THE sky was overcast with low-hanging clouds, and though it was light enoug_o see the cart-ruts winding along the road, still to the right and left n_eparate object could be distinguished, everything blending together int_ark, heavy masses. It was a dim, unsettled kind of night; the wind blew i_errific gusts, bringing with it the scent of rain and wheat, which covere_he broad fields. When they passed the oak which served as a signpost an_urned down a by-road, driving became more difficult, the narrow track bein_uite lost at times. The coach moved along at a slower pace.
"I hope we're not going to lose our way!" Nejdanov remarked; he had been quit_ilent until then.
"I don't think so," Markelov responded. "Two misfortunes never happen in on_ay."
"But what was the first misfortune?"
"A day wasted for nothing. Is that of no importance?"
"Yes … certainly … and then this Golushkin! We shouldn't have drank so muc_ine. My head is simply splitting."
"I wasn't thinking of Golushkin. We got some money from him at any rate, s_ur visit wasn't altogether wasted."
"But surely you're not really sorry that Paklin took us to his … what did h_all them … poll-parrots?
"As for that, there's nothing to be either sorry or glad about. I'm no_nterested in such people. That wasn't the misfortune I was referring to."
"What was it then?"
Markelov made no reply, but withdrew himself a little further into his corner, as if he were muffling himself up. Nejdanov could not see his face ver_learly, only his moustache stood out in a straight black line, but he ha_elt ever since the morning that there was something in Markelov that was bes_eft alone, some mysteriously unknown worry.
"I say, Sergai Mihailovitch," Nejdanov began, "do you really attach an_mportance to Mr. Kisliakov's letters that you gave me today? They are utte_onsense, if you'll excuse my saying so."
Markelov drew himself up.
"In the first place," he began angrily, "I don't agree with you about thes_etters—I find them extremely interesting … and conscientious! In the secon_lace, Kisliakov works very hard and, what is more, he is in earnest; h_ELIEVES in our cause, believes in the revolution! And I must say that you, Alexai Dmitritch, are very luke-warm—YOU don't believe in our cause!"
"What makes you think so? " Nejdanov asked slowly.
"It is easy to see from your very words, from your whole behaviour. Today, fo_nstance, at Golushkin's, who said that he failed to see any elements that w_ould rely on? You! Who demanded to have them pointed out to him? You again!
And when that friend of yours, that grinning buffoon, Mr. Paklin, stood up an_eclared with his eyes raised to heaven that not one of us was capable o_elf-sacrifice, who approved of it and nodded to him encouragingly? Wasn't i_ou? Say what you like of yourself … think what you like of yourself, you kno_est … that is your affair, but I know people who could give up everythin_hat is beautiful in life—even love itself—to serve their convictions, to b_rue to them! Well, YOU … couldn't have done that, today at any rate!"
"Today? Why not today in particular?"
"Oh, don't pretend, for heaven's sake, you happy Don Juan, you myrtle-crowne_over!" Markelov shouted, quite forgetting the coachman, who, though he di_ot turn round on the box, must have heard every word. It is true the coachma_as at that moment more occupied with the road than with what the gentleme_ere saying behind him. He loosened the shaft-horse carefully, though somewha_ervously, she shook her head, backed a little, and went down a slope whic_ad no business there at all.
"I'm afraid I don't quite understand you," Nejdanov observed.
Markelov gave a forced, malicious laugh.
"So you don't understand me! ha, ha, ha! I know everything, my dear sir! _now whom you made love to yesterday, whom you've completely conquered wit_our good looks and honeyed words! I know who lets you into her room … afte_en o'clock at night!"
"Sir!" the coachman exclaimed suddenly, turning to Markelov, "hold the reins, please. I'll get down and have a look. I think we've gone off the track. Ther_eems a sort of ravine here."
The carriage was, in fact, standing almost on one side. Markelov seized th_eins which the coachman handed to him and continued just as loudly:
"I don't blame you in the least, Alexai Dmitritch! You took advantage of… .
You were quite right. No wonder that you're not so keen about our cause now … as I said before, you have something else on your mind. And, really, who ca_ell beforehand what will please a girl's heart or what man can achieve wha_he may desire?"
"I understand now," Nejdanov began; "I understand your vexation and can guess … who spied on us and lost no time in letting you know—"It does not seem t_epend on merit," Markelov continued, pretending not to have heard Nejdanov, and purposely drawling out each word in a sing-song voice, "no extraordinar_piritual or physical attractions… . Oh no! It's only the damned luck of all … bastards!"
The last sentence Markelov pronounced abruptly and hurriedly, but suddenl_topped as if turned to stone.
Nejdanov felt himself grow pale in the darkness and tingled all over. He coul_carcely restrain himself from flying at Markelov and seizing him by th_hroat. "Only blood will wipe out this insult," he thought.
"I've found the road!" the coachman cried, making his appearance at the righ_ront wheel, " I turned to the left by mistake—but it doesn't matter, we'l_oon be home. It's not much farther. Sit still, please!"
He got onto the box, took the reins from Markelov, pulled the shaft-horse _ittle to one side, and the carriage, after one or two jerks, rolled alon_ore smoothly and evenly. The darkness seemed to part and lift itself, a clou_f smoke could be seen curling out of a chimney, ahead some sort of hillock, _ight twinkled, vanished, then another… . A dog barked.
"That's our place," the coachman observed. "Gee up, my pretties!"
The lights became more and more numerous as they drove on.
"After the way in which you insulted me," Nejdanov said at last, "you wil_uite understand that I couldn't spend the night under your roof, and I mus_sk you, however unpleasant it may be for me to do so, to be kind enough t_end me your carriage as soon as we get to your house to take me back to th_own. Tomorrow I shall find some means of getting home, and will the_ommunicate with you in a way which you doubtless expect.
Markelov did not reply at once.
"Nejdanov," he exclaimed suddenly, in a soft, despairing tone of voice,
"Nejdanov! For Heaven's sake come into the house if only to let me beg fo_our forgiveness on my knees! Nejdanov! forget … forget my senseless words!
Oh, if some one only knew how wretched I feel!" Markelov struck himself on th_reast with his fist, a groan seemed to come from him. "Nejdanov. Be generous… . Give me your hand… . Say that you forgive me!"
Nejdanov held out his hand irresolutely—Markelov squeezed it so hard that h_ould almost have cried out.
The carriage stopped at the door of the house.
"Listen to me, Nejdanov," Markelov said to him a quarter of an hour later i_is study, "listen." (He addressed him as "thou," and in this unexpected
"THOU" addressed to a man whom he knew to be a successful rival, whom he ha_nly just cruelly insulted, wished to kill, to tear to pieces, in thi_amiliar word "thou" there was a ring of irrevocable renunciation, sad, humbl_upplication, and a kind of claim … ) Nejdanov recognised this claim an_esponded to it by addressing him in the same way. "Listen! I've only jus_old you that I've refused the happiness of love, renounced everything t_erve my convictions. .
It wasn't true, I was only bragging! Love has never been offered to me, I'v_ad nothing to renounce! I was born unlucky and will continue so for the res_f my days … and perhaps it's for the best. Since I can't get that, I mus_urn my attention to something else! If you can combine the one with the other … love and be loved … and serve the cause at the same time, you're lucky! _nvy you … but as for myself … I can't. You happy man! You happy man! _an't."
Markelov said all this softly, sitting on a low stool, his head bent and arm_anging loose at his sides. Nejdanov stood before him lost in a sort of dream_ttentiveness, and though Markelov had called him a happy man, he neithe_ooked happy nor did he feel himself to be so.
"I was deceived in my youth," Markelov went on; "she was a remarkable girl, but she threw me over … and for whom? For a German! for an adjutant! An_ariana—"
He stopped. It was the first time he had pronounced her name and it seemed t_urn his lips.
"Mariana did not deceive me. She told me plainly that she did not care for me… There is nothing in me she could care for, so she gave herself to you. O_ourse, she was quite free to do so."
"Stop a minute!" Nejdanov exclaimed. "What are you saying? What do you impl_y the words 'gave herself'? I don't know what your sister told you, but _ssure you—"
"I didn't mean physically, but morally, that is, with the heart and soul,"
Markelov interrupted him. He was obviously displeased with Nejdanov'_xclamation. "She couldn't have done better. As for my sister, she didn't, o_ourse, wish to hurt me. It can make no difference to her, but she no doub_ates you and Mariana too. She did not tell me anything untrue … but enough o_er!"
"Yes," Nejdanov thought to himself, "she does hate us." It's all for th_est," Markelov continued, still sitting in the same position. "The las_etters have been broken; there is nothing to hinder me now! It doesn't matte_hat Golushkin is an ass, and as for Kisliakov's letters, they may perhaps b_bsurd, but we must consider the most important thing. Kisliakov says tha_verything is ready. Perhaps you don't believe that too."
Nejdanov did not reply.
"You may be right, but if we've to wait until everything, absolutel_verything, is ready, we shall never make a beginning. If we weigh all th_onsequences beforehand we're sure to find some bad ones among them. Fo_nstance, when our forefathers emancipated the serfs, do you think they coul_oresee that a whole class of money-lending landlords would spring up as _esult of the emancipation? Landlords who sell a peasant eight bushels o_otten rye for six roubles and in return for it get labour for the whole si_oubles, then the same quantity of good sound rye and interest on top of that!
Which means that they drain the peasants to the last drop of blood! You'l_gree that our emancipators could hardly have foreseen that. Even if they ha_oreseen it, they would still have been quite right in freeing the serf_ithout weighing all the consequences beforehand! That is why I have decided!"
Nejdanov looked at Markelov with amazement, but the latter turned to one sid_nd directed his gaze into a corner of the room. He sat with his eyes closed, biting his lips and chewing his moustache.
"Yes, I've decided!" he repeated, striking his knee with his brown hairy hand.
"I'm very obstinate… It's not for nothing that I'm half a Little Russian."
He got up, dragged himself into his bedroom, and came back with a smal_ortrait of Mariana in a glazed frame.
"Take this," he said in a sad, though steady voice. "I drew it some time ago.
I don't draw well, but I think it's like her." (It was a pencil sketch i_rofile and was certainly like Mariana.) "Take it, Alexai; it is my bequest, and with this portrait I give you all my rights… . I know I never had any … but you know what I mean! I give you up everything, and her… . She is ver_ood, Alexai—"
Markelov ceased; his chest heaved visibly.
"Take it. You are not angry with me, are you? Well, take it then. It's no us_o me … now.
Nejdanov took the portrait, but a strange sensation oppressed his heart. I_eemed to him that he had no right to take this gift; that if Markelov kne_hat was in his, Nejdanov's, heart, he would not have given it him. He stoo_olding the round piece of cardboard, carefully set in a black frame with _ount of gold paper, not knowing what to do with it. "Why, this is a man'_hole life I'm holding in my hand," he thought. He fully realised th_acrifice Markelov was making, but why, why especially to him? Should he giv_ack the portrait? No! that would be the grossest insult. And after all, wa_ot the face dear to him? Did he not love her?
Nejdanov turned his gaze on Markelov not without some inward misgiving. "Wa_e not looking at him, trying to guess his thoughts?" But Markelov wa_tanding in a corner biting his moustache.
The old servant came into the room carrying a candle. Markelov started.
"It's time we were in bed, Alexai," he said. "Morning is wiser than evening.
You shall have the horses tomorrow. Goodbye."
"And goodbye to you too, old fellow," he added turning to the servant an_lapping him on the shoulder. "Don't be angry with me!"
The old man was so astonished that he nearly dropped the candle, and as h_ixed his eyes on his master there was an expression in them of somethin_ther, something more, than his habitual dejection.
Nejdanov retired to his room. He was feeling wretched. His head was achin_rom the wine he had drunk, there were ringing noises in his ears, and star_umping about in front of his eyes, even though he shut them. Golushkin, Vasi_he clerk, Fomishka and Fimishka, were dancing about before him, wit_ariana's form in the distance, as if distrustful and afraid to come near.
Everything that he had said or done during the day now seemed to him s_tterly false, such useless nonsense, and the thing that ought to be done, ought to be striven for, was nowhere to be found; unattainable, under lock an_ey, in the depths of a bottomless pit.
He was filled with a desire to go to Markelov and say to him, "Here, take bac_our gift, take it back!"
"Ugh! What a miserable thing life is!" he exclaimed.
He departed early on the following morning. Markelov was already standing a_he door surrounded by peasants, but whether he had asked them to come, o_hey had come of their own accord, Nejdanov did not know.. Markelov said ver_ittle and parted with him coldly, but it seemed to Nejdanov that he ha_omething of importance to communicate to him.
The old servant made his appearance with his usual melancholy expression.
The carriage soon left the town behind it, and coming out into the ope_ountry began flying at a furious rate. The horses were the same, but th_river counted on a good tip, as Nejdanov lived in a rich house. And as i_sually the case, when the driver has either had a drink, or expects to ge_ne, the horses go at a good pace.
It was an ordinary June day, though the air was rather keen. A steady, hig_ind was blowing, but raising no dust in the road, owing to last night's rain.
The laburnums glistened, rustling to and fro in the breeze; a ripple ran ove_verything. From afar the cry of the quail was carried over the hills, ove_he grassy ravines, as if the very cry was possessed of wings; the rooks wer_athing in the sunshine; along the straight, bare line of the horizon littl_pecks no bigger than flies could be distinguished moving about. These wer_ome peasants re-ploughing a fallow field.
Nejdanov was so lost in thought that he did not see all this. He went on an_n and did not even notice when they drove through Sipiagin's village.
He trembled suddenly as he caught sight of the house, the first story an_ariana's window. "Yes," he said to himself, a warm glow entering his heart,
"Markelov was right. She is a good girl and I love her."