Chapter XV
 

As soon as it was convenient for him to do so, Nejdanov retired to his own room and locked himself in. He did not want to see anyone, anyone except Mariana. Her room was situated at the very end of a long corridor, intersecting the whole of the upper story. Nejdanov had only once been there for a few moments, but it seemed to him that she would not mind if he knocked at her door, now that she even wished to speak to him herself. It was already fairly late, about ten o'clock. The host and hostess had not considered it necessary to disturb him after what had taken place at the dinner table. Valentina Mihailovna inquired once or twice about Mariana, as she too had disappeared soon after dinner. "Where is Mariana Vikentievna?" she asked first in Russian, then in French, addressing herself to no one in particular, but rather to the walls, as people often do when greatly astonished, but she soon became absorbed in the game.

Nejdanov paced up and down the room several times, then turned down the corridor and knocked gently at Mariana's door. There was no response. He knocked again-- then he turned the handle of the door. It was locked. But he had hardly got back to his own room and sat down, when the door creaked softly and Mariana's voice was heard: "Alexai Dmitritch, was that YOU, that came to me?

He jumped up instantly and rushed out into the corridor. Mariana was standing at his door with a candle in her hand, pale and motionless.

"Yes . . . I--" he murmured.

"Come," she said, turning down the corridor, but before reaching the end she stopped and pushed open a low door. Nejdanov looked into a small, almost bare room.

"We had better go in here, Alexai Dmitritch, no one will disturb us here."

Nejdanov obeyed. Mariana put the candlestick on a window-sill and turned to him.

"I understand why you wanted to see me," she began. "It is wretched for you to live in this house, and for me too."

"Yes, I wanted to see you, Mariana Vikentievna," Nejdanov replied, " but I do not feel wretched here since I've come to know you."

Mariana smiled pensively.

"Thank you, Alexai Dmitritch. But tell me, do you really intend stopping here after all that has happened?"

"I don't think they will keep me-- I shall be dismissed," Nejdanov replied.

"But don't you intend going away of your own accord?"

"I... No!"

"Why not?"

"Do you want to know the truth? Because you are here." Mariana lowered her head and moved a little further down the room.

"Besides," Nejdanov continued, "I MUST stay here. You know nothing-- but I want-- I feel that I must tell you everything." He approached Mariana and seized her hand; she did not take it away, but only looked straight into his face. "Listen!" he exclaimed with sudden force, "Listen!"

And instantly, without stopping to sit down, although there were two or three chairs in the room, still standing before her and holding her hand, with heated enthusiasm and with an eloquence, surprising even to himself, he began telling her all his plans, his intentions, his reason for having accepted Sipiagin's offer, about all his connections, acquaintances, about his past, things that he had always kept hidden from everybody. He told her about Vassily Nikolaevitch's letters, everything-- even about Silin! He spoke hurriedly, without a single pause or the smallest hesitation, as if he were reproaching himself for not having entrusted her with all his secrets before-- as if he were begging her pardon. She listened to him attentively, greedily; she was bewildered at first, but this feeling soon wore off. Her heart was overflowing with gratitude, pride, devotion, resoluteness. Her face and eyes shone; she laid her other hand on Nejdanov's-- her lips parted in ecstasy. She became marvellously beautiful!

He ceased at last, and suddenly seemed to see THIS face for the first time, although it was so dear and so familiar to him. He gave a deep sigh.

"Ah! how well I did to tell you everything!" He was scarcely able to articulate the words.

"Yes, how well-- how well!" she repeated, also in a whisper. She imitated him unconsciously-- her voice, too, gave way. "And it means," she continued, "that I am at your disposal, that I want to be useful to your cause, that I am ready to do anything that may be necessary, go wherever you may want me to, that I have always longed with my whole soul for all the things that you want--"

She also ceased. Another word-- and her emotion would have dissolved into tears. All the strength and force of her nature suddenly softened as wax. She was consumed with a thirst for activity, for self-sacrifice, for immediate self-sacrifice.

A sound of footsteps was heard from the other side of the door-- light, rapid, cautious footsteps.

Mariana suddenly drew herself up and disengaged her hands; her mood changed, she became quite cheerful, a certain audacious, scornful expression flitted across her face.

"I know who is listening behind the door at this moment," she remarked, so loudly that every word could be heard distinctly in the corridor; "Madame Sipiagina is listening to us . . . but it makes no difference to me."

The footsteps ceased.

"Well?" Mariana asked, turning to Nejdanov. "What shall I do? How shall I help you? Tell me. . . tell me quickly! What shall I do?"

"I don't know yet," Nejdanov replied. "I have received a note from Markelov--"

"When did you receive it? When? "

"This evening. He and I must go and see Solomin at the factory tomorrow."

"Yes . . . yes. . . . What a splendid man Markelov is! Now he's a real friend!"

"Like me"

"No--not like you."

"How?

She turned away suddenly.

"Oh! Don't you understand what you have become for me, and what I am feeling at this moment?"

Nejdanov's heart beat violently; he looked down. This girl who loved him--a poor, homeless wretch, who trusted him, who was ready to follow him, pursue the same cause together with him-- this wonderful girl-- Mariana-- became for Nejdanov at this moment the incarnation of all earthly truth and goodness-- the incarnation of the love of mother, sister, wife, all the things he had never known; the incarnation of his country, happiness, struggle, freedom!

He raised his head and encountered her eyes fixed on him again.

Oh, how this sweet, bright glance penetrated to his very soul!

"And so," he began in an unsteady voice, "I am going away tomorrow. . . And when I come back, I will tell. . .you-- " (he suddenly felt it awkward to address Mariana as "you") "tell you everything that is decided upon. From now on everything that I do and think, everything, I will tell thee first."

"Oh, my dear!" Mariana exclaimed, seizing his hand again. "I promise thee the same!"

The word "thee" escaped her lips just as simply and easily as if they had been old comrades.

"Have you got the letter?"

"Here it is."

Mariana scanned the letter and looked up at him almost reverently.

"Do they entrust you with such important commissions?" He smiled in reply and put the letter back in his pocket. "How curious," he said, "we have come to know of our love, we love one another-- and yet we have not said a single word about it."

"There is no need," Mariana whispered, and suddenly threw her arms around his neck and pressed her head closely against his breast. They did not kiss-- it would have seemed to them too commonplace and rather terrible-- but instantly took leave of one another, tightly clasping each other's hands.

Mariana returned for the candle which she had left on the window- sill of the empty room. Only then a sort of bewilderment came over her; she extinguished the candle and, gliding quickly along the dark corridor, entered her own room, undressed and went to bed in the soothing darkness.