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The Duel and Other Stories

Neighbours
PYOTR MIHALITCH IVASHIN was very much out of humour: his sister, a young girl,
had gone away to live with Vlassitch, a married man. To shake off the despondency and
depression which pursued him at home and in the fields, he called to his aid his sense of
justice, his genuine and noble ideas--he had always defended free-love! --but this was of
no avail, and he always came back to the same conclusion as their foolish old nurse, that
his sister had acted wrongly and that Vlassitch had abducted his sister. And that was
distressing.
His mother did not leave her room all day long; the old nurse kept sighing and speaking
in whispers; his aunt had been on the point of taking her departure every day, and her
trunks were continually being brought down to the hall and carried up again to her room.
In the house, in the yard, and in the garden it was as still as though there were some one
dead in the house. His aunt, the servants, and even the peasants, so it seemed to Pyotr
Mihalitch, looked at him enigmatically and with perplexity, as though they wanted to say
"Your sister has been seduced; why are you doing nothing?" And he reproached himself
for inactivity, though he did not know precisely what action he ought to have taken.
So passed six days. On the seventh--it was Sunday afternoon--a messenger on horseback
brought a letter. The address was in a familiar feminine handwriting: "Her Excy. Anna
Nikolaevna Ivashin." Pyotr Mihalitch fancied that there was something defiant,
provocative, in the handwriting and in the abbreviation "Excy." And advanced ideas in
women are obstinate, ruthless, cruel.
"She'd rather die than make any concession to her unhappy mother, or beg her
forgiveness," thought Pyotr Mihalitch, as he went to his mother with the letter.
His mother was lying on her bed, dressed. Seeing her son, she rose impulsively, and
straightening her grey hair, which had fallen from under her cap, asked quickly:
"What is it? What is it?"
"This has come . . ." said her son, giving her the letter.
Zina's name, and even the pronoun "she" was not uttered in the house. Zina was spoken
of impersonally: "this has come," "Gone away," and so on. . . . The mother recognised
her daughter's handwriting, and her face grew ugly and unpleasant, and her grey hair
escaped again from her cap.
"No!" she said, with a motion of her hands, as though the letter scorched her fingers. "No,
no, never! Nothing would induce me!"
The mother broke into hysterical sobs of grief and shame; she evidently longed to read
the letter, but her pride prevented her. Pyotr Mihalitch realised that he ought to open the
 
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