NEJDANOV rose to meet him, and Markelov, coming straight up to him, withou_ny form of greeting, asked him if he was Alexai Dmitritch, a student of th_t. Petersburg University.
"Yes," Nejdanov replied.
Markelov took an unsealed letter out of a side pocket.
"In that case, please read this. It is from Vassily Nikolaevitch," he added,
lowering his voice significantly.
Nejdanov unfolded and read the letter. It was a semi-official circular i_hich Sergai Markelov was introduced as one of "us," and absolutel_rustworthy; then followed some advice about the urgent necessity of unite_ction in the propaganda of their well-known principles. The circular wa_ddressed to Nejdanov, as being a person worthy of confidence.
Nejdanov extended his hand to Markelov, offered him a chair, and sat dow_imself.
Markelov, without saying a word, began lighting a cigarette; Nejdanov followe_is example.
"Have you managed to come in contact with the peasants here?" Markelov aske_t last.
"No, I haven't had time as yet."
"How long have you been here?"
"About a fortnight."
"Have you much to do?"
"Not very much."
Markelov gave a severe cough.
"H'm! The people here are stupid enough. A most ignorant lot. They must b_nlightened. They're wretchedly poor, but one can't make them understand th_ause of their poverty."
"Your brother-in-law's old serfs, as far as one can judge, do not seem to b_oor," Nejdanov remarked.
"My brother-in-law knows what he is about; he is a perfect master a_umbugging people. His peasants are certainly not so badly off; but he has _actory; that is where we must turn our attention. The slightest dig ther_ill make the ants move. Have you any books with you?"
"Yes, a few."
"I will get you some more. How is it you have so few?"
Nejdanov made no reply. Markelov also ceased, and began sending out puffs o_moke through his nostrils.
"What a pig this Kollomietzev is!" he exclaimed suddenly. "At dinner I coul_carcely keep from rushing at him and smashing his impudent face as a warnin_o others. But no, there are more important things to be done just now. Ther_s no time to waste getting angry with fools for saying stupid things. Th_ime has now come to prevent them doing stupid things."
Nejdanov nodded his head and Markelov went on smoking. "Among the servant_ere there is only one who is any good," he began again. "Not your man, Ivan,
he has no more sense than a fish, but another one, Kirill, the butler."
(Kirill was known to be a confirmed drunkard.) "He is a drunken debauchee, bu_e can't be too particular. What do you think of my sister?" he asked,
suddenly fixing his yellowish eyes on Nejdanov. "She is even more artful tha_y brother-in-law. What do you think of her?"
"I think that she is a very kind and pleasant lady… besides, she is ver_eautiful."
"H'm! With what subtlety you St. Petersburg gentlemen express yourselves! _an only marvel at it. Well, and what about—" he began, but his face darkene_uddenly, and he did not finish the sentence. "I see that we must have a goo_alk," he went on. "It is quite impossible here. Who knows! They may b_istening at the door. I have a suggestion. Today is Saturday; you won't b_iving lessons to my nephew tomorrow, will you?"
"I have a rehearsal with him at three o'clock."
"A rehearsal! It sounds like the stage. My sister, no doubt, invented th_ord. Well, no matter. Would you like to come home with me now? My village i_bout ten miles off. I have some excellent horses who will get us there in _winkling. You could stay the night and the morning, and I could bring yo_ack by three o'clock tomorrow. Will you come?"
"With pleasure," Nejdanov replied. Ever since Markelov's appearance he ha_een in a state of great excitement and embarrassment. This sudden intimac_ade him feel ill at ease, but he was nevertheless drawn to him. He fel_ertain that the man before him was of a sufficiently blunt nature, but fo_ll that honest and full of strength. Moreover, the strange meeting in th_ood, Mariana's unexpected explanation…
"Very well!" Markelov exclaimed. "You can get ready while I order the carriag_o be brought out. By the way, I hope you won't have to ask permission of ou_ost and hostess."
"I must tell them. I don't think it would be wise to go away without doin_o."
"I'll tell them," Markelov said. "They are engrossed in their cards just no_nd will not notice your absence. My brother-in- law aims only at governmenta_olk, and the only thing he can do well is to play at cards. However, it i_aid that many succeed in getting what they want through such means. You'l_et ready, won't you? I'll make all arrangements immediately."
Markelov withdrew, and an hour later Nejdanov sat by his side on the broa_eather-cushioned seat of his comfortable old carriage. The little coachman o_he box kept on whistling in wonderfully pleasant bird-like notes; thre_iebald horses, with plaited manes and tails, flew like the wind over th_mooth even road; and already enveloped in the first shadows of the night (i_as exactly ten o'clock when they started), trees, bushes, fields, meadows,
and ditches, some in the foreground, others in the background, sailed swiftl_owards them.
Markelov's tiny little village, Borsionkov, consisting of about two hundre_cres in all, and bringing him in an income of seven hundred roubles a year,
was situated about three miles away from the provincial town, seven miles of_rom Sipiagin's village. To get to Borsionkov from Sipiagin's, one had to g_hrough the town. Our new friends had scarcely time to exchange a hundre_ords when glimpses of the mean little dwellings of shopkeepers on th_utskirts of the town flashed past them, little dwellings with shabby woode_oofs, from which faint patches of light could be seen through crooked littl_indows; the wheels soon rattled over the town bridge, paved with cobbl_tones; the carriage gave a jerk, rocked from side to side, and swaying wit_very jolt, rolled past the stupid two-storied stone houses, with imposin_rontals, inhabited by merchants, past the church, ornamented with pillars,
past the shops… . It was Saturday night and the streets were already deserted—
only the taverns were still filled with people. Hoarse drunken voices issue_rom them, singing, accompanied by the hideous sounds of a concertina. Ever_ow and again a door opened suddenly, letting forth the red reflection of _ush-light and a filthy, overpowering smell of alcohol. Almost before ever_avern door stood little peasant carts, harnessed with shaggy, big-bellied,
miserable-looking hacks, whose heads were bowed submissively as if asleep; _attered, unbelted peasant in a big winter cap, hanging like a sack at th_ack of his head, came out of a tavern door, and leaning his breast agains_he shafts, stood there helplessly fumbling at something with his hands; or _eagre-looking factory worker, his cap awry, his shirt unfastened, barefooted,
his boots having been left inside, would take a few uncertain steps, sto_till, scratch his back, groan suddenly, and turn in again…
"Drink will be the ruin of the Russian!" Markelov remarked gloomily.
"It's from grief, Sergai Mihailovitch," the coachman said without turnin_ound. He ceased whistling on passing each tavern and seemed to sink into hi_wn thoughts.
"Go on! Go on!" Markelov shouted angrily, vigorously tugging at his own coa_ollar. They drove through the wide market square reeking with the smell o_ush mats and cabbages, past the governor's house with coloured sentry boxe_tanding at the gate, past a private house with turrets, past the boulevar_ewly planted with trees that were already dying, past the hotel court- yard,
filled with the barking of dogs and the clanging of chains, and so on throug_he town gates, where they overtook a long, long line of waggons, whos_rivers had taken advantage of the evening coolness, then out into the ope_ountry, where they rolled along more swiftly and evenly over the broad road,
planted on either side with willows.
We must now say a few words about Markelov. He was six years older than hi_ister, Madame Sipiagina, and had been educated at an artillery school, whic_e left as an ensign, but sent in his resignation when he had reached the ran_f lieutenant, owing to a certain unpleasantness that passed between him an_is commanding officer, a German. Ever since then he always detested Germans,
especially Russian Germans. He quarrelled with his father on account of hi_esignation, and never saw him again until just before his death, after whic_e inherited the little property and settled on it. In St. Petersburg he ofte_ame in contact with various brilliant people of advanced views, whom h_imply worshipped, and who finally brought him around to their way o_hinking. Markelov had read little, mostly books relating to the thing tha_hiefly interested him, and was especially attached to Herzen. He retained hi_ilitary habits, and lived like a Spartan and a monk. A few years ago he fel_assionately in love with a girl who threw him over in a most unceremoniou_anner and married an adjutant, also a German. He consequently hated adjutant_oo. He tried to write a series of special articles on the shortcomings of ou_rtillery, but had not the remotest idea of exposition and never finished _ingle article; he continued, however, covering large sheets of grey pape_ith his large, awkward, childish handwriting. Markelov was a man obstinat_nd fearless to desperation, never forgiving or forgetting, with a constan_ense of injury done to himself and to all the oppressed, and prepared fo_nything. His limited mind was for ever knocking against one point; what wa_eyond his comprehension did not exist, but he loathed and despised all decei_nd falsehood. With the upper classes, with the "reactionaries" as he calle_hem, he was severe and even rude, but with the people he was simple, an_reated a peasant like a brother. He managed his property fairly well, hi_ead was full of all sorts of socialist schemes, which he could no more pu_nto practice than he could finish his articles on the shortcomings of th_rtillery. He never succeeded in anything, and was known in his regiment as
"the failure." Of a sincere, passionate, and morbid nature, he could at _iven moment appear merciless, blood-thirsty, deserving to be called a brute;
at another, he would be ready to sacrifice himself without a moment'_esitation and without any idea of reward.
At about two miles away from the town the carriage plunged suddenly into th_oft darkness of an aspen wood, amidst the rustling of invisible leaves, th_resh moist odour of the forest, with faint patches of light from above and _ass of tangled shadows below. The moon had already risen above the horizon,
broad and red like a copper shield. Emerging from the trees, the carriage cam_pon a small low farm house. Three illuminated windows stood out sharply o_he front of the house, which shut out the moon's disc; the wide, open gat_ooked as if it was never shut. Two white stage-horses, attached to the bac_f a high trap, were standing in the courtyard, half in obscurity; tw_uppies, also white, rushed out from somewhere and gave forth piercing, thoug_armless, barks. People were seen moving in the house—the carriage rolled u_o the doorstep, and Markelov, climbing out and feeling with difficulty fo_he iron carriage step, put on, as is usually the case, by the domesti_lacksmith in the most inconvenient possible place, said to Nejdanov: "Here w_re at home. You will find guests here whom you know very well, but littl_xpect to meet. Come in.