MAY had reached its second half; the first hot summer days had already set in.
After his history lesson one day, Nejdanov wandered out into the garden, an_rom thence into a birch wood adjoining it on one side. Certain parts of thi_ood had been cleared by merchants about fifteen years ago, but thes_learings were already densely overgrown by young birches, whose soft silve_runks encircled by grey rings rose as straight as pillars, and whose brigh_reen leaves sparkled as if they had just been washed and polished. The gras_hot up in sharp tongues through the even layers of last years' fallen leaves.
Little narrow paths ran here and there, from which yellow-beaked blackbird_ose with startled cries, flying close to the earth into the wood as hard a_hey could go.
After wandering about for half an hour, Nejdanov sat down on the stump of _ree, surrounded by old greyish splinters, lying in heaps, exactly as they ha_allen when cut down by the axe. Many a time had these splinters been covere_y the winter's snow and been thawed by the spring sun, but nobody had touche_hem.
Nejdanov leaned against a solid wall of young birches casting a heavy thoug_ild shade. He was not thinking of anything in particular, but gave himself u_o those peculiar sensations of spring which in the heart of young and ol_like are always mixed with a certain degree of sadness—the keen sadness o_waiting in the young and of settled regret in the old.
Nejdanov was suddenly awakened by approaching footsteps.
It did not sound like the footsteps of one person, nor like a peasant in heav_oots, or a barefooted peasant woman; it seemed as if two people wer_dvancing at a slow, measured pace. The slight rustling of a woman's dress wa_eard.
Suddenly a deep man's voice was heard to say:
Is this your last word? Never?
"Never!" a familiar woman's voice repeated, and a moment later from a bend i_he path, hidden from view by a young tree, Mariana appeared, accompanied by _warthy man with black eyes, an individual whom Nejdanov had never see_efore.
They both stood still as if rooted to the spot on catching sight of him, an_e was so taken aback that he did not rise from the stump he was sitting on.
Mariana blushed to the roots of her hair, but instantly gave a contemptuou_mile. It was difficult to say whether the smile was meant for herself, fo_aving blushed, or for Nejdanov. Her companion scowled—a sinister gleam wa_een in the yellowish whites of his troubled eyes. He exchanged glances wit_ariana, and without saying a word they turned their backs on Nejdanov an_alked away as slowly as they had come, while Nejdanov followed them with _ook of amazement.
Half an hour later he returned home to his room, and when, at the sound of th_ong, he appeared in the drawing room, the dark-eyed stranger whom he had see_n the wood was already there. Sipiagin introduced Nejdanov to him as hi_eaufrere'a, Valentina Mihailovna's brother—Sergai Mihailovitch Markelov.
"I hope you will get to know each other and be friends, gentlemen," Sipiagi_xclaimed with the amiable, stately, though absent-minded smile characteristi_f him.
Markelov bowed silently; Nejdanov responded in a similar way, and Sipiagin, throwing back his head slightly and shrugging his shoulders, walked away, a_uch as to say, "I've brought you together, but whether you become friends o_ot is a matter of equal indifference to me!
Valentina Mihailovna came up to the silent pair, standing motionless, an_ntroduced them to each other over again; she then turned to her brother wit_hat peculiarly bright, caressing expression which she seemed able to summo_t will into her wonderful eyes.
"Why, my dear Serge, you've quite forgotten us! You did not even come o_olia's name-day. Are you so very busy? My brother is making some sort of ne_rrangement with his peasants," she remarked, turning to Nejdanov. "So ver_riginal—three parts of everything for them and one for himself; even then h_hinks that he gets more than his share."
"My sister is fond of joking," Markelov said to Nejdanov in his turn, "but _m prepared to agree with her; for one man to take a quarter of what belong_o a hundred, is certainly too much."
"Do you think that I am fond of joking, Alexai Dmitritch?" Madame Sipiagin_sked with that same caressing softness in her voice and in her eyes.
Nejdanov was at a loss for a reply, but just then Kollomietzev was announced.
The hostess went to meet him, and a few moments later a servant appeared an_nnounced in a sing-song voice that dinner was ready.
At dinner Nejdanov could not keep his eyes off Mariana and Markelov. They sa_ide by side, both with downcast eyes, compressed lips, and an expression o_loomy severity on their angry faces. Nejdanov wondered how Markelov coul_ossibly be Madame Sipiagina's brother; they were so little like each other.
There was only one point of resemblance between them, their dark complexions; but the even colour of Valentina Mihailovna's face, arms, and shoulder_onstituted one of her charms, while in her brother it reached to that shad_f swarthiness which polite people call "bronze," but which to the Russian ey_uggests a brown leather boot-leg.
Markelov had curly hair, a somewhat hooked nose, thick lips, sunken cheeks, _arrow chest, and sinewy hands. He was dry and sinewy all over, and spoke in _urt, harsh, metallic voice. The sleepy look in his eyes, the gloom_xpression, denoted a bilious temperament! He ate very little, amused himsel_y making bread pills, and every now and again would fix his eyes o_ollomietzev. The latter had just returned from town, where he had been to se_he governor upon a rather unpleasant matter for himself, upon which he kept _acit silence, but was very voluble about everything else. Sipiagin sat on hi_omewhat when he went a little too far, but laughed a good deal at hi_necdotes and bon mots, although he thought qu'il est un affreu_eactionnaire. Kollomietzev declared, among other things, how he went int_aptures at what the peasants, oui, oui! les simples mougiks! call lawyers.
"Liars! Liars!" he shouted with delight. "Ce peupie russe est delicieux!" H_hen went on to say how once, when going through a village school, he aske_ne of the children what a babugnia was, and nobody could tell him, not eve_he teacher himself. He then asked what a pithecus was, and no one knew eve_hat, although he had quoted the poet Himnitz, 'The weakwitted pithecus tha_ocks the other beasts.' Such is the deplorable condition of our peasan_chools!
"But," Valentina Mihailovna remarked, "I don't know myself what are thes_nimals!"
"Madame!" Kollomietzev exclaimed, "there is no necessity for you to know!"
"Then why should the peasants know?"
"Because it is better for them to know about these animals than about Proudho_r Adam Smith!"
Here Sipiagin again intervened, saying that Adam Smith was one of the leadin_ights in human thought, and that it would be well to imbibe his principles (he poured himself out a glass of wine) with the (he lifted the glass to hi_ose and sniffed at it) mother's milk! He swallowed the wine. Kollomietze_lso drank a glass and praised it highly.
Markelov payed no special attention to Kollomietzev 's talk, but glance_nterrogatively at Nejdanov once or twice; he flicked one of his little brea_ills, which just missed the nose of the eloquent guest.
Sipiagin left his brother-in-law in peace; neither did Valentina Mihailovn_peak to him; it was evident that both husband and wife considered Markelov a_ccentric sort of person whom it was better not to provoke.
After dinner Markelov went into the billiard room to smoke a pipe, an_ejdanov withdrew into his own room.
In the corridor he ran against Mariana. He wanted to slip past her, when sh_topped him with a quick movement of the hand.
"Mr. Nejdanov," she said in a somewhat unsteady tone of voice, "it ought to b_ll the same to me what you think of me, but still I find it… I find it… "
(she could not think of a fitting word) "I find it necessary to tell you tha_hen you met me in the wood today with Mr. Markelov … you must no doubt hav_hought, when you saw us both confused, that we had come there b_ppointment."
"It did seem a little strange to me—" Nejdanov began. "Mr. Markelov," Marian_nterrupted him, "proposed to me … and I refused him. That is all I wanted t_ay to you. Goodnight. Think what you like of me."
She turned away and walked quickly down the corridor.
Nejdanov entered his own room and sat down by the window musing. "What _trange girl—why this wild issue, this uninvited explanation? Is it a desir_o be original, or simply affectation—or pride? Pride, no doubt. She can'_ndure the idea… the faintest suspicion, that anyone should have a wron_pinion of her. What a strange girl!"
Thus Nejdanov pondered, while he was being discussed on the terrace below; every word could be heard distinctly.
I have a feeling," Kollomietzev declared, "a feeling, that he's _evolutionist. When I served on a special commission at the governor-general'_f Moscow avec Ladisias, I learned to scent these gentlemen as well a_onconformists. I believe in instinct above everything." Here Kollomietze_elated how he had once caught an old sectarian by the heel somewhere nea_oscow, on whom he had looked in, accompanied by the police, and who nearl_umped out of his cottage window. "He was sitting quite quietly on his benc_ntil that moment, the blackguard!"
Kollomietzev forgot to add that this old man, when put into prison, refused t_ake any food and starved himself to death.
"And your new tutor," Kollomietzev went on zealously, "is a revolutionist, without a shadow of a doubt! Have you noticed that he is never the first t_ow to anyone?"
"Why should he?" Madame Sipiagina asked; "on the contrary, that is what I lik_bout him."
"I am a guest in the house in which he serves," Kollomietzev exclaimed, "yes, serves for money, comme un salarie… . Consequently I am his superior… . H_ught to bow to me first."
"My dear Kollomietzev, you are very particular," Sipiagin put in, layin_pecial stress on the word dear. "I thought, if you'll forgive my saying so, that we had outgrown all that. I pay for his services, his work, but h_emains a free man."
"He does not feel the bridle, le frein! All these revolutionists are lik_hat. I tell you I can smell them from afar! Only Ladisias can compare with m_n this respect. If this tutor were to fall into my hands wouldn't I give i_o him! I would make him sing a very different tune! How he would begi_ouching his cap to me—it would be a pleasure to see him!"
"Rubbish, you swaggering little braggart!" Nejdanov almost shouted from above, but at this moment the door opened and, to his great astonishment, Markelo_ntered the room.