Chapter XVI
 

ON awakening the following morning, Nejdanov did not feel the slightest embarrassment at what had taken place the previous night, but was, on the contrary, filled with a sort of quiet joy, as if he had fulfilled something which ought to have been done long ago. Asking for two days' leave from Sipiagin, who consented readily, though with a certain amount of severity, Nejdanov set out for Markelov's. Before his departure he managed to see Mariana. She was also not in the least abashed, looked at him calmly and resolutely, and called him "dear" quite naturally. She was very much concerned about what he might hear at Markelov's, and begged him to tell her everything.

"Of course!" he replied. "After all," he thought, "why should we be disturbed? In our friendship personal feeling played only ... a secondary part, and we are united forever. In the name of the cause? Yes, in the name of the cause!"

Thus Nejdanov thought, and he did not himself suspect how much truth and how much falsehood there lay in his reflections.

He found Markelov in the same weary, sullen frame of mind. After a very impromptu dinner they set out in the well-known carriage to the merchant Falyeva's cotton factory where Solomin lived. (The second side horse harnessed to the carriage was a young colt that had never been in harness before. Markelov's own horse was still a little lame.)

Nejdanov's curiosity had been aroused. He very much wanted to become closer acquainted with a man about whom he had heard so much of late. Solomin had been informed of their coming, so that as soon as the two travellers stopped at the gates of the factory and announced who they were, they were immediately conducted into the hideous little wing occupied by the "engineering manager." He was at that time in the main body of the building, and while one of the workmen ran to fetch him, Nejdanov and Markelov managed to go up to the window and look around. The factory was apparently in a very flourishing condition and over-loaded with work. From every corner came the quick buzzing sound of unceasing activity; the puffing and rattling of machines, the creaking of looms, the humming of wheels, the whirling of straps, while trolleys, barrels, and loaded carts were rolling in and out. Orders were shouted out at the top of the voice amidst the sound of bells and whistles; workmen in blouses with girdles round their waists, their hair fastened with straps, work girls in print dresses, hurried quickly to and fro, harnessed horses were led about.

It represented the hum of a thousand human beings working with all their might. Everything went at full speed in fairly regular order, but not only was there an absence of smartness and neatness, but there was not the smallest trace or cleanliness to be seen anywhere. On the contrary, in every corner one was struck by neglect, dirt, grime; here a pane of glass was broken, there the plaster was coming off; in another place the boards were loose; in a third, a door gaped wide open. A large filthy puddle covered with a coating of rainbow-coloured slime stood in the middle of the main yard; farther on lay a heap of discarded bricks; scraps of mats and matting, boxes, and pieces of rope lay scattered here and there; shaggy, hungry-looking dogs wandered to and fro, too listless to bark; in a corner, under the fence, sat a grimy little boy of about four, with an enormous belly and dishevelled head, crying hopelessly, as if he had been forsaken by the whole world; close by a sow likewise besmeared in soot and surrounded by a medley of little suckling-pigs was devouring some cabbage stalks; some ragged clothes were stretched on a line-- and such stuffiness and stench! In a word, just like a Russian factory-- not like a French or a German one.

Nejdanov looked at Markelov.

"I have heard so much about Solomin's superior capabilities," he began, "that I confess all this disorder surprises me. I did not expect it."

"This is not disorder, but the usual Russian slovenliness," Markelov replied gloomily. "But all the same, they are turning over millions. Solomin has to adjust himself to the old ways, to practical things, and to the owner himself. Have you any idea what Falyeva is like?"

"Not in the least."

"He is the biggest skinflint in Moscow. A regular bourgeois."

At this moment Solomin entered the room. Nejdanov was just as disillusioned about him as he had been about the factory. At the first glance he gave one the impression of being a Finn or a Swede. He was tall, lean, broad-shouldered, with colourless eyebrows and eyelashes; had a long sallow face, a short, rather broad nose, small greenish eyes, a placid expression, coarse thick lips, large teeth, and a divided chin covered with a suggestion of down. He was dressed like a mechanic or a stoker in an old pea-jacket with baggy pockets, with an oil-skin cap on his head, a woollen scarf round his neck, and tarred boots on his feet. He was accompanied by a man of about forty in a peasant coat, who had an extraordinarily lively gipsy-like face, coal- black piercing eyes, with which he scanned Nejdanov as soon as he entered the room. Markelov was already known to him. This was Pavel, Solomin's factotum.

Solomin approached the two visitors slowly and without a word, pressed the hand of each in turn in his own hard bony one. He opened a drawer, pulled out a sealed letter, which he handed to Pavel, also without a word, and the latter immediately left the room. Then he stretched himself, threw away his cap with one wave of the hand, sat down on a painted wooden stool and, pointing to a couch, begged Nejdanov and Markelov to be seated.

Markelov first introduced Nejdanov, whom Solomin again shook by the hand, then he went on to "business," mentioning Vassily Nikolaevitch's letter, which Nejdanov handed to Solomin. And while the latter was reading it carefully, his eyes moving from line to line, Nejdanov sat watching him. Solomin was near the window and the sun, already low in the horizon, was shining full on his tanned face covered with perspiration, on his fair hair covered with dust, making it sparkle like a mass of gold. His nostrils quivered and distended as he read, and his lips moved as though he were forming every word. He held the letter raised tightly in both hands, and when he had finished returned it to Nejdanov and began listening to Markelov again. The latter talked until he had exhausted himself.

"I am afraid," Solomin began (his hoarse voice, full of youth and strength, was pleasing to Nejdanov's ear), "it will be rather inconvenient to talk here. Why not go to your place? It is only a question of seven miles. You came in your carriage, did you not?"

"Yes."

"Well, I suppose you can make room for me. I shall have finished my work in about an hour, and will be quite free. We can talk things over thoroughly. You are also free, are you not?" he asked, turning to Nejdanov.

"Until the day after tomorrow."

"That's all right. We can stay the night at your place, Sergai Mihailovitch, I suppose?

"Of course you may!"

"Good. I shall be ready in a minute. I'll just make myself a little more presentable."

"And how are things at your factory?" Nejdanov asked significantly.

Solomin looked away.

"We can talk things over thoroughly," he remarked a second time. " Please excuse me a moment. . . I'll be back directly. . . . I've forgotten something."

He went out. Had he not already produced a good impression on Nejdanov, the latter would have thought that he was backing out, but such an idea did not occur to him.

An hour later, when from every story, every staircase and door of the enormous building, a noisy crowd of workpeople came streaming out, the carriage containing Markelov, Nejdanov, and Solomin drove out of the gates on to the road.

"Vassily Fedotitch! Is it to be done?" Pavel shouted after Solomin, whom he had accompanied to the gate.

"No, not now," Solomin replied. "He wanted to know about some night work," he explained, turning to his companions.

When they reached Borsionkov they had some supper, merely for the sake of politeness, and afterwards lighted cigars and began a discussion, one of those interminable, midnight Russian discussions which in degree and length are only peculiar to Russians and unequalled by people of any other nationality. During the discussion, too, Solomin did not come up to Nejdanov's expectation. He spoke little--so little that one might almost have said that he was quite silent. But he listened attentively, and whenever he made any remark or gave an opinion, did so briefly, seriously, showing a considerable amount of common- sense. Solomin did not believe that the Russian revolution was so near at hand, but not wishing to act as a wet blanket on others, he did not intrude his opinions or hinder others from making attempts. He looked on from a distance as it were, but was still a comrade by their side. He knew the St. Petersburg revolutionists and agreed with their ideas up to a certain point. He himself belonged to the people, and fully realised that the great bulk of them, without whom one can do nothing, were still quite indifferent, that they must first be prepared, by quite different means and for entirely different ends than the upper classes. So he held aloof, not from a sense of superiority, but as an ordinary man with a few independent ideas, who did not wish to ruin himself or others in vain. But as for listening, there was no harm in that.

Solomin was the only son of a deacon and had five sisters, who were all married to priests or deacons. He was also destined for the church, but with his father's consent threw it up and began to study mathematics, as he had taken a special liking to mechanics. He entered a factory of which the owner was an Englishman, who got to love him like his own son. This man supplied him with the means of going to Manchester, where he stayed for two years, acquiring an excellent knowledge of the English language. With the Moscow merchant he had fallen in but a short time ago. He was exacting with his subordinates, a manner he had acquired in England, but they liked him nevertheless, and treated him as one of themselves. His father was very proud of him, and used to speak of him as a steady sort of man, but was very grieved that he did not marry and settle down.

During the discussion, as we have already said, Solomin sat silent the whole time; but when Markelov began enlarging upon the hopes they put on the factory workers, Solomin remarked, in his usual laconic way, that they must not depend too much on them, as factory workers in Russia were not what they were abroad. "They are an extremely mild set of people here."

"And what about the peasants?"

"The peasants? There are a good many sweaters and money-lenders among them now, and there are likely to be more in time. This kind only look to their own interests, and as for the others, they are as ignorant as sheep."

"Then where are we to turn to?" Solomin smiled.

"Seek and ye shall find."

There was a constant smile on his lips, but the smile was as full of meaning as the man himself. With Nejdanov he behaved in a very peculiar manner. He was attracted to the young student and felt an almost tender sympathy for him. At one part of the discussion, where Nejdanov broke out into a perfect torrent of words, Solomin got up quietly, moved across the room with long strides, and shut a window that was standing open just above Nejdanov's head.

"You might catch cold," he observed, in answer to the orator's look of amazement.

Nejdanov began to question him about his factory, asking if any cooperative experiments had been made, if anything had been done so that the workers might come in for a share of the profits.

"My dear fellow!" Solomin exclaimed, "I instituted a school and a tiny hospital, and even then the owner struggled like a bear!"

Solomin lost his temper once in real earnest on hearing of some legal injustice about the suppression of a workman's association. He banged his powerful fist on the table so that everything on it trembled, including a forty-pound weight, which happened to be lying near the ink pot.

When Markelov and Nejdanov began discussing ways and means of executing their plans, Solomin listened with respectful curiosity, but did not pronounce a single word. Their talk lasted until four o'clock in the morning, when they had touched upon almost everything under the sun. Markelov again spoke mysteriously of Kisliakov's untiring journeys and his letters, which were becoming more interesting than ever. He promised to show them to Nejdanov, saying that he would probably have to take them away with him, as they were rather lengthy and written in an illegible handwriting. He assured him that there was a great deal of learning in them and even poetry, not of the frivolous kind, but poetry with a socialistic tendency!

From Kisliakov, Markelov went on to the military, to adjutants, Germans, even got so far as his articles on the shortcomings of the artillery, whilst Nejdanov spoke about the antagonism between Heine and Borne, Proudhon, and realism in art. Solomin alone sat listening and reflecting, the smile never leaving his lips. Without having uttered a single word, he seemed to understand better than the others where the essential difficulty lay.

The hour struck four. Nejdanov and Markelov could scarcely stand on their legs from exhaustion, while Solomin was as fresh as could be. They parted for the night, having agreed to go to town the next day to see the merchant Golushkin, an Old Believer, who was said to be very zealous and promised proselytes.

Solomin doubted whether it was worth while going, but agreed to go in the end.