Virgin Soil by Ivan S. Turgenev
FIRST they clasped each other's hands, then Mariana offered to help him tidy his room. She immediately began unpacking his portmanteau and bag, declining his offer of help on the ground that she must get used to work and wished to do it all herself. She hung his clothes on nails which she discovered in the table drawer and knocked into the wall with the back of a hairbrush for want of a hammer. Then she arranged his linen in a little old chest of drawers standing in between the two windows.
"What is this? " she asked suddenly. "Why, it's a revolver. Is it loaded? What do you want it for?"
"It is not loaded . . . but you had better give it to me. You want to know why I have it? How can one get on without a revolver in our calling?"
She laughed and went on with her work, shaking each thing out separately and beating it with her hand; she even stood two pairs of boots under the sofa; the few books, packet of papers, and tiny copy-book of verses she placed triumphantly upon a three- cornered table, calling it a writing and work table, while the other, a round one, she called a dining and tea table. Then she took up the copy-book of verses in both hands and, raising it on a level with her face, looked over the edge at Nejdanov and said with a smile:
"We will read this together when we have some time to spare, won't we?
"Give it to me! I'll burn it!" Nejdanov burst out. "That's all it's fit for!
"Then why did you take it with you? No, I won't let you burn it. However, authors are always threatening to burn their things, but they never do. I will put it in my room."
Nejdanov was just about to protest when Mariana rushed into the next room with the copy-book and came back without it.
She sat down beside him, but instantly got up again. "You have not yet been in my room; would you like to see it? It's quite as nice as yours. Come and look."
Nejdanov rose and followed her. Her room, as she called it, was somewhat smaller than his, but the furniture was altogether smarter and newer. Some flowers in a crystal vase stood on the window-sill and there was an iron bedstead in a corner.
"Isn't Solomin a darling!" Mariana exclaimed. "But we mustn't get too spoiled. I don't suppose we shall often have rooms like these. Do you know what I've been thinking? It would be rather nice if we could get a place together so that we need not part! It will probably be difficult," she added after a pause; "but we must think of it. But all the same, you won't go back to St. Petersburg, will you?
"What should I do in St. Petersburg? Attend lectures at the university or give lessons? That's no use to me now."
"We must ask Solomin," Mariana observed. "He will know best."
They went back to the other room and sat down beside each other again. They praised Solomin, Tatiana, Pavel; spoke of the Sipiagins and how their former life had receded from them far into the distance, as if enveloped in a mist; then they clasped each other's hand again, exchanged tender glances; wondered what class they had better go among first, and how to behave so that people should not suspect them.
Nejdanov declared that the less they thought about that, and the more naturally they behaved, the better.
"Of course! We want to become simple, as Tatiana says."
"I didn't mean it in that sense," Nejdanov began; "I meant that we must not be self-conscious."
Mariana suddenly burst out laughing.
"Do you remember, Aliosha, how I said that we had both become simplified?"
Nejdanov also laughed, repeated "simplified," and began musing. Mariana too became pensive.
"Aliosha!" she exclaimed.
"What is it?"
"It seems to me that we are both a little uncomfortable. Young-- des nouveaux maries," she explained, "when away on their honeymoon no doubt feel as we do. They are happy . . . all is well with them-- but they feel uncomfortable."
Nejdanov gave a forced smile.
"You know very well, Mariana, that we are not young in that sense."
Mariana rose from her chair and stood before him.
"That depends on yourself."
"Aliosha, you know, dear, that when you tell me, as a man of honour . . . and I will believe you because I know you are honourable; when you tell me that you love me with that love. . . the love that gives one person the right over another's life, when you tell me that--I am yours."
Nejdanov blushed and turned away a little.
"When I tell you that. . .
"Yes, then! But you see, Aliosha, you don't say that to me now... Oh yes, Aliosha, you are truly an honourable man. Enough of this! Let us talk of more serious things."
"But I do love you, Mariana!"
"I don't doubt that . . . and shall wait. But there, I have not quite finished arranging your writing table. Here is something wrapped up, something hard."
Nejdanov sprang up from his chair.
"Don't touch that, Mariana. . . Leave it alone, please!
Mariana looked at him over her shoulder and raised her eyebrows in amazement.
Is it a mystery? A secret? Have you a secret?
"Yes . . . yes . . ." Nejdanov stammered out, and added by way of explanation, "it's a portrait."
The word escaped him unawares. The packet Mariana held in her hand was her own portrait, which Markelov had given Nejdanov.
"A portrait?" she drawled out. "Is it a woman's?
She handed him the packet, which he took so clumsily that it slipped out of his hand and fell open.
"Why . . . it's my portrait! "Mariana exclaimed quickly. "I suppose I may look at my own portrait." She took it out of Nejdanov's hand.
"Did you do it?
"No . . . I didn't."
"Who then? Markelov?"
"Yes, you've guessed right."
"Then how did it come to be in your possession?"
"He gave it to me."
Nejdanov told her when and under what circumstances. While he was speaking Mariana glanced from him to the portrait. The same thought flashed across both their minds. "If HE were in this room, then HE would have the right to demand . . ." But neither Mariana nor Nejdanov gave expression to this thought in words, perhaps because each was conscious what was in the other's mind.
Mariana quietly wrapped the portrait up again in its paper and put it on the table.
"What a good man he is!" she murmured. "I wonder where he is now?"
"Why, at home of course. Tomorrow or the day after I must go and see him about some books and pamphlets. He promised to give me some, but evidently forgot to do so before I left."
"And do you think, Aliosha, that when he gave you this portrait he renounced everything... absolutely everything?"
I think so."
"Do you think you will find him at home?"
"Ah!" Mariana lowered her eyes and dropped her hands at her sides. "But here comes Tatiana with our dinner," she exclaimed suddenly. "Isn't she a dear!"
Tatiana appeared with the knives and forks, serviettes, plates and dishes. While laying the table she related all the news about the factory. "The master came from Moscow by rail and started running from floor to floor like a madman. Of course he doesn't understand anything and does it only for show-- to set an example so to speak. Vassily Fedotitch treats him like a child. The master wanted to make some unpleasantness, but Vassily Fedotitch soon shut him up. 'I'll throw it up this minute,' he said, so he soon began to sing small. They are having dinner now. The master brought someone with him. A Moscow swell who does nothing but admire everything. He must be very rich, I think, by the way he holds his tongue and shakes his head. And so stout, very stout! A real swell! No wonder there's a saying that 'Moscow lies at the foot of Russia and everything rolls down to her.'"
"How you notice everything!" Mariana exclaimed.
"Yes, I do rather," Tatiana observed. "Well, here is your dinner. Come and have it and I'll sit and look at you for a little while."
Mariana and Nejdanov sat down to table, whilst Tatiana sat down on the window-sill and rested her cheek in her hand.
"I watch you . . ." she observed. "And what dear, young, tender creatures you are. You're so nice to look at that it quite makes my heart ache. Ah, my dear! You are taking a heavier burden on your shoulders than you can bear. It's people like you that the tsar's folk are ready to put into prison."
"Nothing of the kind. Don't frighten us," Nejdanov remarked. "You know the old saying, 'As you make your bed so you must lie on it.' "
"Yes, I know. But the beds are so narrow nowadays that you can't get out of them!"
"Have you any children?" Mariana asked to change the subject.
"Yes, I have a boy. He goes to school now. I had a girl too, but she's gone, the little bird! An accident happened to her. She fell under a wheel. If only it had killed her at once! But no, she suffered a long while. Since then I've become more tender- hearted. Before I was as wild and hard as a tree!"
"Why, did you not love your Pavel?"
"But that's not the same. Only a girl's feelings. And you--do you love HIM?"
"Of course I do."
"Ever so much."
"Really? . . ." Tatiana looked from one to the other, but said nothing more.
"I'll tell you what I would like. Could you get me some coarse, strong wool? I want to knit some stockings. . .plain ones."
Tatiana promised to have everything done, and clearing the table, went out of the room with her firm, quiet step.
"Well, what shall we do now?" Mariana asked, turning to Nejdanov, and without, waiting for a reply, continued, "Since our real work does not begin until tomorrow, let us devote this evening to literature. Would you like to? We can read your poems. I will be a severe critic, I promise you."
It took Nejdanov a long time before he consented, but he gave in at last and began reading aloud out of his copybook. Mariana sat close to him and gazed into his face as he read. She had been right; she turned out to be a very severe critic. Very few of the verses pleased her. She preferred the purely lyrical, short ones, to the didactic, as she expressed it. Nejdanov did not read well. He had not the courage to attempt any style, and at the same time wanted to avoid a dry tone. It turned out neither the one thing nor the other. Mariana interrupted him suddenly by asking if he knew Dobrolubov's beautiful poem, which begins, "To die for me no terror holds." She read it to him--also not very well--in a somewhat childish manner.
[To die for me no terror holds, Yet one fear presses on my mind, That death should on me helpless play A satire of the bitter kind. For much I fear that o'er my corpse The scalding tears of friends shall flow, And that, too late, they should with zeal Fresh flowers upon my body throw. That fate sardonic should recall The ones I loved to my cold side, And make me lying in the ground, The object of love once denied. That all my aching heart's desires, So vainly sought for from my birth, Should crowd unbidden, smiling kind Above my body's mound of earth.]
Nejdanov thought that it was too sad and too bitter. He could not have written a poem like that, he added, as he had no fears of any one weeping over his grave . . . there would be no tears.
"There will be if I outlive you," Mariana observed slowly, and lifting her eyes to the ceiling she asked, in a whisper, as if speaking to herself:
"How did he do the portrait of me? From memory?"
Nejdanov turned to her quickly.
"Yes, from memory."
Mariana was surprised at his reply. It seemed to her that she merely thought the question. "It is really wonderful . . ." she continued in the same tone of voice. "Why, he can't draw at all. What was I talking about?" she added aloud. "Oh yes, it was about Dobrolubov's poems. One ought to write poems like Pushkin's, or even like Dobrolubov's. It is not poetry exactly, but something nearly as good."
"And poems like mine one should not write at all. Isn't that so?" Nejdanov asked.
"Poems like yours please your friends, not because they are good, but because you are a good man and they are like you."
"You have completely buried them and me with them!" Mariana slapped his hand and called him naughty. Soon after she announced that she was tired and wanted to go to bed.
"By the way," she added, shaking back her short thick curls, "do you know that I have a hundred and thirty roubles? And how much have you?"
Oh, then we are rich . . . for simplified folk. Well, good night, until tomorrow."
She went out, but in a minute or two her door opened slightly and he heard her say, "Goodnight!" then more softly another "Goodnight!" and the key turned in the lock.
Nejdanov sank on to the sofa and covered his face with his hands. Then he got up quickly, went to her door and knocked.
"What is it?" was heard from within.
"Not till tomorrow, Mariana . . . not till tomorrow!"
"Till tomorrow," she replied softly.