Chapter XXXII
 

IT happened like this.

Sitting down beside Pavel in the cart, Nejdanov fell into a state of great excitement. As soon as they rolled out of the courtyard onto the high road leading to T. he began shouting out the most absurd things to the peasants he met on the way. "Why are you asleep? Rouse yourself! The time has come! Down with the taxes! Down with the landlords!"

Some of the peasants stared at him in amazement, others passed on without taking any notice of him, thinking that he was drunk; one even said when he got home that he had met a Frenchman on the way who was jabbering away at something he did not understand. Nejdanov had common sense enough to know that what he was doing was unutterably stupid and absurd had he not got himself up to such a pitch of excitement that he was no longer able to discriminate between sense and nonsense. Pavel tried to quiet him, saying that it was impossible to go on like that; that they were quite near a large village, the first on the borders of T., and that there they could look around. . . . But Nejdanov would not calm down, and at the same time his face bore a sad, almost despairing, expression. Their horse was an energetic, round little thing, with a clipped mane on its scraggy neck. It tugged at the reins, and its strong little legs flew as fast as they could, just as if it were conscious of bearing important people to the scene of action. Just before they reached the village, Nejdanov saw a group of about eight peasants standing by the side of the road at the closed doors of a granary. He instantly jumped out of the cart, rushed up to them, and began shouting at them, thumping his fists and gesticulating for about five minutes. The words "For Freedom! March on! Put the shoulder to the wheel!" could be distinguished from among the rest of his confused words.

The peasants, who had met before the granary for the purpose of discussing how to fill it once more--if only to show that they were doing something (it was the communal granary and consequently empty)--fixed their eyes on Nejdanov and seemed to listen to him with the greatest attention, but they had evidently not understood a word he had said, for no sooner was his back turned, shouting for the last time "Freedom!" as he rushed away, when one of them, the most sagacious of the lot, shook his head saying, "What a severe one!" "He must be an officer," another remarked, to which the wise one said: "We know all about that--he doesn't talk for nothing. We'll have to pay the piper."

"Heavens! what nonsense this all is! " Nejdanov thought to himself, as he sat down next to Pavel in the cart. "But then none of us know how to get at the people--perhaps this is the right way after all! Who knows? Go on! Does your heart ache? Let it!"

They found themselves in the main street of the village in the middle of which a number of people were gathered together before a tavern. Nejdanov, paying no heed to Pavel, who was trying to hold him back, leapt down from the cart with a cry of "Brothers!" The crowd made way for him and he again began preaching, looking neither to right nor left, as if furious and weeping at the same time. But things turned out quite differently than with his former attempt at the barn. An enormous fellow with a clean- shaven, vicious face, in a short greasy coat, high boots, and a sheepskin cap, came up to him and clapped him on the shoulder.

"All right! my fine fellow!" he bawled out in a wheezy voice; "but wait a bit! good deeds must be rewarded. Come along in here. It'll be much better talking in there." He pulled Nejdanov into the tavern, the others streamed in after them. "Michaitch!" the fellow shouted, "twopennyworth! My favourite drink! I want to treat a friend. Who he is, what's his family, and where he's from, only the devil knows! Drink!" he said, turning to Nejdanov and handing him a heavy, full glass, wet all over on the outside, as though perspiring, "drink, if you really have any feeling for us!" "Drink!" came a chorus of voices. Nejdanov, who seemed as if in a fever, seized the glass and with a cry of " I drink to you, children!" drank it off at a gulp. Ugh! He drank it off with the same desperate heroism with which he would have flung himself in storming a battery or on a line of bayonets. But what was happening to him? Something seemed to have struck his spine, his legs, burned his throat, his chest, his stomach, made the tears come into his eyes. A shudder of disgust passed all over him. He began shouting at the top of his voice to drown the throbbing in his head. The dark tavern room suddenly became hot and thick and suffocating--and people, people everywhere! Nejdanov began talking, talking incessantly, shouting furiously, in exasperation, shaking broad rough hands, kissing prickly beards. . . . The enormous fellow in the greasy coat kissed him too, nearly breaking his ribs. This fellow turned out to be a perfect fiend. "I'll wring the neck," he shouted, "I'll wring the neck of anyone who dares to offend our brother! And what's more, I'll make mincemeat of him too . . . I'll make him cry out! That's nothing to me. I was a butcher and know how to do such jobs!" At this he held up an enormous fist covered with freckles. Someone again shouted, "Drink!" and Nejdanov again swallowed a glass of the filthy poison. But this second time was truly awful! Blunt hooks seemed to be tearing him to pieces inside. His head was in a whirl, green circles swam before his eyes. A hubbub arose . . . 0h horror! a third glass. Was it possible he emptied that too? He seemed to be surrounded by purple noses, dusty heads of hair, tanned necks covered with nets of wrinkles. Rough hands seized him. "Go on!" they bawled out in angry voices, "talk away! The day before yesterday another stranger talked like that. Go on." The earth seemed reeling under Nejdanov's feet, his voice sounded strange to his own ears as though coming from a long way off. . . Was it death or what?

And suddenly he felt the fresh air blowing about his face, no more pushing and shoving, no more stench of spirits, sheep-skin, tar, nor leather. . . . He was again sitting beside Pavel in the cart, struggling at first and shouting, "Where are you off to? Stop! I haven't had time to tell them anything-- I must explain..." and then added, "and what are your own ideas on the subject, you sly-boots?"

"It would certainly be well if there were no gentry and the land belonged to us, of course," Pavel replied, " but there's been no such order from the government." He quietly turned the horse's head and, suddenly lashing it on the back with the reins, set off at full gallop, away from this din and uproar, back to the factory.

Nejdanov sat dozing, rocked by the motion of the cart, while the wind played pleasantly about his face and kept back gloomy depressing thoughts.

He was annoyed that he had not been allowed to say all that he had wanted to say. Again the wind caressed his overheated face.

And then--a momentary glimpse of Mariana--a burning sense of shame--and sleep, deep, sound sleep. . .

Pavel told Solomin all this afterwards, not hiding the fact that he did not attempt to prevent Nejdanov from drinking-- otherwise he could not have got him out of the whirl. The others would not have let him go.

"When he seemed to be getting very feeble, I asked them to let him off, and they agreed to, on condition that I gave them a shilling, so I gave it them."

"You acted quite rightly," Solomin said, approvingly.

Nejdanov slept, while Mariana sat at the window looking out into the garden. Strange to say the angry, almost wicked, thoughts that had been tormenting her until Nejdanov and Pavel arrived had completely disappeared. Nejdanov himself was not in the least repulsive or disgusting to her; she was only sorry for him. She knew quite well that he was not a debauchee, a drunkard, and was wondering what she would say to him when he woke up; something friendly and affectionate to minimise the first sting of conscience and shame. "I must try and get him to tell me himself how it all happened," she thought.

She was not disturbed, but depressed--hopelessly depressed. It seemed as if a breath of the real atmosphere of the world towards which she was striving had blown on her suddenly, making her shudder at its coarseness and darkness. What Moloch was this to which she was going to sacrifice herself?

But no! It could not be! This was merely an incident, it would soon pass over. A momentary impression that had struck her so forcibly because it had happened so unexpectedly. She got up, walked over to the couch on which Nejdanov was lying, took out her pocket-handkerchief and wiped his pale forehead, which was painfully drawn, even in sleep, and smoothed back his hair. . .

She pitied him as a mother pities her suffering child. But it was somewhat painful for her to look at him, so she went quietly into her own room, leaving the door unlocked.

She did not attempt to take any work in her hand. She sat down and thoughts began crowding in upon her. She felt how the time was slipping away, how one minute flew after another, and the sensation was even pleasant to her. Her heart beat fast and again she seemed to be waiting for something.

What has become of Solomin?

The door creaked softly and Tatiana came into the room. "What do you want?" Mariana asked with a shade of annoyance.

"Mariana Vikentievna," Tatiana began in an undertone, "don't worry, my dear. Such things happen every day. Besides, the Lord be thanked--"

"I am not worrying at all, Tatiana Osipovna," Mariana interrupted her. "Alexai Dmitritch is a little indisposed, nothing very serious!"

"That's all right! I wondered why you didn't come, and thought there might be something the matter with you. But still I wouldn't have come in to you. It's always best not to interfere. But someone has come-- a little lame man, the Lord knows who he is-- and demands to see Alexai Dmitritch! I wonder what for? This morning that female came for him and now this little cripple. 'If Alexai Dmitritch is not at home,' he says, 'then I must see Vassily Fedotitch! I won't go away without seeing him. It's on a very urgent matter.' We wanted to get rid of him, as we did of that woman, told him Vassily Fedotitch was not at home, but he is determined to see him even if he has to wait until midnight. There he is walking about in the yard. Come and have a look at him through the little window in the corridor. Perhaps you'll recognise him."

Mariana followed Tatiana out into the corridor, and on passing Nejdanov was again struck by that painful frown on his forehead and passed her pocket-handkerchief over it a second time.

Through the dusty little window she caught a glimpse of the visitor whom Tatiana had spoken of. He was unknown to her. At this moment Solomin appeared from a corner of the house.

The little cripple rushed up to him and extended his hand. Solomin pressed it. He was obviously acquainted with him. They both disappeared. . . Soon their footsteps were heard coming up the stairs. They were coming to see her.

Mariana fled into her own room and remained standing in the middle of it, hardly able to breathe. She was mortally afraid . . . but of what? She did not know herself.

Solomin's head appeared through the door.

"Mariana Vikentievna, can I come in? I have brought someone whom it's absolutely necessary for you to see."

Mariana merely nodded her head in reply and behind Solomin in walked-- Paklin.