Chapter XXXI
 

"Is Nejdanov not at home?" she asked, then catching sight of Solomin, came up to him and extended her hand.

"How do you do, Solomin?" She threw a side-glance at Mariana.

"He will be back directly," Solomin said. " But tell me how you came to know--"

"Markelov told me. Besides several people in the town already know that he's here."

"Really?"

"Yes. Somebody must have let it out. Besides Nejdanov has been recognised."

"For all the dressing up!" Solomin muttered to himself. "Allow me to introduce you," he said aloud, "Miss Sinitska, Miss Mashurina! Won't you sit down?"

Mashurina nodded her head slightly and sat down. "I have a letter for Nejdanov and a message for you, Solomin."

"What message? And from whom?"

"From someone who is well known to you . . . Well, is everything ready here?"

"Nothing whatever."

Mashurina opened her tiny eyes as wide as she could.

"Nothing?

"Nothing."

"Absolutely nothing?"

"Absolutely nothing."

"Is that what I am to say?"

"Exactly."

Mashurina became thoughtful and pulled a cigarette out of her pocket.

"Can I have a light?"

"Here is a match."

Mashurina lighted her cigarette.

"They expected something different," she began, "Altogether different from what you have here. However, that is your affair. I am not going to stay long. I only want to see Nejdanov and give him the letter."

"Where are you going to?

"A long way from here." (She was going to Geneva, but did not want Solomin to know as she did not quite trust him, and besides a stranger was present. Mashurina, who scarcely knew a word of German, was being sent to Geneva to hand over to a person absolutely unknown to her a piece of cardboard with a vine-branch sketched on it and two hundred and seventy-nine roubles.)

"And where is Ostrodumov? Is he with you?"

"No, but he's quite near. Got stuck on the way. He'll be here when he's wanted. Pemien can look after himself. There is no need to worry about him."

"How did you get here?"

"In a cart of course. How else could I have come? Give me another match, please."

Solomin gave her a light.

"Vassily Fedotitch!" A voice called out suddenly from the other side of the door. "Can you come out?"

"Who is it? What do you want?"

"Do come, please," the voice repeated insistently. "Some new workmen have come. They're trying to explain something, and Pavel Egoritch is not there."

Solomin excused himself and went out. Mashurina fixed her gaze on Mariana and stared at her for so long that the latter began to feel uncomfortable.

"Excuse me," Mashurina exclaimed suddenly in her hard abrupt voice, "I am a plain woman and don't know how to put these things. Don't be angry with me. You need not tell me if you don't wish to. Are you the girl who ran away from the Sipiagins?"

"Yes," Mariana replied, a little surprised.

"With Nejdanov?"

"Yes."

"Please give me your hand ... and forgive me. You must be good since he loves you."

Mariana pressed Mashurina's hand.

"Have you known him long?"

"I knew him in St. Petersburg. That was what made me talk to you. Sergai Mihailovitch has also told me--"

"Oh Markelov! Is it long since you've seen him?

"No, not long. But he's gone away now."

"Where to?"

"Where he was ordered."

Mariana sighed.

"Oh, Miss Mashurina, I fear for him."

"In the first place, I'm not miss. You ought to cast off such manners. In the second, you say . . . 'I fear,' and that you must also cast aside. If you do not fear for yourself, you will leave off fearing for others. You must not think of yourself, nor fear for yourself. I dare say it's easy for me to talk like that. I am ugly, while you are beautiful. It must be so much harder for you." (Mariana looked down and turned away.) "Sergai Mihailovitch told me . . . He knew I had a letter for Nejdanov. . . 'Don't go to the factory,' he said, 'don't take the letter. It will upset everything there. Leave them alone! They are both happy... Don't interfere with them!' I should be glad not to interfere, but what shall I do about the letter?"

"Give it to him by all means," Mariana put in. "How awfully good Sergai Mihailovitch is! Will they kill him, Mashurina . . . or send him to Siberia?"

"Well, what then? Don't people come back from Siberia? And as for losing one's life; it is not all like honey to everybody. To some it is sweet, to others bitter. His life has not been over- sweet."

Mashurina gave Mariana a fixed searching look.

"How beautiful you are!" she exclaimed, "just like a bird! I don't think Alexai is coming... I'll give you the letter. It's no use waiting any longer.

"I will give it him, you may be sure."

Mashurina rested her cheek in her hand and for a long, long time did not speak.

"Tell me," she began, "forgive me for asking . . . do you love him?"

"Yes."

Mashurina shook her heavy head.

"There is no need to ask if he loves you. However, I had better be going, otherwise I shall be late. Tell him that I was here. . . give him my kind regards. Tell him Mashurina was here. You won't forget my name, will you? Mashurina. And the letter . . . but say, where have I put it?

Mashurina stood up, turned round as though she were rummaging in her pockets for the letter, and quickly raising a small piece of folded paper to her lips, swallowed it. "Oh, dear me! What have I done with it? Have I lost it? I must have dropped it. Dear me! Supposing some one should find it! I can't find it anywhere. It's turned out exactly as Sergai Mihailovitch wanted after all!"

"Look again," Mariana whispered. Mashurina waved her hand.

"It's no good. I've lost it."

Mariana came up to her.

"Well, then, kiss me."

Mashurina suddenly put her arms about Mariana and pressed her to her bosom with more than a woman's strength.

"I would not have done this for anybody," she said, a lump rising in her throat, "against my conscience . . . the first time! Tell him to be more careful . . . And you too. Be cautious. It will soon be very dangerous for everybody here, very dangerous. You had better both go away, while there's still time . . . Goodbye!" she added loudly with some severity. "Just one more thing. . . tell him . . . no, it's not necessary. It's nothing."

Mashurina went out, banging the door behind her, while Mariana stood perplexed in the middle of the room.

"What does it all mean? " she exclaimed at last. "This woman loves him more than I do! What did she want to convey by her hints? And why did Solomin disappear so suddenly, and why didn't he come back again?"

She began pacing up and down the room. A curious sensation of fear, annoyance, and amazement took possession of her. Why did she not go with Nejdanov? Solomin had persuaded her not to . . . but where is Solomin? And what is going on around here? Of course Mashurina did not give her the letter because of her love for Nejdanov. But how could she decide to disregard orders? Did she want to appear magnanimous? What right had she? And why was she, Mariana, so touched by her act? An unattractive woman interests herself in a young man . . . What is there extraordinary about it? And why should Mashurina assume that Mariana's attachment to Nejdanov is stronger than the feelings of duty? And did Mariana ask for such a sacrifice? And what could the letter have contained? A call for speedy action? Well, and what then?

And Markelov? He is in danger . . . and what are we doing? Markelov spares us both, gives us the opportunity of being happy, does not part us. . . What makes him do it? Is it also magnaminity. . . or contempt?

And did we run away from that hateful house merely to live like turtle doves?

Thus Mariana pondered, while the feeling of agitation and annoyance grew stronger and stronger within her. Her pride was hurt. Why had everyone forsaken her? EVERYONE. This stout woman had called her a bird, a beauty... why not quite plainly, a doll? And why did Nejdanov not go alone, but with Pavel? It's just as if he needed someone to look after him! And what are really Solomin's convictions? It's quite clear that he's not a revolutionist! And could any one really think that he does not treat the whole thing seriously?

These were the thoughts that whirled round, chasing one another and becoming entangled in Mariana's feverish brain. Pressing her lips closely together and folding her arms like a man, she sat down by the window at last and remained immovable, straight up in her chair, all alertness and intensity, ready to spring up at any moment. She had no desire to go to Tatiana and work; she wanted to wait alone. And she sat waiting obstinately, almost angrily. From time to time her mood seemed strange and incomprehensible even to herself . . . Never mind. "Am I jealous? " flashed across her mind, but remembering poor Mashurina's figure she shrugged her shoulders and dismissed the idea.

Mariana had been waiting for a long time when suddenly she heard the sound of two persons' footsteps coming up the stairs. She fixed her eyes on the door . . . the steps drew nearer. The door opened and Nejdanov, supported under the arm by Pavel, appeared in the doorway. He was deadly pale, without a cap, his dishevelled hair hung in wet tufts over his forehead, he stared vacantly straight in front of him. Pavel helped him across the room (Nejdanov's legs were weak and shaky) and made him sit down on the couch.

Mariana sprang up from her seat.

"What is the meaning of this? What's the matter with him? Is he ill?"

As he settled Nejdanov, Pavel answered her with a smile, looking at her over his shoulder.

"You needn't worry. He'll soon be all right. It's only because he's not used to it."

"What's the matter? " Mariana persisted.

"He's only a little tipsy. Been drinking on an empty stomach; that's all."

Mariana bent over Nejdanov. He was half lying on the couch, his head sunk on his breast, his eyes closed. He smelled of vodka; he was quite drunk.

"Alexai!" escaped her lips.

He raised his heavy eyelids with difficulty, and tried to smile.

"Well, Mariana!" he stammered out, "you've always talked of sim- plif-ication . . . so here I am quite simplified. Because the people are always drunk . . . and so . . ."

He ceased, then muttered something indistinctly to himself, closed his eyes, and fell asleep. Pavel stretched him carefully on the couch.

"Don't worry, Mariana Vikentievna," he repeated. "He'll sleep an hour or two and wake up as fresh as can be."

Mariana wanted to ask how this had happened, but her questions would have detained Pavel and she wanted to be alone . . . she did not wish Pavel to see him in this disgusting state before her. She walked away to the window while Pavel, who instantly understood her, carefully covered Nejdanov's legs with the skirts of his coat, put a pillow under his head, and observing once again, "It's nothing," went out on tiptoe.

Mariana looked round. Nejdanov's head was buried in the pillow and on his pale face there was an expression of fixed intensity as on the face of one dangerously ill.

"I wonder how it happened?" she thought.