This was the beginning of a close friendship between the two estates. The little girl, whose name was Evelina, spent some part of every day at the manor; and soon she, too, began to study with Uncle Maxim. Her father, Pan Yaskulsky, was not too pleased at first by this idea. For one thing, he thought a woman quite sufficiently educated if she could keep her laundry lists and household accounts in order. For another, he was a good Catholic, and felt that Pan Maxim should not have gone to war against the Austrians, when "our father the Pope" had so clearly expressed himself against it. And, finally, it was his firm conviction that there was a God in heaven, and that Voltaire and all Voltaireans were doomed to boiling pitch—a fate which many thought to be awaiting Pan Maxim as well. On closer acquaintance, however, he had to admit that this wild brawler and heretic was a very pleasant man, and a very clever one; and he finally agreed to compromise.
Still, in the depths of his heart, he could not help a certain uneasiness. And so, bringing his daughter to the manor for her first lesson, he felt called upon to start her off in her studies with a solemn and somewhat pompous exhortation—intended, however, rather for Maxim than for the child.
"Now, then, Evelina," he began, laying his hand on his daughter's shoulder, but glancing sidewise at her teacher, "you must always remember our God in heaven, and his holy Pope in Rome. It's I, Valentin Yaskulsky, tell you that, and you must put your faith in me, because I'm your father. Primo."
Pan Yaskulsky's glance at Maxim, at this point, was particularly significant. In resorting to Latin, it was his purpose to show that he, too, was no stranger to scholarship, and not easily to be deceived.
"Secundo," he continued, "I'm a nobleman, and over the stack and crow in our family's glorious coat of arms stands a holy cross in a blue field. The Yaskulskys have always been valorous knights, but many of them, too, have exchanged the sword for the missal, and they have never been ignorant of what concerns religion, so that there you must put your faith in me. Well, and so far as other things go, orbis terrarum, or all things earthly, give your attention to Pan Maxim Yatsenko, and be a good pupil to him."
"Never you fear, Pan Yaskulsky," Maxim assured the old man, smiling. "I don't recruit little girls to fight for Garibaldi."
Both of the children benefited by studying together. Petro was ahead, of course; but this did not preclude a definite element of emulation. Again, Petro often helped Evelina with her lessons; and she, in turn, often found very effective ways of helping him to understand things that his blindness made difficult for him. And her very presence gave a new interest to his studies, a pleasant animation that tended to stimulate his mental effort.
In every way, this friendship was a gift of fortune. Petro no longer sought to be entirely alone. He had found such communion as his elders, for all their love, were incapable of giving him; had found a presence that brought him pleasure even in those moments of hushed spiritual tension that sometimes came upon him. The children were always together, now, in their excursions to Petro's high rock, or to the river-bank. When Petro took up his pipe, Evelina would sit listening in childish rapture. When he laid it aside, she would begin to talk, describing her vivid, child's impressions of all that lay around them. She could not express what she saw, of course, in words that would all be clear to her blind companion. But her simple sketches, the very tone in which she spoke, helped him to grasp the essential, characteristic flavour of everything that she described. If she spoke of the darkness of night, of its damp, chill blackness, blanketing the earth, he would seem to hear this darkness in the hushed awe of her voice. If she turned her grave little face to the sky and cried, "Oh, what a cloud, over there! Such a huge, grey cloud, floating this way!"—he would seem to feel the cloud's cold breath, to hear, in her voice, the rumbling advance of this fearful monster that was crawling towards them across the far heights of the sky.
There are souls which seem born for the quiet heroism of that love which goes hand in hand with care and grief; souls to which ministration to others in misfortune seems an organic necessity, the very breath of life. Nature has endowed them, these souls, with the tranquillity, lacking which such everyday, prosaic heroism would be inconceivable; has providently softened their passions, their ambitions, aspirations, subordinating all purely selfish hopes and desires to this one dominant trait of character. Such people often seem to those around them cold, unemotional, sober beyond all need. Deaf to the impassioned appeal of earthly life, they follow the sad path of duty tranquilly as they might the road of the most glorious personal happiness. Cold as snow-topped mountain peaks, they seem; and majestic, too, as those lofty peaks. All that is worldly and base lies like dirt at their feet. Even slander and gossip slip from their snow-white robes, as splattered mud from the wings of a swan.
This is a type only rarely created by life or training. Like talent, like genius, it is Nature's endowment to a chosen few. Its traits are early manifested, and they were already evident in Petro's little friend. The mother soon realised what a happy thing this childish friendship might become for her blind boy. And Maxim, seeing this as well as she, felt that now, when the child had everything he had been lacking, the course of his spiritual development should be smooth and even—unhindered, undisturbed.
But that was an error, and a bitter one.
For some years, while Petro was still quite small, Maxim thought himself entirely in control of the boy's spiritual growth. Not every aspect of this growth, perhaps, arose from the tutor's direct influence; but he was sure, in any case, that no new development, no new spiritual acquirement, could escape his notice and his guiding hand. But when Petro grew older, and entered upon the period transitional between childhood and adolescence, these lofty pedagogical dreams turned out to be quite unfounded. Hardly a week passed that did not bring something new, and often startling; and Maxim was altogether at a loss to find the source of these new ideas and concepts that arose in the blind boy's mind. There was some unknown force at work in the very depths of the child's being, thrusting up to the surface the most unexpected manifestations of independent spiritual development. And Maxim could only bow his head in reverent awe before these mysterious processes that had begun to interfere in his methods of pedagogy. Nature seemed to know some stimulus, some way of revelation, to give the child new concepts that he could not possibly, in his blindness, have developed from direct experience. Contemplating all this, Maxim had a sense of the endless, unbroken continuity of life's vital processes—passing ever on, in all their thousands of details, through the successive train of individual lives.
It frightened him, at first, this realisation that he was not entirely master of the child's mentality; that there was something else, independent of his will and unaffected by his influence, that worked upon his pupil. It made him fear for the child's future, fear the possibility of desires and seekings that might bring the blind boy nothing more than unappeasable longings and suffering. And he began to grope for the sources of these new springs of knowledge—hoping to stop them up, for the boy's own good.
The mother, too, noticed these sudden strange flashes. There was a morning when Petro came running up to her, excited as she had seldom seen him.
"Mother, Mother," he cried. "I saw a dream!"
"What did you see, then, child?" the mother asked, with a sad doubt that she could not suppress.
"I saw ... you, in my dream, and Uncle Maxim. And ... and—everything, I saw. It was so fine, Mother! Oh, it was so fine!"
"Well, and what else did you see, Petro?"
"I can't remember."
"Do you remember me?"
"No," the child answered hesitantly. "No, I can't remember. Not anything."
There was a moment's silence.
"But I did see, just the same, I did see, truly," he cried.
His face clouded over, and a tear gleamed in his sightless eyes.
This happened several times. And with each repetition the boy grew sadder, more unquiet.