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"What do you think of that?" said Mary Pavlovna. "In love--quite in love. Now, that's a thing I never should have expected, that Valdemar Simonson should be in love, and in the silliest, most boyish manner. It is strange, and, to say the truth, it is sad," and she sighed.
"But she? Katusha? How does she look at it, do you think?" Nekhludoff asked.
"She?" Mary Pavlovna waited, evidently wishing to give as exact an answer as possible. "She? Well, you see, in spite of her past she has one of the most moral natures--and such fine feelings. She loves you--loves you well, and is happy to be able to do you even the negative good of not letting you get entangled with her. Marriage with you would be a terrible fall for her, worse than all that's past, and therefore she will never consent to it. And yet your presence troubles her."
"Well, what am I to do? Ought I to vanish?"
Mary Pavlovna smiled her sweet, childlike smile, and said, "Yes, partly."
"How is one to vanish partly?"
"I am talking nonsense. But as for her, I should like to tell you that she probably sees the silliness of this rapturous kind of love (he has not spoken to her), and is both flattered and afraid of it. I am not competent to judge in such affairs, you know, still I believe that on his part it is the most ordinary man's feeling, though it is masked. He says that this love arouses his energy and is Platonic, but I know that even if it is exceptional, still at the bottom it is degrading."
Mary Pavlovna had wandered from the subject, having started on her favourite theme.
"Well, but what am I to do?" Nekhludoff asked.
"I think you should tell her everything; it is always best that everything should be clear. Have a talk with her; I shall call her. Shall I?" said Mary Pavlovna.
"If you please," said Nekhludoff, and Mary Pavlovna went.
A strange feeling overcame Nekhludoff when he was alone in the little room with the sleeping Vera Doukhova, listening to her soft breathing, broken now and then by moans, and to the incessant dirt that came through the two doors that separated him from the criminals. What Simonson had told him freed him from the self-imposed duty, which had seemed hard and strange to him in his weak moments, and yet now he felt something that was not merely unpleasant but painful.
He had a feeling that this offer of Simonson's destroyed the exceptional character of his sacrifice, and thereby lessened its value in his own and others' eyes; if so good a man who was not bound to her by any kind of tie wanted to join his fate to hers, then this sacrifice was not so great. There may have also been an admixture of ordinary jealousy. He had got so used to her love that he did not like to admit that she loved another.
Then it also upset the plans he had formed of living near her while she was doing her term. If she married Simonson his presence would be unnecessary, and he would have to form new plans.
Before he had time to analyse his feelings the loud din of the prisoners' voices came in with a rush (something special was going on among them to-day) as the door opened to let Katusha in.
She stepped briskly close up to him and said, "Mary Pavlovna has sent me."
"Yes, I must have a talk with you. Sit down. Valdemar Simonson has been speaking to me."
She sat down and folded her hands in her lap and seemed quite calm, but hardly had Nekhludoff uttered Simonson's name when she flushed crimson.
"What did he say?" she asked.
"He told me he wanted to marry you."
Her face suddenly puckered up with pain, but she said nothing and only cast down her eyes.
"He is asking for my consent or my advice. I told him that it all depends entirely on you--that you must decide."
"Ah, what does it all mean? Why?" she muttered, and looked in his eyes with that peculiar squint that always strangely affected Nekhludoff.
They sat silent for a few minutes looking into each other's eyes, and this look told much to both of them.
"You must decide," Nekhludoff repeated.
"What am I to decide? Everything has long been decided."
"No; you must decide whether you will accept Mr. Simonson's offer," said Nekhludoff.
"What sort of a wife can I be--I, a convict? Why should I ruin Mr. Simonson, too?" she said, with a frown.
"Well, but if the sentence should be mitigated."
"Oh, leave me alone. I have nothing more to say," she said, and rose to leave the room.
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