Chapter XIV
 

Two more weeks went by; everything in its accustomed order. Sipiagin fixed everyone's daily occupation, if not like a minister, at any rate like the director of a department, and was, as usual, haughty, humane, and somewhat fastidious. Kolia continued taking lessons; Anna Zaharovna, still full of spite, worried about him constantly; visitors came and went, talked, played at cards, and did not seem bored. Valentina Mihailovna continued amusing herself with Nejdanov, although her customary affability had become mixed with a certain amount of good-natured sarcasm. Nejdanov had become very intimate with Mariana, and discovered that her temper was even enough and that one could discuss most things with her without hitting against any violent opposition. He had been to the school with her once or twice, but with the first visit had become convinced that he could do nothing there. It was under the entire control of the deacon, with Sipiagin's full consent. The good father did not teach grammar badly, although his method was rather old-fashioned, but at examinations he would put the most absurd questions. For instance, he once asked Garacy how he would explain the expression, "The waters are dark under the firmament," to which Garacy had to answer, by the deacon's own order, "It cannot be explained." However, the school was soon closed for the summer, not to be opened again until the autumn.

Bearing in mind the suggestion of Paklin and others, Nejdanov did all he could to come in contact with the peasants, but soon found that he was only learning to understand them, in so far as he could make any observation and doing no propaganda whatever! Nejdanov had lived in a town all his life and, consequently, between him and the country people there existed a gulf that could not be crossed. He once happened to exchange a few words with the drunken Kirill, and even with Mendely the Sulky, hut besides abuse about things in general he got nothing out of them. Another peasant, called Fituvy, completely nonplussed him. This peasant had an unusually energetic countenance, almost like some brigand. "Well, this one seems hopeful at any rate," Nejdanov thought. But it turned out that Fituvy was a miserable wretch, from whom the mir had taken away his land, because he, a strong healthy man, WOULD NOT work. "I can't," he sobbed out, with deep inward groans, "I can't work! Kill me or I'll lay hands on myself!" And he ended by begging alms in the streets! With a face out of a canvas of Rinaldo Rinaldini!

As for the factory men, Nejdanov could not get hold of them at all; these fellows were either too sharp or too gloomy. He wrote a long letter to his friend Silin about the whole thing, in which he bitterly regretted his incapacity, putting it down to the vile education he had received and to his hopelessly aesthetic nature! He suddenly came to the conclusion that his vocation in the field of propaganda lay not in speaking, but in writing. But all the pamphlets he planned did not work out somehow. Whatever he attempted to put down on paper, according to him, was too drawn out, artificial in tone and style, and once or twice--oh horror! he actually found himself wandering off into verse, or on a sceptical, personal effusion. He even decided to speak about this difficulty to Mariana, a very sure sign of confidence and intimacy! He was again surprised to find her sympathetic, not towards his literary attempts, certainly, but to the moral weakness he was suffering from, a weakness with which she, too, was somewhat familiar. Mariana's contempt for aestheticism was no less strong than his, but for all that the main reason why she did not accept Markelov was because there was not the slightest trace of the aesthetic in his nature!

She did not for a moment admit this to herself. It is often the case that what is strongest in us remains only a half-suspected secret.

Thus the days went by slowly, with little variety, but with sufficient interest.

A curious change was taking place in Nejdanov. He felt dissatisfied with himself, that is, with his inactivity, and his words had a constant ring of bitter self-reproach. But in the innermost depths of his being there lurked a sense of happiness very soothing to his soul. Was it a result of the peaceful country life, the summer, the fresh air, dainty food, beautiful home, or was it due to the fact that for the first time in his life he was tasting the sweetness of contact with a woman's soul? It would he difficult to say. But he felt happy, although he complained, and quite sincerely, to his friend Silin.

The mood, however, was abruptly destroyed in a single day.

On the morning of this day Nejdanov received a letter from Vassily Nikolaevitch, instructing him, together with Markelov, to lose no time in coming to an understanding with Solomin and a certain merchant Golushkin, an Old Believer, living at S. This letter upset Nejdanov very much; it contained a note of reproach at his inactivity. The bitterness which had shown itself only in his words now rose with full force from the depths of his soul.

Kollomietzev came to dinner, disturbed and agitated. "Would you believe it!" he shouted almost in tears, "what horrors I've read in the papers! My friend, my beloved Michael, the Servian prince, has been assassinated by some blackguards in Belgrade. This is what these Jacobins and revolutionists will bring us to if a firm stop is not put to them all!" Sipiagin permitted himself to remark that this horrible murder was probably not the work of Jacobins, "of whom there could hardly be any in Servia," but might have been committed by some of the followers of the Karageorgievsky party, enemies of Obrenovitch. Kollomietzev would not hear of this, and began to relate, in the same tearful voice, how the late prince had loved him and what a beautiful gun he had given him! Having spent himself somewhat and got rather irritable, he at last turned from foreign Jacobins to home-bred nihilists and socialists, and ended by flying into a passion. He seized a large roll, and breaking it in half over his soup plate, in the manner of the stylish Parisian in the "Cafe-Riche," announced that he would like to tear limb from limb, reduce to ashes, all those who objected to anybody or to anything! These were his very words. "It is high time! High time!" he announced, raising the spoon to his mouth; "yes, high time!" he repeated, giving his glass to the servant, who was pouring out sherry. He spoke reverentially about the great Moscow publishers, and Ladislas, notre bon et cher Ladislas, did not leave his lips. At this point, he fixed his eyes on Nejdanov, seeming to say: "There, this is for you! Make what you like of it! I mean this for you! And there's a lot more to come yet!" The latter, no longer able to contain himself, objected at last, and began in a slightly unsteady tone of voice (not due to fear, of course) defending the ideals, the hopes, the principles of the modern generation. Kollomietzev soon went into a squeak--his anger always expressed itself in falsetto--and became abusive. Sipiagin, with a stately air, began taking Nejdanov's part; Valentina Mihailovna, of course, sided with her husband; Anna Zaharovna tried to distract Kolia's attention, looking furiously at everybody; Mariana did not move, she seemed turned to stone.

Nejdanov, hearing the name of Ladislas pronounced at least for the twentieth time, suddenly flared up and thumping the palm of his hand on the table burst out:

"What an authority! As if we do not know who this Ladislas is! A born spy, nothing more!"

"W-w-w-what--what--did you say? " Kollomietzev stammered cut, choking with rage. "How dare you express yourself like that of a man who is respected by such people as Prince Blasenkramf and Prince Kovrishkin!"

Nejdanov shrugged his shoulders.

"A very nice recommendation! Prince Kovrishkin, that enthusiastic flunky--"

"Ladislas is my friend," Kollomietzev screamed, "my comrade--and I--"

"So much the worse for you," Nejdanov interrupted him. "It means that you share his way of thinking, in which case my words apply to you too."

Kollomietzev turned deadly pale with passion.

"W-what? How? You--ought to be-- on the spot--"

"What would you like to do with me ON THE SPOT?" Nejdanov asked with sarcastic politeness. Heaven only knows what this skirmish between these two enemies might have led to, had not Sipiagin himself put a stop to it at the very outset. Raising his voice and putting on a serious air, in which it was difficult to say what predominated most, the gravity of an important statesman or the dignity of a host, he announced firmly that he did not wish to hear at his table such immoderate expressions, that he had long ago made it a rule, a sacred rule, he added, to respect every sort of conviction, so long as (at this point he raised his forefinger ornamented with a signet ring) it came within the limits of decent behaviour; that if he could not help, on the one hand, condemning Mr. Nejdanov's intemperate words, for which only his extreme youth could be blamed, he could not, on the other, agree with Mr. Kollomietzev's embittered attack on people of an opposite camp, an attack, he felt sure, that was only due to an over-amount of zeal for the general welfare of society.

"Under my roof," he wound up, "under the Sipiagin's roof, there are no Jacobins and no spies, only honest, well-meaning people, who, once learning to understand one another, would most certainly clasp each other by the hand!"

Neither Nejdanov nor Kollomietzev ventured on another word, but they did not, however, clasp each other's hands. Their moment for a mutual understanding had not arrived. On the contrary, they had never yet experienced such a strong antipathy to one another.

Dinner ended in an awkward, unpleasant silence. Sipiagin attempted to relate some diplomatic anecdote, but stopped half- way through. Mariana kept looking down at her plate persistently, not wishing to betray her sympathy with what Nejdanov had said. She was by no means afraid, but did not wish to give herself away before Madame Sipiagina. She felt the latter's keen, penetrating glance fixed on her. And, indeed, Madame Sipiagina did not take her eyes either off her or Nejdanov. His unexpected outburst at first came as a surprise to the intelligent lady, but the next moment a light suddenly dawned upon her, so that she involuntarily murmured, "Ah!" She suddenly divined that Nejdanov was slipping away from her, this same Nejdanov who, a short time ago, was ready to come to her arms. "Something has happened. . . . Is it Mariana? Of course it's Mariana. . .She likes him . . . and he--"

"Something must be done." Thus she concluded her reflections, while Kollomietzev was choking with indignation. Even when playing preference two hours later, he pronounced the word "Pass!" or "I buy!" with an aching heart. A hoarse tremulo of wounded pride could be detected in his voice, although he pretended to scorn such things! Sipiagin was the only one really pleased with the scene. It had afforded him an opportunity of showing off the power of his eloquence and of calming the rising storm. He knew Latin, and Virgil's Quos ego was not unfamiliar to him. He did not consciously compare himself to Neptune, but thought of him with a kind of sympathetic feeling.