A FORTNIGHT later, in the same room, Nejdanov sat bending over his three- legged table, writing to his friend Silin by the dim light of a tallow candle.
(It was long past midnight. Muddy garments lay scattered on the sofa, on th_loor, just where they had been thrown off. A fine drizzly rain pattere_gainst the window-panes and a strong, warm wind moaned about the roof of th_ouse.)
MY DEAR VLADIMIR,—I am writing to you without giving my address and will sen_his letter by a messenger to a distant posting- station as my being here is _ecret, and to disclose it might mean the ruin not of myself alone. It i_nough for you to know that for the last two weeks I have been living in _arge factory together with Mariana. We ran away from the Sipiagins on the da_n which I last wrote to you. A friend has given us shelter here. Fo_onvenience sake I will call him Vassily. He is the chief here and a_xcellent man. Our stay is only of a temporary nature; we will move on whe_he time for action comes. But, however, judging by events so far, the time i_ardly likely ever to come! Vladimir, I am horribly miserable. I must tell yo_efore everything that although Mariana and I ran away together, we have s_ar been living like brother and sister. She loves me and told me she would b_ine if I feel I have the right to ask it of her.
Vladimir, I do not feel that I have the right! She trusts me, believes in m_onour—I cannot deceive her. I know that I never loved nor will ever love an_ne more than her (of that I am convinced), but for all that, how can I unit_er fate forever with mine? A living being to a corpse? Well, if not _omplete corpse, at any rate, a half-dead creature. Where would one'_onscience be? I can hear you say that if passion was strong enough th_onscience would be silent. But that is just the point; I am a corpse, a_onest, well-meaning corpse if you like, but a corpse nevertheless. Please d_ot say that I always exaggerate. Everything I have told you is absolutel_rue. Mariana is very reserved and is at present wrapped up in her activitie_n which she believes, and I?
Well, enough of love and personal happiness and all that. It is now _ortnight since I have been going among "the people," and really it would b_mpossible to imagine anything more stupid than they are. Of course the faul_ies probably more in me than in the work itself. I am not a fanatic. I am no_ne of those who regenerate themselves by contact with the people and do no_ay them on my aching bosom like a flannel bandage—I want to influence them.
But how? How can it be done? When I am among them I find myself listening al_he time, taking things in, but when it comes to saying anything—I am at _oss for a word! I feel that I am no good, a bad actor in a part that does no_uit him. Conscientiousness or scepticism are absolutely of no use, nor is _itiful sort of humour directed against oneself. It is worse than useless! _ind it disgusting to look at the filthy rags I carry about on me, th_asquerade as Vassily calls it! They say you must first learn the language o_he people, their habits and customs, but rubbish, rubbish, rubbish, I say!
You have only to BELIEVE in what you say and say what you like! I onc_appened to hear a sectarian prophet delivering a sermon. Goodness only know_hat arrant nonsense he talked, a sort of gorgeous mix-up of ecclesiastica_earning, interspersed with peasant expressions, not even in decent Russian, but in some outlandish dialect, but he took one by storm with hi_nthusiasm—went straight to the heart. There he stood with flashing eyes, th_oice deep and firm, with clenched fist—as though he were made of iron! No on_nderstood what he was saying, but everyone bowed down before him and followe_im. But when I begin to speak, I seem like a culprit begging for forgiveness.
I ought to join the sectarians, although their wisdom is not great … but the_ave faith, faith!
Mariana too has faith. She works from morning until night with Tatiana—_easant woman here, as good as can be and not by any means stupid; she says, by the way, that we want to become simplified and calls us simple souls.
Mariana is about working with this woman from morning until night, scarcel_itting down for a moment, just like a regular ant! She is delighted that he_ands are turning red and rough, and in the midst of these humble occupation_s looking forward to the scaffold! She has even attempted to discard shoes; went out somewhere barefoot and came back barefoot. I heard her washing he_eet for a long time afterwards and then saw her come out, treadin_autiously; they were evidently sore, poor thing, but her face was radian_ith smiles as though she had found a treasure or been illuminated by the sun.
Yes, Mariana is a brick! But when I try to talk to her of my feelings, _ertain shame comes over me somehow, as though I were violating something tha_as not my own, and then that glance … Oh, that awful devoted, irresistibl_lance! "Take me," it seems to say, "BUT REMEMBER… ." Enough of this! Is ther_ot something higher and better in this world? In other words, put on you_ilthy coat and go among the people… Oh, yes, I am just going.
How I loathe this irritability, sensitiveness, impressionable- ness, fastidiousness, inherited from my aristocratic father! What right had he t_ring me into this world, endowed with qualities quite unsuited to the spher_n which I must live? To create a bird and throw it in the water? An aestheti_midst filth! A democrat, a lover of the people, yet the very smell of thei_ilthy vodka makes me feel sick!
But it's too bad blaming my father. He was not responsible for my becoming _emocrat.
Yes, Vladimir, I am in a bad plight. Grey, depressing thoughts are continuall_aunting me. Can it be, you will be asking me, that I have not met wit_nything consoling, any good living personality, however ignorant he might no_e? How shall I tell you? I have run across someone—a decent clever chap, bu_nfortunately, however hard I may try to get nearer him, he has no need o_ither me or my pamphlets—that is the root of the matter! Pavel, a factoryhan_ere (he is Vassily's right hand, a clever fellow with his head screwed on th_ight way, a future "head," I think I wrote to you about him), well this Pave_as a friend, a peasant called Elizar, also a smart chap, as free an_ourageous as one would wish, but as soon as we get together there seems _ead wall between us! His face spells one big "No!" Then there was another ma_ ran across—he was a rather quarrelsome type by the way. "Don't you try t_et around me, sir," he said. "What I want to know is would you give up you_and now, or not?" "But I'm not a gentleman," I remonstrated. " Bless you!" h_xclaimed, "you a common man and no more sense than that! Leave me alone, please!
Another thing I've noticed is that if anyone listens to you readily and take_our pamphlets at once, he is sure to be of an undesirable, brainless sort. O_ou may chance upon some frightfully talkative individual who can do nothin_ut keep on repeating some favourite expression. One such nearly drove me mad; everything with him was "production." No matter what you said to him he cam_ut with his "production," damn him! Just one more remark.
Do you remember some time ago there used to be a great deal of talk about
"superfluous" people— Hamlets? Such "superfluous people" are now to be me_ith among the peasants! They have their own characteristics of course and ar_or the most part inclined to consumption. They are interesting types and com_o us readily, but as far as the cause is concerned they are ineffective, lik_ll other Hamlets. Well, what can one do? Start a secret printing press? Ther_re pamphlets enough as it is, some that say," Cross yourself and take up th_atchet," and others that say simply, "Take up the hatchet" without th_rossing. Or should one write novels of peasant life with plenty of padding?
They wouldn't get published, you know. Perhaps it might be better to take u_he hatchet after all? But against whom, with whom, and what for? So that ou_tate soldier may shoot us down with the state rifle? It would only be _omplicated form of suicide! It would be better to make an end of yourself—yo_ould at any rate know when and how, and choose the spot to aim at.
I am beginning to think that if some war were to break out, some people'_ar—I would go and take part in it, not so as to free others (free other_hile one's own are groaning under the yoke!!), but to make an end of myself.
Our friend Vassily, who gave us shelter here, is a lucky man. He belongs t_ur camp, but is so calm and quiet. He doesn't want to hurry over things. _hould have quarrelled with another, but I can't with him. The secret lies no_n his convictions, but in the man himself. Vassily has a character that yo_an't kindle, but he's all right nevertheless. He is with us a good deal, wit_ariana. What surprises me is that although I love her and she loves me (I se_ou smiling at this, but the fact remains!) we have nothing to talk about, while she is constantly discussing and arguing with him and listening too. _m not jealous of him; he is trying to find a place for her somewhere, at an_ate, she keeps on asking him to do so, but it makes me feel bitter to look a_hem both. And would you believe it—I have only to drop a hint about marryin_nd she would agree at once and the priest Zosim would put in an appearance,
"Isaiah, rejoice!" and the rest of it. But this would not make it any easie_or me and NOTHING WOULD BE CHANGED BY IT … Whatever you do, there is no wa_ut of it! Life has cut me short, my dear Vladimir, as our little drunke_ailor used to say, you remember, when he used to complain about his wife.
I have a feeling that it can't go on somehow, that something is preparing.
Have I not again and again said that the time has come for action? Well, s_ere we are in the thick of it.
I can't remember if I told you anything about another friend of mine—_elative of the Sipiagins. He will get himself into such a mess that it won'_e easy for him to get out of it.
I quite meant finishing this letter and am still going on. It seems to me tha_othing matters and yet I scribble verses. I don't read them to Mariana an_he is not very anxious to hear them, but you have sometimes praised my poo_ttempts and most of all you'll keep them to yourself. I have been struck by _ommon phenomenon in Russia… But, however, let the verses speak fo_hemselves-
After long absence I return to my native land, Finding no striking chang_here. The same dead, senseless stagnation; crumbling houses, crumbling walls, And the same filth, dirt, poverty, and misery. Unchanged the servile glance, now insolent, now dejected. Free have our people become, and the free ar_angs as before like a whip unused. All, all as before. In one thing only ma_e equal Europe, Asia, and the World! Never before has such a fearful slee_ppressed our land.
All are asleep, on all sides are they; Through town and country, in carts an_n sledges, By day or night, sitting or standing, The merchant and th_fficial, and the sentinel at his post In biting snow and burning heat—al_leep. The judged ones doze, and the judge snores, And peasants plough an_eap like dead men, Father, mother, children; all are asleep. He who beats, and he who is beaten. Alone the tavern of the tsar ne'er closes a relentles_ye. So, grasping tight in hand the bottle, His brow at the Pole and his hee_n the Caucasus, Holy Russia, our fatherland, lies in eternal sleep.
I am sorry, Vladimir. I never meant to write you such a melancholy lette_ithout a few cheering words at the end. (You will no doubt tumble across som_efects in the lines!) When shall I write to you again? Shall I ever write?
But whatever happens to me I am sure you will never forget,
Your devoted friend,
P.S.—Our people are asleep… But I have a feeling that if anything does wak_hem, it will not be what we think.
After writing the last line, Nejdanov flung down the pen. "Well, now you mus_ry and sleep and forget all this nonsense, scribbler!" he exclaimed, and la_own on the bed. But it was long before he fell asleep.
The next morning Mariana woke him passing through his room on her way t_atiana. He had scarcely dressed when she came back. She seemed excited, he_ace expressing delight and anxiety at the same time.
"Do you know, Aliosha, they say that in the province of T., quite near here, it has already begun!"
"What? What has begun? Who said so?"
"Pavel. They say the peasants are rising, refusing to pay taxes, collecting i_obs."
"Have you heard that yourself?"
"Tatiana told me. But here is Pavel himself. You had better ask him."
Pavel came in and confirmed what Mariana had said.
"There is certainly some disturbance in T.," he began, shaking his beard an_crewing up his bright black eyes. "Sergai Mihailovitch must have had a han_n it. He hasn't been home for five days."
Nejdanov took his cap.
"Where are you off to?" Mariana asked.
"Why there of course," he replied, not raising his eyes and frowning, "I a_oing to T."
"Then I will come with you. You'll take me, won't you? Just let me get _hawl."
"It's not a woman's work," Nejdanov said irritably with his eyes still fixe_n the floor.
"No, no! You do well to go, or Markelov would think you a coward … but I'_oming with you."
"I am not a coward," Nejdanov observed gloomily.
"I meant to say that he would have thought us both cowards. I am coming wit_ou."
Mariana went into her own room to get a shawl, while Pavel gave an inward ha, ha, and quickly vanished. He ran to warn Solomin.
Mariana had not yet appeared, when Solomin came into Nejdanov's room. Th_atter was standing with his face to the window, his forehead resting on th_alm of his hand and his elbow on the window-pane. Solomin touched him on th_houlder. He turned around quickly; dishevelled and unwashed, Nejdanov had _trange wild look. Solomin, too, had changed during the last days. His fac_as yellow and drawn and his upper front teeth showed slightly— he, too, seemed agitated as far as it was possible for his well- balanced temperamen_o be so.
"Markelov could not control himself after all," he began. "This may turn ou_adly both for him and for others."
"I want to go and see what's going on there," Nejdanov observed.
"And I too," Mariana added as she appeared in the doorway.
Solomin turned to her quickly.
"I would not advise you to go, Mariana. You may give yourself away—and us, without meaning to, and without the slightest necessity. Let Nejdanov go an_ee how the land lies, if he wants to— and the sooner he's back the better!
But why should you go?"
"I don't want to be parted from him."
"You will be in his way."
Mariana looked at Nejdanov. He was standing motionless with a set sulle_xpression on his face.
"But supposing there should be danger?" she asked.
"Don't be afraid … when there's danger I will let you go."
Mariana took off her shawl without a word and sat down. Solomin then turned t_ejdanov.
"It would be a good thing for you to look about a little, Alexai. I dare sa_hey exaggerate. Only do be careful. But, however, you will not be goin_lone. Come back as quickly as you can. Will you promise? Nejdanov? Will yo_romise?"
"I suppose so, since everybody here obeys you, including Mariana."
Nejdanov went out without saying goodbye. Pavel appeared from somewhere out o_he darkness and ran down the stairs before him with a great clatter of hi_ob-nailed boots. Was HE then to accompany Nejdanov?
Solomin sat down beside Mariana.
"You heard Nejdanov's last word?"
"Yes. He is annoyed that I listen to you more than to him. But it's quit_rue. I love him and listen to you. He is dear to me… and you are near to me.
Solomin stroked her hand gently.
"This is a very unpleasant business," he observed at last. "If Markelov i_ixed up in it then he's a lost man."
"Yes. He doesn't do things by halves—and won't hide things for the sake o_thers."
"Lost! " Mariana whispered again as the tears rolled down her cheeks. "Oh, Vassily Fedotitch! I feel so sorry for him. But what makes you think that h_on't succeed? Why must he inevitably be lost?"
"Because in such enterprises the first always perish even if they come of_ictorious. And in this thing not only the first and second, but the tenth an_wentieth will perish—"
"Then we shall never live to see it?
"What you have in your mind—never. We shall never see it with our eyes; wit_hese living eyes of ours. But with our spiritual … but that is anothe_atter. We may see it in that way now; there is nothing to hinder us."
"Then why do you—"
"Why do you follow this road?"
"Because there is no other. I mean that my aims are the same as Markelov's—bu_ur paths are different."
"Poor Sergai Mihailovitch!" Mariana exclaimed sadly. Solomin passed his han_autiously over hers.
"There, there, we know nothing as yet. We'll see what news Pavel brings back.
In our calling one must be brave. The English have a proverb 'Never say die.'
A very good proverb, I think, much better than our Russian, 'When troubl_nocks, open the gates wide!' We mustn't meet trouble half way."
Solomin stood up.
"And the place you were going to find me?" Mariana asked suddenly. The tear_ere still shining on her cheeks, but there was no sadness in her eyes.
Solomin sat down again.
"Are you in such a great hurry to get away from here?
"Oh, no! Only I wanted to do something useful."
"You are useful here, Mariana. Don't leave us yet, wait a little longer. Wha_s it?" Solomin asked of Tatiana who was just coming in.
"Some sort of female is asking for Alexai Dmitritch," Tatiana replied, laughing and gesticulating with her hands.
"I said that there was no such person living here, that we did not know him a_ll, when she—"
"Who is she? "
"Why the female of course. She wrote her name on this piece of paper and aske_e to bring it here and let her in, saying that if Alexai Dmitritch was reall_ot at home, she could wait for him."
On the paper was written in large letters "Mashurina."
"Show her in," Solomin said. "You don't mind my asking her in here, Mariana, do you? She is also one of us."
"Not at all."
A few moments later Mashurina appeared in the doorway, in the same dress i_hich we saw her at the beginning of the first chapter.