Poems & Short Stories: 4,435
Forum Members: 67,986
Forum Posts: 1,216,101
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
EARLY the next morning Nejdanov again knocked at Mariana's door.
"It is I," he replied in answer to her "Who's that? "Can you come out to me?"
"In a minute."
She came out and uttered a cry of alarm. At first she did not recognise him. He had on a long-skirted, shabby, yellowish nankin coat, with small buttons and a high waist; his hair was dressed in the Russian fashion with a parting straight down the middle; he had a blue kerchief round his neck, in his hand he held a cap with a broken peak, on his feet a pair of dirty leather boots.
"Heavens!" Mariana exclaimed. "How ugly you look!" and thereupon threw her arms round him and kissed him quickly. "But why did you get yourself up like this? You look like some sort of shopkeeper, or pedlar, or a retired servant. Why this long coat? Why not simply like a peasant?"
"Why?" Nejdanov began. He certainly did look like some sort of fishmonger in that garb, was conscious of it himself, and was annoyed and embarrassed at heart. He felt uncomfortable, and not knowing what to do with his hands, kept patting himself on the breast with the fingers outspread, as though he were brushing himself.
"Because as a peasant I should have been recognised at once Pavel says, and that in this costume I look as if I had been born to it . . . which is not very flattering to my vanity, by the way."
"Are you going to begin at once?" Mariana asked eagerly.
"Yes, I shall try, though in reality--"
"You are lucky!" Mariana interrupted him.
"This Pavel is a wonderful fellow," Nejdanov continued. "He can see through and through you in a second, and will suddenly screw up his face as if he knew nothing, and would not interfere with anything for the world. He works for the cause himself, yet laughs at it the whole time. He brought me the books from Markelov; he knows him and calls him Sergai Mihailovitch; and as for Solomin, he would go through fire and water for him."
"And so would Tatiana," Mariana observed. "Why are people so devoted to him?"
Nejdanov did not reply.
"What sort of books did Pavel bring you?" Mariana asked.
"Oh, nothing new. 'The Story of the Four Brothers,' and then the ordinary, well-known ones, which are far better I think."
Mariana looked around uneasily.
"I wonder what has become of Tatiana? She promised to come early."
"Here I am! " Tatiana exclaimed, coming in with a bundle in her hand. She had heard Mariana's exclamation from behind the door.
"There's plenty of time. See what I've brought you!"
Mariana flew towards her.
"Have you brought it?"
Tatiana patted the bundle.
"Everything is here, quite ready. You have only to put the things on and go out to astonish the world."
"Come along, come along, Tatiana Osipovna, you are a dear--"
Mariana led her off to her own room.
Left alone, Nejdanov walked up and down the room once or twice with a peculiarly shuffling gait (he imagined that all shopkeepers walked like that), then he carefully sniffed at this sleeves, the inside of his cap, made a grimace, looked at himself in the little looking-glass hanging in between the windows, and shook his head; he certainly did not look very prepossessing. "So much the better," he thought. Then he took several pamphlets, thrust them into his side pocket, and began to practise speaking like a shopkeeper. "That sounds like it," he thought, "but after all there is no need of acting, my get-up is convincing enough." Just then he recollected a German exile, who had to make his escape right across Russia with only a poor knowledge of the language. But thanks to a merchant's cap which he had bought in a provincial town, he was taken everywhere for a merchant and had successfully made his way across the frontier.
At this moment Solomin entered.
"I say!" he exclaimed. "Arrayed in all your war paint? Excuse me, my dear fellow, but in that garb one can hardly speak to you respectfully."
"Please don't. I had long meant to ask you--"
"But it's early as yet. It doesn't matter if you only want to get used to it, only you must not go out yet. My employer is still here. He's in bed."
"I'll go out later on," Nejdanov responded. "I'll explore the neighbourhood a little, until further orders come."
"Capital! But I tell you what, Alexai . . . I may call you Alexai, may I not?"
"Certainly, or Lexy if you like," Nejdanov added with a smile.
"No; there is no need to overdo things. Listen. Good counsel is better than money, as the saying goes. I see that you have pamphlets. Distribute them wherever you like, only not in the factory on any account!"
"In the first place, because it won't be safe for you; in the second, because I promised the owner not to do that sort of thing here. You see the place is his after all, and then something has already been done . . . a school and so on. You might do more harm than good. Further than that, you may do as you like, I shall not hinder you. But you must not interfere with my workpeople."
"Caution is always useful," Nejdanov remarked with a sarcastic smile.
Solomin smiled his characteristic broad smile.
"Yes, my dear Alexai, it's always useful. But what do I see? Where are we?"
The last words referred to Mariana, who at that moment appeared in the doorway of her room in a print dress that had been washed a great many times, with a yellow kerchief over her shoulders and a red one on her head. Tatiana stood behind her, smiling good- naturedly. Mariana seemed younger and brighter in her simple garment and looked far better than Nejdanov in his long-skirted coat.
"Vassily Fedotitch, don't laugh, please," Mariana implored, turning as red as a poppy.
"There's a nice couple!" Tatiana exclaimed, clapping her hands. "But you, my dear, don't be angry, you look well enough, but beside my little dove you're nowhere."
"And, really, she is charming," Nejdanov thought; "oh, how I love her!"
"Look now," Tatiana continued, "she insisted on changing rings with me. She has given me a golden ring and taken my silver one."
"Girls of the people do not wear gold rings," Mariana observed.
"I'll take good care of it, my dear; don't be afraid."
"Well, sit down, sit down both of you," Solomin began; he had been standing all the while with his head bent a little to one side, gazing at Mariana. "In olden days, if you remember, people always sat down before starting on a journey. And you have both a long and wearisome one before you."
Mariana, still crimson, sat down, then Nejdanov and Solomin, and last of all Tatiana took her seat on a thick block of wood. Solomin looked at each of them in turn.
"Let us step back a pace,
Let us step back a bit,
To see with what grace
And how nicely we sit,"
he said with a frown. Suddenly he burst out laughing, but so good-naturedly that no one was in the least offended, on the contrary, they all began to feel merry too. Only Nejdanov rose suddenly.
"I must go now," he said; "this is all very nice, but rather like a farce. Don't be uneasy," he added, turning to Solomin. "I shall not interfere with your people. I'll try my tongue on the folk around about and will tell you all about it when I come back, Mariana, if there is anything to tell. Wish me luck!"
"Why not have a cup of tea first? " Tatiana remarked.
"No thanks. If I want any I can go into an eating-house or into a public house."
Tatiana shook her head.
"Goodbye, goodbye . . . good luck to you!" Nejdanov added, entering upon his role of small shopkeeper. But before he had reached the door Pavel thrust his head in from the passage under his very nose, and handing him a thin, long staff, cut out all the way down like a screw, he said:
"Take this, Alexai Dmitritch, and lean on it as you walk. And the farther you hold it away from yourself the better it will look."
Nejdanov took the staff without a word and went out. Tatiana wanted to go out too, but Mariana stopped her.
"Wait a minute, Tatiana Osipovna. I want you."
"I'll be back directly with the samovar. Your friend has gone off without tea, he was in such a mighty hurry. But that is no reason why you should not have any. Later on things will be clearer."
Tatiana went out and Solomin also rose. Mariana was standing with her back to him, but when at last she turned towards him, rather surprised that he had not said a single word, she saw in his face, in his eyes that were fixed on her, an expression she had not seen there before; an expression of inquiry, anxiety, almost of curiosity. She became confused and blushed again. Solomin, too, was ashamed of what she had read in his face and began talking louder than was his wont.
"Well, well, Mariana, and so you have made a beginning."
"What sort of beginning, Vassily Fedotitch? Do you call this a beginning? Alexai was right. It's as if we were acting a farce."
Solomin sat down again.
"But, Mariana . . . what did you picture the beginning to be like? Not standing behind the barricades waving a flag and shouting, 'Hurrah for the republic!' Besides, that is not a woman's work. Now, today you will begin teaching some Lukeria, something good for her, and a difficult matter it will be, because you won't understand your Lukeria and she won't understand you, and on top of it she will imagine that what you are teaching is of no earthly use to her. In two or three weeks you will try your hand on another Lukeria, and meanwhile you will be washing a baby here, teaching another the alphabet, or handing some sick man his medicine. That will be your beginning."
"But sisters of mercy do that, Vassily Fedotitch! What is the use of all this, then?" Mariana pointed to herself and round about with a vague gesture. "I dreamt of something else."
"Did you want to sacrifice yourself? "
Mariana's eyes glistened.
Yes, yes, yes!"
Mariana shrugged her shoulders.
"What of Nejdanov? We shall go together. . . or I will go alone."
Solomin looked at her intently.
"Do you know, Mariana . . . excuse the coarse expression . . . but, to my mind, combing the scurfy head of a gutter child is a sacrifice; a great sacrifice of which not many people are capable."
"I would not shirk that, Vassily Fedotitch."
"I know you would not. You are capable of doing that and will do it, until something else turns up.
"But for that sort of thing I must learn of Tatiana!"
"You could not do better. You will be washing pots and plucking chickens . . . And, who knows, maybe you will save your country in that way!"
"You are laughing at me, Vassily Fedotitch."
Solomin shook his head slowly.
"My dear Mariana, believe me, I am not laughing at you. What I said was the simple truth. You are already, all you Russian women, more capable and higher than we men."
Mariana raised her eyes.
"I would like to live up to your idea of us, Solomin . . . and then I should be ready to die."
Solomin stood up.
"No, it is better to live! That's the main thing. By the way, would you like to know what is happening at the Sipiagins? Won't they do anything? You have only to drop Pavel a hint and he will find out everything in a twinkling."
Mariana was surprised.
"What a wonderful person he is!"
"Yes, he certainly is wonderful. And should you want to marry Alexai, he will arrange that too with Zosim, the priest. You remember I told you about him. But perhaps it is not necessary as yet, eh? "
No, not yet."
"Very well." Solomin went up to the door dividing the two rooms, Mariana's and Nejdanov's, and examined the lock.
"What are you doing?" Mariana asked. "Does it lock all right?
Yes," Mariana whispered.
Solomin turned to her. She did not raise her eyes.
"Then there is no need to bother about the Sipiagins," he continued gaily, "is there?"
Solomin was about to go out.
"Vassily Fedotitch . . ."
"Yes. . ."
"Why is it you are so talkative with me when you are usually so silent? You can't imagine what pleasure it gives me."
"Why?" Solomin took both her soft little hands in his big hard ones. "Why, did you ask? Well, I suppose it must be because I love you so much. Good-bye."
He went out. Mariana stood pensive looking after him. In a little while she went to find Tatiana who had not yet brought the samovar. She had tea with her, washed some pots, plucked a chicken, and even combed out some boy's tangled head of hair.
Before dinner she returned to her own rooms and soon afterwards Nejdanov arrived.
He came in tired and covered with dust and dropped on to the sofa. She immediately sat down beside him.
Well, tell me what happened."
You remember the two lines," he responded in a weary voice:
"It would have been so funny
Were it not so sad."
"Do you remember?"
"Of course I do."
"Well, these lines apply admirably to my first expedition, excepting that it was more funny than sad. I've come to the conclusion that there is nothing easier than to act a part. No one dreamed of suspecting me. There was one thing, however, that I had not thought of. You must be prepared with some sort of yarn beforehand, or else when any one asks you where you've come from and why you've come, you don't know what to say. But, however, even that is not so important. You've only to stand a drink and lie as much as you like."
"And you? Did you lie?"
"Of course I did, as much as I could. And then I've discovered that absolutely everyone you come across is discontented, only no one cares to find out the remedy for this discontent. I made a very poor show at propaganda, only succeeded in leaving a couple of pamphlets in a room and shoving a third into a cart. What may come of them the Lord only knows! I ran across four men whom I offered some pamphlets. The first asked if it was a religious book and refused to take it; the second could not read, but took it home to his children for the sake of the picture on the cover; the third seemed hopeful at first, but ended by abusing me soundly and also not taking it; the fourth took a little book, thanked me very much, but I doubt if he understood a single word I said to him. Besides that, a dog bit my leg, a peasant woman threatened me with a poker from the door of her hut, shouting, 'Ugh! you pig! You Moscow rascals! There's no end to you!' and then a soldier shouted after me, 'Hi, there! We'll make mince- meat of you!' and he got drunk at my expense!"
"Well, and what else?
"What else? I've got a blister on my foot; one of my boots is horribly large. And now I'm as hungry as a wolf and my head is splitting from the vodka."
"Why, did you drink much?"
"No, only a little to set the example, but I've been in five public-houses. I can't endure this beastliness, vodka. Goodness knows why our people drink it. If one must drink this stuff in order to become simplified, then I had rather be excused!"
"And so no one suspected you?"
"No one, with the exception, perhaps, of a bar-man, a stout individual with pale eyes, who did look at me somewhat suspiciously. I overheard him saying to his wife, "Keep an eye on that carroty-haired one with the squint.' (I was not aware until that moment that I had a squint.) 'There's something wrong about him. See how he's sticking over his vodka.' What he meant by 'sticking' exactly, I didn't understand, but it could hardly have been to my credit. It reminded me of the mauvais ton in Gogol's "Revisor", do you remember? Perhaps because I tried to pour my vodka under the table. Oh dear! It is difficult for an aesthetic creature like me to come in contact with real life."
"Never mind. Better luck next time," Mariana said consolingly. "But I am glad you see the humorous side of this, your first attempt. You were not really bored, were you?"
"No, it was rather amusing. But I know that I shall think it all over now and it will make me miserable."
"But I won't let you think about it! I will tell you everything I did. Dinner will be here in a minute. By the way, I must tell you that I washed the saucepan Tatiana cooked the soup in . . . I'll tell you everything, every little detail."
And so she did. Nejdanov listened and could not take his eyes off her. She stopped several times to ask why he looked at her so intently, but he was silent.
After dinner she offered to read Spielhagen aloud to him, but had scarcely got through one page when he got up suddenly and fell at her feet. She stood up; he flung both his arms round her knees and began uttering passionate, disconnected, and despairing words. He wanted to die, he knew he would soon die . . . She did not stir, did not resist. She calmly submitted to his passionate embraces, and calmly, even affectionately, glanced down upon him. She laid both her hands on his head, feverishly pressed to the fold of her dress, but her calmness had a more powerful effect on him than if she had repulsed him. He got up murmuring: "Forgive me, Mariana, for today and for yesterday. Tell me again that you are prepared to wait until I am worthy of your love, and forgive me."
"I gave you my word. I never change."
"Thank you, dear. Goodbye."
Nejdanov went out and Mariana locked the door of her room.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.