Chapter XXXVI
 

WHEN Mariana came out of her room that morning she noticed Nejdanov sitting on the couch fully dressed. His head was resting against one arm, while the other lay weak and helpless on his knee. She went up to him.

"Goodmorning, Alexai. Why, you haven't undressed? Haven't you slept? How pale you are!"

His heavy eyelids rose slowly.

"No, I haven't."

"Aren't you well, or is it the after-effects of yesterday?

Nejdanov shook his head.

"I couldn't sleep after Solomin went into your room."

"When?"

Last night."

"Alexai! are you jealous? A new idea! What a time to be jealous in! Why, he was only with me a quarter of an hour. We talked about his cousin, the priest, and discussed arrangements for our marriage."

"I know that he was only with you a short time. I saw him come out. And I'm not jealous, oh no! But still I couldn't fall asleep after that."

"But why?"

Nejdanov was silent.

"I kept thinking . . . thinking. . . thinking!"

"Of what?

"Oh, of you . . . of him . . . and of myself."

"And what came of all your thinking?"

"Shall I tell you?"

Yes, tell me."

"It seemed to me that I stood in your way--in his . . . and in my own."

"Mine? His? It's easy to see what you mean by that, though you declare you're not jealous, but your own?"

"Mariana, there are two men in me and one doesn't let the other live. So I thought it might be better if both ceased to live."

"Please don't, Alexai. Why do you want to torment yourself and me? We ought to be considering ways and means of getting away. They won't leave us in peace you know."

Nejdanov took her hand caressingly.

"Sit down beside me, Mariana, and let us talk things over like comrades while there is still time. Give me your hand. It would be a good thing for us to have an explanation, though they say that all explanations only lead to further muddle. But you are kind and intelligent and are sure to understand, even the things that I am unable to express. Come, sit down."

Nejdanov's voice was soft, and a peculiarly affectionate tenderness shone in his eyes as he looked entreatingly at Mariana.

She sat down beside him readily and took his hand.

"Thanks, dearest. I won't keep you long. I thought out all the things I wanted to say to you last night. Don't think I was too much upset by yesterday's occurrence. I was no doubt extremely ridiculous and rather disgusting, but I know you didn't think anything bad of me--you know me. I am not telling the truth exactly when I say that I wasn't upset--I was horribly upset, not because I was brought home drunk, but because I was convinced of my utter inefficiency. Not because I could not drink like a real Russian-- but in everything! everything! Mariana, I must tell you that I no longer believe in the cause that united us and on the strength of which we ran away together. To tell the truth, I had already lost faith when your enthusiasm set me on fire again. I don't believe in it! I can't believe in it!"

He put his disengaged hand over his eyes and ceased for awhile. Mariana did not utter a single word and sat looking downwards. She felt that he had told her nothing new.

"I always thought," Nejdanov continued, taking his hand away from his eyes, but not looking at Mariana again, "that I believed in the cause itself, but had no faith in myself, in my own strength, my own capacities. I used to think that my abilities did not come up to my convictions . . . But you can't separate these things. And what's the use of deceiving oneself? No-- I don't believe in the cause itself. And you, Mariana, do you believe in it?"

Mariana sat up straight and raised her head.

"Yes, I do, Alexai. I believe in it with all the strength of my soul, and will devote my whole life to it, to the last breath!"

Nejdanov turned towards her and looked at her enviously, with a tender light in his eyes.

"I knew you would answer like that. So you see there is nothing for us to do together; you have severed our tie with one blow."

Mariana was silent.

"Take Solomin, for instance," Nejdanov began again, "though he does not believe--"

"What do you mean?"

"It's quite true. He does not believe . . . but that is not necessary for him; he is moving steadily onwards. A man walking along a road in a town does not question the existence of the town-- he just goes his way. That is Solomin. That is all that's needed. But I . . . I can't go ahead, don't want to turn back, and am sick of staying where I am. How dare I ask anyone to be my companion? You know the old proverb, 'With two people to carry the pole, the burden will be easier.' But if you let go your end- - what becomes of the other?"

"Alexai," Mariana began irresolutely, "I think you exaggerate. Do we not love each other?"

Nejdanov gave a deep sigh.

"Mariana . . . I bow down before you. . . you pity me, and each of us has implicit faith in the other's honesty-- that is our position. But there is no love between us."

"Stop, Alexai! what are you saying? The police may come for us today... we must go away together and not part--"

"And get Father Zosim to marry us at Solomin's suggestion. I know that you merely look upon our marriage as a kind of passport-- a means of avoiding any difficulties with the police . . . but still it will bind us to some extent; necessitate our living together and all that. Besides it always presupposes a desire to live together."

"What do you mean, Alexai? You don't intend staying here?"

Nejdanov said hesitatingly. The word "yes" nearly escaped his lips, but he recollected himself in time.

"Then you are going to a different place-- not where I am going?"

Nejdanov pressed her hand which still lay in his own.

"It would indeed be vile to leave you without a supporter, without a protector, but I won't do that, as bad as I may be. You shall have a protector-- rest assured."

Mariana bent down towards him and, putting her face close against his, looked anxiously into his eyes, as though trying to penetrate to his very soul.

"What is the matter, Alexai? What have you on your mind? Tell me . . . you frighten me. Your words are so strange and enigmatical . . . And your face! I have never seen your face like that!"

Nejdanov put her from him gently and kissed her hand tenderly. This time she made no resistance and did not laugh, but sat still looking at him anxiously.

"Don't be alarmed, dear. There is nothing strange in it. They say Markelov was beaten by the peasants; he felt their blows-- they crushed his ribs. They did not beat me, they even drank with me-- drank my health-- but they crushed my soul more completely than they did Markelov's ribs. I was born out of joint, wanted to set myself right, and have made matters worse. That is what you notice in my face."

"Alexai," Mariana said slowly, "it would be very wrong of you not to be frank with me."

He clenched his hands.

"Mariana, my whole being is laid bare before you, and whatever I might do, I tell you beforehand, nothing will really surprise you; nothing whatever!"

Mariana wanted to ask him what he meant, but at that moment Solomin entered the room.

His movements were sharper and more rapid than usual. His eyes were half closed, his lips compressed, the whole of his face wore a drier, harder, somewhat rougher expression.

"My dear friends," he began, "I must ask you not to waste time, but prepare yourselves as soon as possible. You must be ready in an hour. You have to go through the marriage ceremony. There is no news of Paklin. His horses were detained for a time at Arjanov and then sent back. He has been kept there. They've no doubt brought him to town by this time. I don't think he would betray us, but he might let things out unwittingly. Besides, they might have guessed from the horses. My cousin has been informed of your coming. Pavel will go with you. He will be a witness."

"And you . . . and you?" Nejdanov asked. "Aren't you going? I see you're dressed for the road," he added, indicating Solomin's high boots with his eyes.

"Oh, I only put them on . . . because it's rather muddy outside."

"But you won't be held responsible for us, will you?"

"I hardly think so . . . in any case . . . that's my affair. So you'll be ready in an hour. Mariana, I believe Tatiana wants to see you. She has something prepared for you."

"Oh, yes! I wanted to see her too . . ." Mariana turned to the door.

A peculiar expression of fear, despair, spread itself over Nejdanov's face.

"Mariana, you're not going?" he asked in a frightened tone of voice.

She stood still.

"I'll be back in half an hour. It won't take me long to pack."

"Come here, close to me, Mariana."

"Certainly, but what for? "

"I wanted to have one more look at you." He looked at her intently. Goodbye, goodbye, Mariana!"

She seemed bewildered.

"Why . . . what nonsense I'm talking! You'll be back in half an hour, won't you, eh?"

Of course--"

"Never mind; forgive me, dear. My brain is in a whirl from lack of sleep. I must begin . . . packing, too."

Mariana went out of the room and Solomin was about to follow her when Nejdanov stopped him.

"Solomin!"

"What is it? "

"Give me your hand. I must thank you for your kindness and hospitality."

Solomin smiled.

"What an idea!" He extended his hand.

"There's another thing I wished to say," Nejdanov continued. "Supposing anything were to happen to me, may I hope that you won't abandon Mariana?"

"Your future wife?

"Yes . . . Mariana!"

"I don't think anything is likely to happen to you, but you may set your mind at rest. Mariana is just as dear to me as she is to you."

"Oh, I knew it . . . knew it, knew it! I'm so glad! thanks. So in an hour?"

"In an hour."

"I shall be ready. Goodbye, my friend!"

Solomin went out and caught Mariana up on the staircase. He had intended saying something to her about Nejdanov, but refrained from doing so. And Mariana guessed that he wished to say something about him and that he could not. She, too, was silent.