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    Chapter 7

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    Chapter 7
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    It was indeed cold outside, but Albert, heated by the liquor he had drunk and by the dispute, did not feel it. On reaching the street he looked round and rubbed his hands joyfully.

    The street was empty, but the long row of lamps still burned with ruddy light; the sky was clear and starry. "There now!" he said, addressing the lighted window of Delesov's lodging, thrusting his hands into his trouser pockets under his cape, and stooping forward. He went with heavy, uncertain steps down the street to the right. He felt an unusual weight in his legs and stomach, something made a noise in his head, and some invisible force was throwing him from side to side, but he still went on in the direction of Anna Ivanovna's house.

    Strange, incoherent thoughts passed through his mind. Now he remembered his last altercation with Zakhar, then for some reason the sea and his first arrival in Russia by steamboat, then a happy night he had passed with a friend in a small shop he was passing, then suddenly a familiar motif began singing itself in his imagination, and he remembered the object of his passion and the dreadful night in the theatre.

    Despite their incoherence all these memories presented themselves so clearly to his mind that, closing his eyes, he did not know which was the more real: what he was doing, or what he was thinking. He did not realize or feel how his legs were moving, how he swayed and bumped against the wall, how he looked around him, or passed from street to street. He realized and felt only the things that, intermingling and fantastically following one another, rose in his imagination.

    Passing along the Little Morskaya Street, Albert stumbled and fell. Coming to his senses for a moment he saw an immense and splendid building before him and went on. In the sky no stars, nor moon, nor dawn, were visible, nor were there any street lamps, but everything was clearly outlined. In the windows of the building that towered at the end of the street lights were shining, but those lights quivered like reflections. The building stood out nearer and nearer and clearer and clearer before him. But the lights disappeared directly he entered the wide portals. All was dark within. Solitary footsteps resounded under the vaulted ceiling, and some shadows slit rapidly away as he approached.

    "Why have I come here?" thought he; but some irresistible force drew him on into the depths of the immense hall. There was some kind of platform, around which some small people stood silently.

    "Who is going to speak?" asked Albert. No one replied, except that someone pointed to the platform. A tall thin man with bristly hair and wearing a parti-coloured dressing-gown was already standing there, and Albert immediately recognized his friend Petrov.

    "How strange that he should be here!" thought he.

    "No, brothers!" Petrov was saying, pointing to someone. "You did not understand a man living among you; you have not understood him! He is not a mercenary artist, not a mechanical performer, not a lunatic or a lost man. He is a genius - a great musical genius who has perisheed among you unnoticed and unappreciated!"

    Albert at once understood of whom his friend was speaking, but not wishing to embarrass him he modestly lowered his head.

    "The holy fire that we all serve has consumed him like a blade of straw!" the voice went on, "but he has fulfilled all that God implanted in him and should therefore be called a great man. You could despise, torment, humiliate him," the voice continued, growing louder and louder - "but he was, is, and will be, immeasurably higher than you all. He is happy, he is kind. He loves or despises all alike, but serves only that which was implanted in him from above. He loves but one thing - beauty, the one indubitable blessing in the world. Yes, such is the man! Fall prostrate before him, all of you! On your knees!" he cried aloud.

    But another voice came mildly from the opposite corner of the hall: "I do not wish to bow my knees before him," said the voice, which Albert immediately recognized as Delesov's. "Wherein is he great? Why should we bow before him? Did he behave honourably and justly? Has he been of any use to society? Don't we know how he borrowed money and did not return it, and how he carried away his fellow-artist's violin and pawned it? ..."

    ("Oh God, how does he know all that?" thought Albert, hanging his head still lower.)

    "Do we not know how he flattered the most insignificant people, flattered them for the sake of money?" Delesov continued - "Don't we know how he was expelled from the theatre? And how Anna Ivanovna wanted to send him to the police?"

    ("O God! That is all true, but defend me, Thou who alone knowest why I did it!" muttered Albert.)

    "Cease, for shame!" Petrov's voice began again. "What right have you to accuse him? Have you lived his life? Have you experienced his rapture? ("True, true!" whispered Albert.)

    "Art is the highest manifestation of power in man. It is given to a few of the elect, and raises the chosen one to such a height as turns the head and makes it difficult for him to remain sane. In Art, as in every struggle, there are heroes who have devoted themselves entirely to its service and have perished without having reached the goal."

    Petrov stopped, and Albert raised his head and cried out: "True, true!" but his voice died away without a sound.

    "It does not concern you," said the artist Petrov, turning to him severely. "Yes, humiliate and despise him," he continued, "but yet he is the best and happiest of you all."

    Albert, who had listened to these words with rapture in his soul, could not restrain himself, and went up to his friend wishing to kiss him.

    "Go away! I do not know you!" Petrov said, "Go your way, or you won't get there."

    "Just see how the drink's got hold of you! You won't get there," shouted a policeman at the crossroad.

    Albert stopped, collected his strength and, trying not to stagger, turned into the side street.

    Only a few more steps were left to Anna Ivanovna's door. From the hall of her house the light fell on the snow in the courtyard, and sledges and carriages stood at the gate.

    Holding onto the banister with his numbed hands, he ran up the steps and rang. The sleepy face of a maid appeared in the opening of the doorway, and she looked angrily at Albert.

    "You can't!" she cried. "The orders are not to let you in," and she lammed the door to.

    The sound of music and of women's voices reached the steps. Albert sat down, leaned his head against the wall, and closed his eyes. Immediately a throng of disconnected but kindred visions beset him with renewed force, engulfed him in their waves, and bore him away into the free and beautiful realm of dreams.

    "Yes, he was the best and happiest!" ran involuntarily through his imagination.

    The sounds of a polka came through the door. These sounds also told him that he was the best and happiest. The bells in the nearest church rang out for early service, and these bells also said:

    "Yes, he is the best and happiest!" ...

    "I will go back to the hall," thought Albert. "Petrov must tell me much more."

    But there was no one in the hall now, and instead of the artist Petrov, Albert himself stood on the platform and played on the violin all that the voice had said before. But the violin was of strange construction; it was made of glass and it had to be held in both hands and slowly pressed to the breast to make it produce sounds. The sounds were the most delicate and delightful Albert had ever heard. The closer he pressed the violin to his breast the more joyful and tender he felt. The louder the sounds grew the faster the shadows dispersed and the brighter the walls of the hall were lit up by transparent light. But it was necessary to play the violin very warily so as not to break it. He played the glass instrument very carefully and well. He played such things as he felt no one would ever hear again.

    He was beginning to grow tired when another distant, muffled sound distracted his attention. It was the sound of a bell, but it spoke words:

    "Yes," said the bell, droning somewhere high up and far away, "he seems to you pitiful, you despise him, yet he is the best and happiest of men! No one will ever again play that instrument."

    These familiar words suddenly seemed so wise, so new, and so true to Albert that he stopped playing and, trying not to move, raised his arms and eyes to heaven. He felt that he was beautiful and happy. Although there was no one else in the hall he expanded his chest and stood on the platform with head proudly erect so that all might see him.

    Suddenly someone's hand lightly touched his shoulder; he turned and saw a woman in the faint light. She looked at him sadly and shook her head deprecatingly. He immediately realized that what he was doing was bad, and felt ashamed of himself.

    "Whither?" he asked her.

    She again gave him a long fixed look and sadly inclined her head. It was she - none other than she whom he loved, and her garments were the same; on her full white neck a string of pearls, and her superb arms bare to above the elbow. She took his hand and led him out of the hall.

    "The exit is on the other side," said Albert, but without replying she smiled and led him out.

    At the threshold of the hall Albert saw the moon and some water. But the water was not below as it usually is, nor was the moon a white circle in one place up above as it usually is. Moon and water were together and everywhere - above, below, at the sides, and all around them both. Albert threw himself with her into the moon and the water, and realized that he could now embrace her, whom he loved more than anything in the world. He embraced her and felt unutterable happiness.

    "Is this not a dream?" he asked himself. But no! It was more than reality: it was reality and recollection combined. Then he felt that the unutterable bliss he had at that moment enjoyed had passed and would never return.

    "What am I weeping for?" he asked her.

    She looked at him silently and sadly. Albert understood what she meant by that.

    "But how can it be, since I am alive?" he muttered.

    Without replying or moving she looked straight before her.

    "This is terrible! How can I explain to her that I am alive?" he thought with horror. "O Lord! I am alive, do understand me!" he whispered.

    "He is the best and happiest!" a voice was saying.

    But something was pressing more and more heavily on Albert. Whether it was the moon and the water, her embraces, or his tears, he did not know, but he felt he would not be able to say all that was necessary, and that soon all would be over.

    Two visitors, leaving Anna Ivanovna's house, stumbled over Albert, who lay stretched out on the threshold. One of them went back and called the hostess.

    "Why, this is inhuman!" he said. "You might let a man freeze like that!"

    "Ah, that is Albert! I'm sick to death of him!" replied the hostess.

    "Annushka, lay him down somewhere in a room," she said to the maid.

    "But I am alive - why bury me?" muttered Albert, as they carried him insensible into the room.

    THE END.
    Chapter 7
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