Virgin Soil, by Ivan Turgenev

XXXVII

DIRECTLY Solomin had gone, Nejdanov jumped up from the couch, walked up and down the room several times, then stood still in the middle in a sort of stony indecision. Suddenly he threw off his “masquerade” costume, kicked it into a corner of the room, and put on his own clothes. He then went up to the little three- legged table, pulled out of a drawer two sealed letters and some other object which he thrust into his pocket; the letters he left on the table. Then he crouched down before the stove and opened the little door. A whole heap of ashes lay inside. This was all that remained of Nejdanov’s papers, of his sacred book of verses . . . He had burned them all in the night. Leaning against one side of the stove was Mariana’s portrait that Markelov had given him. He had evidently not had the heart to burn that too! He took it out carefully and put in on the table beside the two letters.

Then, with a quick resolute movement, he put on his cap and walked towards the door. But suddenly he stopped, turned back, and went into Mariana’s room. There, he stood still for a moment, gazed round, then approaching her narrow little bed, bent down and with one stifled sob pressed his lips to the foot of the bed. He then jumped up, thrust his cap over his forehead, and rushed out. Without meeting anyone in the corridor, on the stairs, or down below, he darted out into the garden. It was a grey day, with a low-hanging sky and a damp breeze that blew in waves over the tops of the grass and made the trees rustle. A whiff of coal, tar, and tallow was borne along from the yard, but the noise and rattling in the factory was fainter than usual at that time of day. Nejdanov looked round sharply to see if anyone was about and made straight for the old apple tree that had first attracted his attention when he had looked out of the little window of his room on the day of his arrival. The whole of its trunk was evergrown with dry moss, its bare, rugged branches, sparsely covered with reddish leaves, rose crookedly, like some old arms held up in supplication. Nejdanov stepped firmly on to the dark soil beneath the tree and pulled out the object he had taken from the table drawer. He looked up intently at the windows of the little house. “If somebody were to see me now, perhaps I wouldn’t do it,” he thought. But no human being was to be seen anywhere — everyone seemed dead or turned away from him, leaving him to the mercy of fate. Only the muffled hum and roar of the factory betrayed any signs of life; and overhead a fine, keen, chilly rain began falling.

Nejdanov gazed up through the crooked branches of the tree under which he was standing at the grey, cloudy sky looking down upon him so unfeelingly. He yawned and lay down. “There’s nothing else to be done. I can’t go back to St. Petersburg, to prison,” he thought. A kind of pleasant heaviness spread all over his body . . . He threw away his cap, took up the revolver, and pulled the trigger.

Something struck him instantly, but with no very great violence . . . He was lying on his back trying to make out what had happened to him and how it was that he had just seen Tatiana. He tried to call her . . . but a peculiar numbness had taken possession of him and curious dark green spots were whirling about all over him — in his eyes, over his head, in his brain — and some frightfully heavy, dull weight seemed to press him to the earth forever.

Nejdanov did really get a glimpse of Tatiana. At the moment when he pulled the trigger she had looked out of a window and caught sight of him standing under the tree. She had hardly time to ask herself what he was doing there in the rain without a hat, when he rolled to the ground like a sheaf of corn. She did not hear the shot — it was very faint — but instantly felt that something was amiss and rushed out into the garden. She came up to Nejdanov, breathless.

“Alexai Dmitritch! What is the matter with you?”

But a darkness had already descended upon him. Tatiana bent over and noticed blood . . .

“Pavel!” she shouted at the top of her voice, “Pavel!”

A minute or two later, Mariana, Solomin, Pavel, and two workmen were in the garden. They lifted him instantly, carried him into the house, and laid him on the same couch on which he had passed his last night.

He lay on his back with half-closed eyes, his face blue all over. There was a rattling in his throat, and every now and again he gave a choking sob. Life had not yet left him. Mariana and Solomin were standing on either side of him, almost as pale as he was himself. They both felt crushed, stunned, especially Mariana- — but they were not surprised. “How did we not foresee this? ” they asked themselves, but it seemed to them that they had foreseen it all along. When he said to Mariana, “Whatever I do, I tell you beforehand, nothing will really surprise you,” and when he had spoken of the two men in him that would not let each other live, had she not felt a kind of vague presentiment? Then why had she ignored it? Why was it she did not now dare to look at Solomin, as though he were her accomplice. . .as though he, too, were conscience-stricken? Why was it that her unutterable, despairing pity for Nejdanov was mixed with a feeling of horror, dread, and shame? Perhaps she could have saved him? Why are they both standing there, not daring to pronounce a word, hardly daring to breathe-waiting . . . for what? Oh, God!”

Solomin sent for a doctor, though there was no hope. Tatiana bathed Nejdanov’s head with cold water and vinegar and laid a cold sponge on the small, dark wound, now free from blood. Suddenly the rattling in Nejdanov’s throat ceased and he stirred a little.

“He is coming to himself,” Solomin whispered. Mariana dropped down on her knees before him. Nejdanov glanced at her . . up until then his eyes had borne that fixed, far-away look of the dying.

“I am . . . still alive,” he pronounced scarcely audible. “I couldn’t even do this properly . . . I am detaining you.”

“Aliosha! “ Mariana sobbed out.

“It won’t . . . be long. . . . Do you . . . remember . . . Mariana . . . my poem? . . . Surround me with flowers . . . But where . . . are the . . . flowers? Never mind . . . so long as you . . . are here. . .There in . . . my letter. . .

He suddenly shuddered.

“Ah! here it comes . . . Take . . . each other’s hands . . . before me . . . quickly . . . take. . .”

Solomin seized Mariana’s hand. Her head lay on the couch, face downwards, close to the wound. Solomin, dark as night, held himself severely erect.

“That’s right . . . that’s . . . ”

Nejdanov broke out into sobs again — strange unusual sobs . . . His breast rose, his sides heaved.

He tried to lay his hand on their united ones, but it fell back dead.

“He is passing away,” Tatiana whispered as she stood at the door, and began crossing herself.

His sobs grew briefer, fewer . . . He still searched around for Mariana with his eyes, but a menacing white film was spreading over them.

“That’s right,” were his last words.

He had breathed his last . . . and the clasped hands of Mariana and Solomin still lay upon his breast.

The following are the contents of the two letters he had left. One consisting only of a few lines, was addressed to Silin:

“Goodbye, my dear friend, goodbye! When this reaches you, I shall be no more. Don’t ask why or wherefore, and don’t grieve; be sure that I am better off now. Take up our immortal Pushkin and read over the description of the death of Lensky in ‘Yevgenia Onegin.’ Do you remember? The windows are white-washed. The mistress has gone — that’s all. There is nothing more for me to say. Were I to say all I wanted to, it would take up too much time. But I could not leave this world without telling you, or you might have gone on thinking of me as living and I should have put a stain upon our friendship. Goodbye; live well. — Your friend, A. N.”

The other letter, somewhat longer, was addressed to Solomin and Mariana. It began thus:

“MY DEAR CHILDREN” (immediately after these words there was a break, as if something had been scratched or smeared out, as if tears had fallen upon it) — “It may seem strange to you that I should address you in this way — I am almost a child myself and you, Solomin, are older than I am. But I am about to die — and standing as I do at the end of my life, I look upon myself as an old man. I have wronged you both, especially you, Mariana, by causing you so much grief and pain (I know you will grieve, Mariana) and giving you so much anxiety. But what could I do? I could think of no other way out. I could not simplify myself, so the only thing left for me to do was to blot myself out altogether.

Mariana, I would have been a burden to you and to myself. You are generous, you would have borne the burden gladly, as a new sacrifice, but I have no right to demand such a sacrifice of you- — you have a higher and better work before you. My children, let me unite you as it were from the grave. You will live happily together. Mariana, I know you will come to love Solomin — and he . . . he loved you from the moment he first saw you at the Sipiagins. It was no secret to me, although we ran away a few days later. Ah! that glorious morning! how exquisite and fresh and young it was! It comes back to me now as a token, a symbol of your life together — your life and his — and I by the merest chance happened to be in his place. But enough! I don’t want to complain, I only want to justify myself. Some very sorrowful moments are in store for you tomorrow. But what could I do? There was no other alternative. Goodbye, Mariana, my dear good girl! Goodbye, Solomin! I leave her in your charge. Be happy together; live for the sake of others. And you, Mariana, think of me only when you are happy. Think of me as a man who had also some good in him, but for whom it was better to die than to live. Did I really love you? I don’t know, dear friend. But I do know that I never loved anyone more than you, and that it would have been more terrible for me to die had I not that feeling for you to carry away with me to the grave. Mariana, if you ever come across a Miss Mashurina — Solomin knows her, and by the way, I think you’ve met her too — tell her that I thought of her with gratitude just before the end. She will understand. But I must tear myself away at last. I looked out of the window just now and saw a lovely star amidst the swiftly moving clouds. No matter how quickly they chased one another, they could not hide it from view. That star reminded me of you, Mariana. At this moment you are asleep in the next room, unsuspecting . . . I went to your door, listened, and fancied I heard your pure, calm breathing . . . Goodbye! goodbye! goodbye, my children, my friends! — Yours, A.

“Dear me! how is it that in my final letter I made no mention of our great cause? I suppose lying is of no use when you’re on the point of death. Forgive this postscript, Mariana . . . The falsehood lies in me, not in the thing in which you believe! One more word. You might have thought perhaps, Mariana, that I put an end to myself merely because I was afraid of going to prison, but believe me that is not true. There is nothing terrible about going to prison in itself, but being shut up there for a cause in which you have no faith is unthinkable. It was not fear of prison that drove me to this, Mariana. Goodbye! goodbye! my dear, pure girl.”

Mariana and Solomin each read the letter in turn. She then put her own portrait and the two letters into her pocket and remained standing motionless.

“Let us go, Mariana; everything is ready. We must fulfil his wish,” Solomin said to her.

Mariana drew near to Nejdanov and pressed her lips against his forehead which was already turning cold.

“Come,” she said, turning to Solomin. They went out, hand in hand.

When the police arrived at the factory a few hours later, they found Nejdanov’s corpse. Tatiana had laid out the body, put a white pillow under his head, crossed his arms, and even placed a bunch of flowers on a little table beside him. Pavel, who had been given all the needful instructions, received the police officers with the greatest respect and as great a contempt, so that those worthies were not quite sure whether to thank or arrest him. He gave them all the details of the suicide, regaled them with Swiss cheese and Madeira, but as for the whereabouts of Vassily Fedotitch and the young lady, he knew nothing of that. He was most effusive in his assurances that Vassily Fedotitch was never away for long at a time on account of his work, that he was sure to be back either today or tomorrow, and that he would let them know as soon as he arrived. They might depend on him!

So the officers went away no wiser than they had come, leaving a guard in charge of the body and promising to send a coroner.

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