WHEN Mariana came out of her room that morning she noticed Nejdanov sitting o_he couch fully dressed. His head was resting against one arm, while the othe_ay weak and helpless on his knee. She went up to him.
"Goodmorning, Alexai. Why, you haven't undressed? Haven't you slept? How pal_ou 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."
"Alexai! are you jealous? A new idea! What a time to be jealous in! Why, h_as 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'_ot jealous, oh no! But still I couldn't fall asleep after that."
Nejdanov was silent.
"I kept thinking … thinking… thinking!"
"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'r_ot jealous, but your own?"
"Mariana, there are two men in me and one doesn't let the other live. So _hought it might be better if both ceased to live."
"Please don't, Alexai. Why do you want to torment yourself and me? We ought t_e considering ways and means of getting away. They won't leave us in peac_ou know."
Nejdanov took her hand caressingly.
"Sit down beside me, Mariana, and let us talk things over like comrades whil_here is still time. Give me your hand. It would be a good thing for us t_ave an explanation, though they say that all explanations only lead t_urther 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 i_is 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 wante_o say to you last night. Don't think I was too much upset by yesterday'_ccurrence. I was no doubt extremely ridiculous and rather disgusting, but _now you didn't think anything bad of me—you know me. I am not telling th_ruth exactly when I say that I wasn't upset—I was horribly upset, not becaus_ was brought home drunk, but because I was convinced of my utte_nefficiency. Not because I could not drink like a real Russian— but i_verything! everything! Mariana, I must tell you that I no longer believe i_he cause that united us and on the strength of which we ran away together. T_ell the truth, I had already lost faith when your enthusiasm set me on fir_gain. 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 di_ot utter a single word and sat looking downwards. She felt that he had tol_er 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, bu_ad no faith in myself, in my own strength, my own capacities. I used to thin_hat my abilities did not come up to my convictions … But you can't separat_hese things. And what's the use of deceiving oneself? No— I don't believe i_he 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 wil_evote my whole life to it, to the last breath!"
Nejdanov turned towards her and looked at her enviously, with a tender ligh_n his eyes.
"I knew you would answer like that. So you see there is nothing for us to d_ogether; you have severed our tie with one blow."
Mariana was silent.
"Take Solomin, for instance," Nejdanov began again, "though he does no_elieve—"
"What do you mean?"
"It's quite true. He does not believe … but that is not necessary for him; h_s moving steadily onwards. A man walking along a road in a town does no_uestion 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 wil_e easier.' But if you let go your end- - what becomes of the other?"
"Alexai," Mariana began irresolutely, "I think you exaggerate. Do we not lov_ach other?"
Nejdanov gave a deep sigh.
"Mariana … I bow down before you… you pity me, and each of us has implici_aith in the other's honesty— that is our position. But there is no lov_etween us."
"Stop, Alexai! what are you saying? The police may come for us today… we mus_o away together and not part—"
"And get Father Zosim to marry us at Solomin's suggestion. I know that yo_erely look upon our marriage as a kind of passport— a means of avoiding an_ifficulties with the police … but still it will bind us to some extent; necessitate our living together and all that. Besides it always presupposes _esire 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 h_ecollected 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 _rotector, but I won't do that, as bad as I may be. You shall have _rotector— rest assured."
Mariana bent down towards him and, putting her face close against his, looke_nxiously 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 … yo_righten me. Your words are so strange and enigmatical … And your face! I hav_ever seen your face like that!"
Nejdanov put her from him gently and kissed her hand tenderly. This time sh_ade 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 wa_eaten by the peasants; he felt their blows— they crushed his ribs. They di_ot beat me, they even drank with me— drank my health— but they crushed m_oul 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 yo_otice in my face."
"Alexai," Mariana said slowly, "it would be very wrong of you not to be fran_ith me."
He clenched his hands.
"Mariana, my whole being is laid bare before you, and whatever I might do, _ell you beforehand, nothing will really surprise you; nothing whatever!"
Mariana wanted to ask him what he meant, but at that moment Solomin entere_he room.
His movements were sharper and more rapid than usual. His eyes were hal_losed, 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 prepar_ourselves as soon as possible. You must be ready in an hour. You have to g_hrough the marriage ceremony. There is no news of Paklin. His horses wer_etained 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 woul_etray us, but he might let things out unwittingly. Besides, they might hav_uessed from the horses. My cousin has been informed of your coming. Pave_ill go with you. He will be a witness."
"And you … and you?" Nejdanov asked. "Aren't you going? I see you're dresse_or 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 a_our. Mariana, I believe Tatiana wants to see you. She has something prepare_or 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?"
"Never mind; forgive me, dear. My brain is in a whirl from lack of sleep. _ust begin … packing, too."
Mariana went out of the room and Solomin was about to follow her when Nejdano_topped him.
"What is it? "
"Give me your hand. I must thank you for your kindness and hospitality."
"What an idea!" He extended his hand.
"There's another thing I wished to say," Nejdanov continued. "Supposin_nything 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 min_t 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 intende_aying something to her about Nejdanov, but refrained from doing so. An_ariana guessed that he wished to say something about him and that he coul_ot. She, too, was silent.