Virgin Soil, by Ivan Turgenev

XXXIII

“I AM a friend of your husband’s,” he said, bowing very low, as if anxious to conceal his frightened face, “and also of Vassily Fedotitch. I hear Alexai Dmitritch is asleep and not very well. Unfortunately, I have brought bad news. I have already told Vassily Fedotitch something about it and am afraid decisive measures will have to be taken.

Paklin’s voice broke continually, like that of a man who was tortured by thirst. The items of news he had to communicate were certainly very unpleasant ones. Some peasants had seized Markelov and brought him to the town. The stupid clerk had betrayed Golushkin, who was now under arrest, he in his turn was betraying everything and everybody, wanted to go over to the Orthodox Church, had offered to present a portrait of the Bishop Filaret to the public school, and had already given five thousand roubles to be distributed among crippled soldiers. There was not a shadow of a doubt that he had informed against Nejdanov; the police might make a raid upon the factory any moment. Vassily Fedotitch was also in danger. “As for myself,” Paklin added, “I am surprised that I’m still allowed to roam at large, although it’s true that I’ve never really interested myself in practical politics or taken part in any schemes. I have taken advantage of this oversight on the part of the police to put you on your guard and find out what had best be done to avoid any unpleasantness.”

Mariana listened to Paklin to the end. She did not seem alarmed; on the other hand she was quite calm. But something must really be done! She fixed her eyes on Solomin.

He was also composed; only around his lips there was the faintest movement of the muscles; but it was not his habitual smile.

Solomin understood the meaning of Mariana’s glance; she waited for him to say what had best be done.

“It’s a very awkward business,” he began; “I don’t think it would do Nejdanov any harm to go into hiding for a time. But, by the way, how did you get to know that he was here, Mr. Paklin?”

Paklin gave a wave of the hand.

“A certain individual told me. He had seen him preaching about the neighbourhood and had followed him, though with no evil intent. He is a sympathiser. Excuse me,” he added, turning to Mariana, “is it true that our friend Nejdanov has been very . . . very careless?”

“It’s no good blaming him now,” Solomin began again. “What a pity we can’t talk things over with him now, but by tomorrow he will be all right again. The police don’t do things as quickly as you seem to imagine. You will have to go away with him, Mariana Vikentievna.”

“Certainly,” she said resolutely, a lump rising in her throat.

“Yes,” Solomin said, “we must think it over, consider ways and means.”

“May I make a suggestion?” Paklin began. “It entered my head as I was coming along here. I must tell you, by the way, that I dismissed the cabman from the town a mile away from here.”

“What is your suggestion?” Solomin asked.

“Let me have some horses at once and I’ll gallop off to the Sipiagins.”

“To the Sipiagins!” Mariana exclaimed. “Why?”

“You will see.”

“But do you know them?”

“Not at all! But listen. Do think over my suggestion thoroughly. It seems to me a brilliant one. Markelov is Sipiagin’s brother- in-law, his wife’s brother, isn’t that so? Would this gentleman really make no attempt to save him? And as for Nejdanov himself, granting that Mr. Sipiagin is most awfully angry with him, still he has become a relation of his by marrying you. And the danger hanging over our friend —”

“I am not married,” Mariana observed.

Paklin started.

“What? Haven’t managed it all this time! Well, never mind,” he added, “one can pretend a little. All the same, you will get married directly. There seems nothing else to be done! Take into consideration the fact that up until now Sipiagin has not persecuted you, which shows him to be a man capable of a certain amount of generosity. I see that you don’t like the expression — well, a certain amount of pride. Why should we not take advantage of it? Consider for yourself!”

Mariana raised her head and passed her hand through her air.

“You can take advantage of whatever you like for Markelov, Mr. Paklin . . . or for yourself, but Alexai and I do not desire the protection or patronage of Mr. Sipiagin. We did not leave his house only to go knocking at his door as beggars. The pride and generosity of Mr. Sipiagin and his wife have nothing whatever to do with us!”

“Such sentiments are extremely praiseworthy,” Paklin replied (” How utterly crushed!” he thought to himself), “though, on the other hand, if you think of it . . . However, I am ready to obey you. I will exert myself only on Markelov’s account, our good Markelov! I must say, however, that he is not his blood relation, but only related to him through his wife — while you —”

“Mr Paklin, I beg of you!”

“I’m sorry . . . Only I can’t tell you how disappointing it is — Sipiagin is a very influential man.”

“Have you no fears for yourself?” Solomin asked.

Paklin drew himself up.

“There are moments when one must not think of oneself!” he said proudly. And he was thinking of himself all the while. Poor little man! he wanted to run away as fast as he could. On the strength of the service rendered him, Sipiagin might, if need be, speak a word in his favour. For he too — say what he would — was implicated, he had listened and had chattered a little himself.

“I don’t think your suggestion is a bad one,” Solomin observed at last,” although there is not much hope of success. At any rate there is no harm in trying.”

“Of course not. Supposing they pitch me out by the scruff of the neck, what harm will it do?”

“That won’t matter very much” (“Merci,” Paklin thought to himself). “What is the time? “ Solomin asked. “ Five o’clock. We mustn’t dawdle. You shall have the horses directly. Pavel!”

But instead of Pavel, Nejdanov appeared in the doorway. He staggered and steadied himself on the doorpost. He opened his mouth feebly, looked around with his glassy eyes, comprehending nothing. Paklin was the first to approach him.

“Aliosha!” he exclaimed, “don’t you know me?” Nejdanov stared at him, blinking slowly.

“Paklin? “ he said at last.

“Yes, it is I. Aren’t you well?”

“No . . . I’m not well. But why are you here?”

“Why?” . . . But at this moment Mariana stealthily touched Paklin on the elbow. He turned around and saw that she was making signs to him. “Oh, yes! “ he muttered. “Yes. . . . You see, Aliosha,” he added aloud, “I’ve come here upon a very important matter and must go away at once. Solomin will tell you all about it — and Mariana — Mariana Vikentievna. They both fully approve of what I am going to do. The thing concerns us all. No, no,” he put in hastily in response to a look and gesture from Mariana. “The thing concerns Markelov; our mutual friend Markelov; it concerns him alone. But I must say goodbye now. Every minute is precious. Goodbye, Aliosha . . . We’ll see each other again sometime. Vassily Fedotitch, can you come with me to see about the horses?”

“Certainly. Mariana, I wanted to ask you to be firm, but that is not necessary. You’re a brick!”

“Yes, yes,” Paklin chimed in, “you are just like a Roman maiden in Cato’s time! Cato of Utica! We must be off, Vassily Fedotitch, come along!”

“There’s plenty of time,” Solomin observed with a faint smile. Nejdanov stood on one side to allow them room to pass out, but there was the same vacant expression in his eyes. After they had gone he took a step or two forward and sat down on a chair facing Mariana.

“Alexai,” she began, “everything has been found out. Markelov has been seized by the very peasants he was trying to better, and is now under arrest in this town, and so is the merchant with whom you dined once. I dare say the police will soon be here for us too. Paklin has gone to Sipiagin.”

“Why?” Nejdanov asked in a scarcely audible whisper. But there was a keen look in his eyes — his face assumed it’s habitual expression. The stupor had left him instantly.

“To try and find out if he would be willing to intercede.”

Nejdanov sat up straight.

“For us?

“No, for Markelov. He wanted to ask him to intercede for us too . . . but I wouldn’t let him. Have I done well, Alexai?

“Have you done well?” Nejdanov asked and without rising from his chair, stretched out his arms to her. “Have you done well?” he repeated, drawing her close to him, and pressing his face against her waist, suddenly burst into tears.

“What is the matter? What is the matter with you?” Mariana exclaimed. And as on the day when he had fallen on his knees before her, trembling and breathless in a torrent of passion, she laid both her hands on his trembling head. But what she felt now was quite different from what she had felt then. Then she had given herself up to him — had submitted to him and only waited to hear what he would say next, but now she pitied him and only wondered what she could do to calm him.

“What is the matter with you?” she repeated. “Why are you crying? Not because you came home in a somewhat . . . strange condition? It can’t be! Or are you sorry for Markelov — afraid for me, for yourself? Or is it for our lost hopes? You did not really expect that everything would go off smoothly!”

Nejdanov suddenly lifted his bead.

“It’s not that, Mariana,” he said, mastering his sobs by an effort, “I am not afraid for either of us . . . but . . . I am sorry.

“For whom?”

“For you, Mariana! I am sorry that you should have united your fate with a man who is not worthy of you.”

“Why not?”

“If only because he can be crying at a moment as this!”

“It is not you but your nerves that are crying!”

“You can’t separate me from my nerves! But listen, Mariana, look me in the face; can you tell me now that you do not regret —”

“What?”

“That you ran away with me.”

“No!”

“And would you go with me further? Anywhere?”

“Yes!”

“Really? Mariana . . . really?

“Yes. I have given you my word, and so long as you remain the man I love — I shall not take it back.”

Nejdanov remained sitting on the chair, Mariana standing before him. His arms were about her waist, her’s were resting on his shoulders.

“Yes, no,” Nejdanov thought . . . “when I last held her in my arms like this, her body was at least motionless, but now I can feel it — against her will, perhaps — shrink away from me gently!”

He loosened his arms and Mariana did in fact move away from him a little.

“If that’s so,” he said aloud, “if we must run away from here before the police find us . . . I think it wouldn’t be a bad thing if we were to get married. We may not find another such accommodating priest as Father Zosim!”

“I am quite ready,” Mariana observed.

Nejdanov gave her a searching glance.

“A Roman maiden!” he exclaimed with a sarcastic half-smile. “What a feeling of duty!”

Mariana shrugged her shoulders.

“We must tell Solomin.”

“Yes . . . Solomin . . .” Nejdanov drawled out. “But he is also in danger. The police would arrest him too. It seems to me that he also took part in things and knew even more than we did.”

“I don’t know about that,” Mariana observed. “He never speaks of himself!

“Not as I do!” Nejdanov thought. “That was what she meant to imply. Solomin . . . Solomin!” he added after a pause. “Do you know, Mariana, I should not be at all sorry if you had linked your fate forever with a man like Solomin . . . or with Solomin himself.”

Mariana gave Nejdanov a penetrating glance in her turn. “You had no right to say that,” she observed at last.

“I had no right! In what sense am I to take that? Does it mean that you love me, or that I ought not to touch upon this question generally speaking?”

“You had no right,” Mariana repeated.

Nejdanov lowered his head.

“Mariana!” he exclaimed in a slightly different tone of voice.

“Yes?

“If I were to ask you now . . . now . . . you know what . . . But no, I will not ask anything of you . . goodbye.”

He got up and went out; Mariana did not detain him. Nejdanov sat down on the couch and covered his face with his hands. He was afraid of his own thoughts and tried to stop thinking. He felt that some sort of dark, underground hand had clutched at the very root of his being and would not let him go. He knew that the dear, sweet creature he had left in the next room would not come out to him and he dared not go to her. What for? What would he say to her?

Firm, rapid footsteps made him open his eyes. Solomin passed through his room, knocked at Mariana’s door, and went in.

“Honour where honour is due!” Nejdanov whispered bitterly.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/turgenev/ivan/t93v/chapter33.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:05