose to go.
Tomski’s mysterious phrases were nothing more than the usual platitudes
of the mazurka, but they had made a deep impression upon the heart of
the poor little companion. The portrait sketched by Tomski had struck
her as very exact; and with her romantic ideas, she saw in the rather
ordinary countenance of her adorer something to fear and admire. She
was now sitting down with her cloak off, with bare shoulders; her head,
crowned with flowers, falling forward from fatigue, when suddenly the
door opened and Hermann entered. She shuddered.
“Where were you?” she said, trembling all over.
“In the Countess’s bedroom. I have just left her,” replied Hermann.
“She is dead.”
“Great Heavens! What are you saying?”
“I am afraid,” he said, “that I am the cause of her death.”
Lisaveta looked at him in consternation, and remembered Tomski’s words:
“He has at least three crimes on his conscience.”
Hermann sat down by the window, and told everything. The young girl
listened with terror.
So those letters so full of passion, those burning expressions, this
daring obstinate pursuit–all this had been inspired by anything but
love! Money alone had inflamed the man’s soul. She, who had nothing
but a heart to offer, how could she make him happy? Poor child! she
had been the blind instrument of a robber, of the murderer of her old
benefactress. She wept bitterly in the agony of her repentance. Hermann
watched her in silence; but neither the tears of the unhappy girl, nor
her beauty, rendered more touching by her grief, could move his heart
of iron. He had no remorse in thinking of the Countess’s death. One
sole thought distressed him–the irreparable loss of the secret which
was to have made his fortune.
“You are a monster!” said Lisaveta, after a long silence.
“I did not mean to kill her,” replied Hermann coldly. “My pistol was
They remained for some time without speaking, without looking at one
another. The day was breaking, and Lisaveta put out her candle. She
wiped her eyes, drowned in tears, and raised them towards Hermann. He
was standing close to the window, his arms crossed, with a frown on
his forehead. In this attitude he reminded her involuntarily of the
portrait of Napoleon. The resemblance overwhelmed her.
“How am I to get you away?” she said at last. “I thought you might go
out by the back stairs. But it would be necessary to go through the
Countess’s bedroom, and I am too frightened.”
“Tell me how to get to the staircase, and I will go alone.”
She went to a drawer, took out a key, which she handed to Hermann, and
gave him the necessary instructions. Hermann took her icy hand, kissed
her on the forehead, and departed.
He went down the staircase, and entered the Countess’s bedroom. She was
seated quite stiff in her armchair; but her features were in no way
contracted. He stopped for a moment, and gazed into her face as if to
make sure of the terrible reality. Then he entered the dark room, and,
feeling behind the tapestry, found the little door which, opened on
to a staircase. As he went down it, strange ideas came into his head.
“Going down this staircase,” he said to himself, “some sixty years ago,
at about this time, may have been seen some man in an embroidered coat
with powdered wig, pressing to his breast a cocked hat: some gallant
who has long been buried; and now the heart of his aged mistress has
ceased to beat.”
At the end of the staircase he found another door, which his key
opened, and he found himself in the corridor which led to the street.