Chapter XXV
 

UNTIL his visit Mariana had pictured Solomin to herself as quite different. At first sight he had struck her as undefined, characterless. She had seen many such fair, lean, sinewy men in her day, but the more she watched him, the longer she listened to him, the stronger grew her feeling of confidence in him--for it was confidence he inspired her with. This calm, not exactly clumsy, but heavy man, was not only incapable of lying or bragging, but one could rely on him as on a stone wall. He would not betray one; more than that, he would understand and help one. It seemed to Mariana that he aroused such a feeling, not only in herself alone, but in everyone present. The things he spoke about had no particular interest for her. She attached very little significance to all this talk about factories and merchants, but the way in which he spoke, the manner in which he looked round and smiled, pleased her immensely.

A straightforward man . . . at any rate! this was what appealed to her. It is a well-known fact, though not very easy to understand, that Russians are the greatest liars on the face of the earth, yet there is nothing they respect more than truth, nothing they sympathise with more. And then Solomin, in Mariana's eyes, was surrounded by a particular halo, as a man who had been recommended by Vassily Nikolaevitch himself. During dinner she had exchanged glances with Nejdanov several times on his account, and in the end found herself involuntarily comparing the two, not to Nejdanov's advantage. Nejdanov's face was, it is true, handsomer and pleasanter to look at than Solomin's, but the very face expressed a medley of troubled sensations: embarrassment, annoyance, impatience, and even dejection.

He seemed to be sitting on hot coals; tried to speak, but did not, and laughed nervously. Solomin, on the other hand, seemed a little bored, but looked quite at home and utterly independent of what was going on around him. "We must certainly ask advice of this man," Mariana thought, "he is sure to tell us something useful." It was she who had sent Nejdanov to him after dinner.

The evening went very slowly; fortunately dinner was not over until late and not very long remained before bedtime. Kollomietzev was sulky and said nothing.

"What is the matter with you? " Madame Sipiagina asked half- jestingly. "Have you lost anything?"

"Yes, I have," Kollomietzev replied. "There is a story about a certain officer in the lifeguards who was very much grieved that his soldiers had lost a sock of his. 'Find me my sock!' he would say to them, and I say, find me the word 'sir!' The word ' sir' is lost, and with it every sense of respect towards rank!"

Madame Sipiagina informed Kollomietzev that she would not help him in the search.

Emboldened by the success of his speech at dinner, Sipiagin delivered two others, in which he let fly various statesmanlike reflections about indispensable measures and various words--des mots--not so much witty as weighty, which he had especially prepared for St. Petersburg. He even repeated one of these words, saying beforehand, "If you will allow the expression." Above all, he declared that a certain minister had an "idle, unconcentrated mind," and was given "to dreaming." And not forgetting that one of his listener's was a man of the people, he lost no opportunity in trying to show that he too was a Russian through and through, and steeped in the very root of the national life! For instance, to Kollomietzev's remark that the rain might interfere with the haymaking, he replied, "If the hay is black, then the buckwheat will be white;" then he made use of various proverbs like: "A store without a master is an orphan," "Look before you leap," "When there's bread then there's economy," " If the birch leaves are as big as farthings by St. Yegor's day, the dough can be put into tubs by the feast of Our Lady of Kazan." He sometimes went wrong, however, and would get his proverbs very much mixed; but the society in which these little slips occurred did not even suspect that notre bon Russe had made a mistake, and, thanks to Prince Kovrishkin, it had got used to such little blunders. Sipiagin pronounced all these proverbs in a peculiarly powerful, gruff voice--d'une voix rustique. Similar sayings let loose at the proper time and place in St. Petersburg would cause influential high-society ladies to exclaim, "Comme il connait bien les moeurs de notre people!" and great statesmen would add, "Les moeurs et les besoins!"

Valentina Mihailovna fussed about Solomin as much as she could, but her failure to arouse him disheartened her. On passing Kollomietzev she said involuntarily, in an undertone: "Mon Dieu, que je me sens fatiguee!" to which he replied with an ironical bow: "Tu l'as voulu, George Daudin!"

At last, after the usual outburst of politeness and amiability, which appears on the faces of a bored assembly on the point of breaking up, after sudden handshakings and friendly smiles, the weary guests and weary hosts separated.

Solomin, who had been given almost the best bedroom on the second floor, with English toilette accessories and a bathroom attached, went in to Nejdanov.

The latter began by thanking him heartily for having agreed to stay.

"I know it's a sacrifice on your part--"

"Not at all," Solomin said hastily. "There was no sort of sacrifice required. Besides I couldn't refuse you."

"Why not?"

"Because I've taken a great liking to you."

Nejdanov was surprised and glad at the same time, while Solomin pressed his hand. Then he seated himself astride on a chair, lighted a cigar, and leaning both his elbows against the back, began:

"Now tell me what's the matter."

Nejdanov also seated himself astride on a chair in front of Solomin, but did not light a cigar.

"So you want to know what's the matter. . . The fact is, I want to run away from here."

"Am I to understand that you want to leave this house? As far as I can see there is nothing to prevent you.

"Not leave it, but run away from it."

"Why? Do they want to detain you? Perhaps you've taken some money in advance . . . If so, you've only to say the word and I should be delighted--"

"I'm afraid you don't understand me, my dear Solomin. "I said run away and not leave, because I'm not going away alone."

Solomin raised his head.

"With whom then?"

"With the girl you've seen here today."

"With her! She has a very nice face. Are you in love with one another? Or have you simply decided to go away together because you don't like being here?"

"We love each other."

Ah!" Solomin was silent for a while. "Is she related to the people here?"

"Yes. But she fully shares our convictions and is prepared for anything."

Solomin smiled.

"And you, Nejdanov, are you prepared?"

Nejdanov frowned slightly.

"Why ask? You will see when the time comes."

"I do not doubt you, Nejdanov. I only asked because it seemed to me that besides yourself nobody else was prepared."

"And Markelov?"

"Why, of course, Markelov! But then, he was born prepared."

At this moment someone knocked at the door gently, but hastily, and opened it without waiting for an answer. It was Mariana. She immediately came up to Solomin.

"I feel sure," she began, "that you are not surprised at seeing me here at this time of night. He" (Mariana pointed to Nejdanov) "has no doubt told you everything. Give me your hand, please, and believe me an honest girl is standing before you."

"I am convinced of that," Solomin said seriously.

He had risen from his chair as soon as Mariana had appeared. "I had already noticed you at table and was struck by the frank expression of your eyes. Nejdanov told me about your intentions. But may I ask why you want to run away."

"What a question! The cause with which I am fully in sympathy ... don't be surprised. Nejdanov has kept nothing from me. . . The great work is about to begin ... and am I to remain in this house, where everything is deceit and falsehood? People I love will be exposed to danger, and I--"

Solomin stopped her by a wave of the hand.

"Calm yourself. Sit down, please, and you sit down too, Nejdanov. Let us all sit down. Listen to me! If you have no other reason than the one you have mentioned, then there's no need for you to run away as yet. The work will not begin so soon as you seem to anticipate. A little more prudent consideration is needed in this matter. It's no good plunging in too soon, believe me."

Mariana sat down and wrapped herself up in a large plaid, which she had thrown over her shoulders.

"But I can't stay here any longer! I am being insulted by everybody. Only today that idiot Anna Zaharovna said before Kolia, alluding to my father, that a bad tree does not bring forth good fruit! Kolia was even surprised, and asked what it meant. Not to speak of Valentina Mihailovna!"

Solomin stopped her again, this time with a smile.

Mariana felt that he was laughing at her a little, but this smile could not have offended any one.

"But, my dear lady, I don't know who Anna Zaharovna is, nor what tree you are talking about. A foolish woman says some foolish things to you and you can't endure it! How will you live in that case? The whole world is composed of fools. Your reason is not good enough. Have you any other?"

"I am convinced," Nejdanov interposed in a hollow voice, "that Mr. Sipiagin will turn me out of the house tomorrow of his own accord. Someone must have told him. He treats me . . . in the most contemptuous manner."

Solomin turned to Nejdanov.

"If that's the case, then why run away?"

Nejdanov did not know what to say.

"But I've already told you--," he began.

"He said that," Mariana put in, "because I am going with him."

Solomin looked at her and shook his head good-naturedly.

"In that case, my dear lady, I say again, that if you want to leave here because you think the revolution is about to break out--"

"That was precisely why we asked you to come," Mariana interrupted him; "we wanted to find out exactly how matters stood."

"If that's your reason for going," Solomin continued, "I repeat once more, you can stay at home for some time to come yet, but if you want to run away because you love each other and can't be united otherwise, then--"

"Well? What then?"

"Then I must first congratulate you and, if need be, give you all the help in my power. I may say, my dear lady, that I took a liking to you both at first sight and love you as brother and sister."

Mariana and Nejdanov both went up to him on the right and left and each clasped a hand.

"Only tell us what to do," Mariana implored. "Supposing the revolution is still far off, there must be preparatory work to be done, a thing impossible in this house, in the midst of these surroundings. We should so gladly go together. . . Show us what we can do; tell us where to go. . . Send us anywhere you like! You will send us, won't you?"

"Where to?

"To the people. . . . Where can one go if not among the people?"

"Into the forest," Nejdanov thought, calling to mind Paklin's words.

Solomin looked intently at Mariana.

"Do you want to know the people?"

"Yes; that is, we not only want to get to know them, but we want to work . . . to toil for them."

"Very well. I promise you that you shall get to know them. I will give you the opportunity of doing as you wish. And you, Nejdanov, are you ready to go for her . . . and for them?"

"Of course I am," he said hastily. "Juggernaut," another word of Paklin's, flashed across his mind. "Here it comes thundering along, the huge chariot . . . I can hear the crash and rumble of its wheels."

"Very well," Solomin repeated pensively. "But when do you want to go away?"

"Tomorrow, if possible," Mariana observed.

"Very good. But where?"

"Sh, sh--" Nejdanov whispered. "Someone is walking along the corridor."

They were all silent for a time.

"But where do you want to go to? " Solomin asked again, lowering his voice.

"We don't know," Mariana replied.

Solomin glanced at Nejdanov, but the latter merely shook his head.

Solomin stretched out his hand and carefully snuffed the candle.

"I tell you what, my children," he said at last, "come to me at the factory. It's not beautiful there, but safe, at any rate. I will hide you. I have a little spare room there. Nobody will find you. If only you get there, we won't give you up. You might think that there are far too many people about, but that's one of its good points. Where there is a crowd it's easy to hide. Will you come? Will you?"

"How can we thank you enough!" Nejdanov exclaimed, whilst Mariana, who was at first a little taken aback by the idea of the factory, added quickly:

"Of course, of course! How good of you! But you won't leave us there long, will you? You will send us on, won't you?"

"That will depend entirely on yourselves. . . If you should want to get married that could also be arranged at the factory. I have a neighbour there close by--a cousin of mine, a priest, and very friendly. He would marry you with the greatest of pleasure."

Mariana smiled to herself, while Nejdanov again pressed Solomin's hand.

"But I say, won't your employer, the owner of the factory, be annoyed about it. Won't he make it unpleasant for you?" he asked after a pause.

Solomin looked askance at Nejdanov.

"Oh, don't bother about me! It's quite unnecessary. So long as things at the factory go on all right it's all the same to my employer. You need neither of you fear the least unpleasantness. And you need not be afraid of the workpeople either. Only let me know what time to expect you."

Nejdanov and Mariana exchanged glances.

"The day after tomorrow, early in the morning, or the day after that. We can't wait any longer. As likely as not they'll tell me to go tomorrow."

"Well then," Solomin said, rising from his chair. "I'll wait for you every morning. I won't leave the place for the rest of the week. Every precaution will be taken."

Mariana drew near to him (she was on her way to the door). "Goodbye, my dear kind Vassily Fedotitch ... that is your name, isn't it? "

"That's right."

"Goodbye till we meet again. And thank you so much!"

"Goodbye, good night!"

"Goodbye, Nejdanov; till tomorrow," she added, and went out quickly.

The young men remained for some time motionless, and both were silent.

"Nejdanov . . ." Solomin began at last, and stopped. "Nejdanov..." he began a second time, "tell me about this girl . . . tell me everything you can. What has her life been until now? Who is she? Why is she here?"

Nejdanov told Solomin briefly what he knew about her. "Nejdanov," he said at last, "you must take great care of her, because . . . if . . . anything . . . were to happen, you would be very much to blame. Goodbye."

He went out, while Nejdanov stood still for a time in the middle of the room, and muttering, "Oh dear! It's better not to think!" threw himself face downwards on the bed.

When Mariana returned to her room she found a note on the table containing the following:

"I am sorry for you. You are ruining yourself. Think what you are doing. Into what abysses are you throwing yourself with your eyes shut. For whom and for what?--V."

There was a peculiarly fine fresh scent in the room; evidently Valentina Mihailovna had only just left it. Mariana took a pen and wrote underneath: "You need not be sorry for me. God knows which of us two is more in need of pity. I only know that I wouldn't like to be in your place for worlds.--M." She put the note on the table, not doubting that it would fall into Valentina Mihailovna's hand.

On the following morning, Solomin, after seeing Nejdanov and definitely declining to undertake the management of Sipiagin's factory, set out for home. He mused all the way home, a thing that rarely occurred with him; the motion of the carriage usually had a drowsy effect on him. He thought of Mariana and of Nejdanov; it seemed to him that if he had been in love--he, Solomin--he would have had quite a different air, would have looked and spoken differently. "But," he thought, "such a thing has never happened to me, so I can't tell what sort of an air I would have." He recalled an Irish girl whom he had once seen in a shop behind a counter; recalled her wonderful black hair, blue eyes, and thick lashes, and how she had looked at him with a sad, wistful expression, and how he had paced up and down the street before her window for a long time, how excited he had been, and had kept asking himself if he should try and get to know her. He was in London at the time, where he had been sent by his employer with a sum of money to make various purchases. He very nearly decided to remain in London and send back the money, so strong was the impression produced on him by the beautiful Polly. (He had got to know her name, one of the other girls had called her by it.) He had mastered himself, however, and went back to his employer. Polly was more beautiful than Mariana, but Mariana had the same sad, wistful expression in her eyes . . . and Mariana was a Russian.

"But what am I doing? " Solomin exclaimed in an undertone, "bothering about other men's brides!" and he shook back the collar of his coat, as if he wanted to shake off all superfluous thoughts. Just then he drove up to the factory and caught sight of the faithful Pavel in the doorway of his little dwelling.