Maslova looked round, and with head thrown back and expanded chest, came up to the net with that expression of readiness which he well knew, pushed in between two prisoners, and gazed at Nekhludoff with a surprised and questioning look. But, concluding from his clothing he was a rich man, she smiled.
“Is it me you want?” she asked, bringing her smiling face, with the slightly squinting eyes, nearer the net.
“I, I— I wished to see —” Nekhludoff did not know how to address her. “I wished to see you — I—” He was not speaking louder than usual.
“No; nonsense, I tell you!” shouted the tramp who stood next to him. “Have you taken it or not?”
“Dying, I tell you; what more do you want?” some one else was screaming at his other side. Maslova could not hear what Nekhludoff was saying, but the expression of his face as he was speaking reminded her of him. She did not believe her own eyes; still the smile vanished from her face and a deep line of suffering appeared on her brow.
“I cannot hear what you are saying,” she called out, wrinkling her brow and frowning more and more.
“I have come,” said Nekhludoff. “Yes, I am doing my duty — I am confessing,” thought Nekhludoff; and at this thought the tears came in his eyes, and he felt a choking sensation in his throat, and holding on with both hands to the net, he made efforts to keep from bursting into tears.
“I say, why do you shove yourself in where you’re not wanted?” some one shouted at one side of him.
“God is my witness; I know nothing,” screamed a prisoner from the other side.
Noticing his excitement, Maslova recognised him.
“You’re like . . . but no; I don’t know you,” she shouted, without looking at him, and blushing, while her face grew still more stern.
“I have come to ask you to forgive me,” he said, in a loud but monotonous voice, like a lesson learnt by heart. Having said these words he became confused; but immediately came the thought that, if he felt ashamed, it was all the better; he had to bear this shame, and he continued in a loud voice:
“Forgive me; I have wronged you terribly.”
She stood motionless and without taking her squinting eyes off him.
He could not continue to speak, and stepping away from the net he tried to suppress the sobs that were choking him.
The inspector, the same officer who had directed Nekhludoff to the women’s ward, and whose interest he seemed to have aroused, came into the room, and, seeing Nekhludoff not at the net, asked him why he was not talking to her whom he wanted to see. Nekhludoff blew his nose, gave himself a shake, and, trying to appear calm, said:
“It’s so inconvenient through these nets; nothing can be heard.”
Again the inspector considered for a moment.
“Ah, well, she can be brought out here for awhile. Mary Karlovna,” turning to the warder, “lead Maslova out.”
A minute later Maslova came out of the side door. Stepping softly, she came up close to Nekhludoff, stopped, and looked up at him from under her brows. Her black hair was arranged in ringlets over her forehead in the same way as it had been two days ago; her face, though unhealthy and puffy, was attractive, and looked perfectly calm, only the glittering black eyes glanced strangely from under the swollen lids.
“You may talk here,” said the inspector, and shrugging his shoulders he stepped aside with a look of surprise. Nekhludoff moved towards a seat by the wall.
Maslova cast a questioning look at the inspector, and then, shrugging her shoulders in surprise, followed Nekhludoff to the bench, and having arranged her skirt, sat down beside him.
“I know it is hard for you to forgive me,” he began, but stopped. His tears were choking him. “But though I can’t undo the past, I shall now do what is in my power. Tell me —”
“How have you managed to find me?” she said, without answering his question, neither looking away from him nor quite at him, with her squinting eyes.
“O God, help me! Teach me what to do,” Nekhludoff thought, looking at her changed face. “I was on the jury the day before yesterday,” he said. “You did not recognise me?”
“No, I did not; there was not time for recognitions. I did not even look,” she said.
“There was a child, was there not?” he asked.
“Thank God! he died at once,” she answered, abruptly and viciously.
“What do you mean? Why?”
“I was so ill myself, I nearly died,” she said, in the same quiet voice, which Nekhludoff had not expected and could not understand.
“How could my aunts have let you go?”
“Who keeps a servant that has a baby? They sent me off as soon as they noticed. But why speak of this? I remember nothing. That’s all finished.”
“No, it is not finished; I wish to redeem my sin.”
“There’s nothing to redeem. What’s been has been and is passed,” she said; and, what he never expected, she looked at him and smiled in an unpleasantly luring, yet piteous, manner.
Maslova never expected to see him again, and certainly not here and not now; therefore, when she first recognised him, she could not keep back the memories which she never wished to revive. In the first moment she remembered dimly that new, wonderful world of feeling and of thought which had been opened to her by the charming young man who loved her and whom she loved, and then his incomprehensible cruelty and the whole string of humiliations and suffering which flowed from and followed that magic joy. This gave her pain, and, unable to understand it, she did what she was always in the habit of doing, she got rid of these memories by enveloping them in the mist of a depraved life. In the first moment, she associated the man now sitting beside her with the lad she had loved; but feeling that this gave her pain, she dissociated them again. Now, this well-dressed, carefully-got-up gentleman with perfumed beard was no longer the Nekhludoff whom she had loved but only one of the people who made use of creatures like herself when they needed them, and whom creatures like herself had to make use of in their turn as profitably as they could; and that is why she looked at him with a luring smile and considered silently how she could best make use of him.
“That’s all at an end,” she said. “Now I’m condemned to Siberia,” and her lip trembled as she was saying this dreadful word.
“I knew; I was certain you were not guilty,” said Nekhludoff.
“Guilty! of course not; as if I could be a thief or a robber.” She stopped, considering in what way she could best get something out of him.
“They say here that all depends on the advocate,” she began. “A petition should be handed in, only they say it’s expensive.”
“Yes, most certainly,” said Nekhludoff. “I have already spoken to an advocate.”
“No money ought to be spared; it should be a good one,” she said.
“I shall do all that is possible.”
They were silent, and then she smiled again in the same way.
“And I should like to ask you . . . a little money if you can . . . not much; ten roubles, I do not want more,” she said, suddenly.
“Yes, yes,” Nekhludoff said, with a sense of confusion, and felt for his purse.
She looked rapidly at the inspector, who was walking up and down the room. “Don’t give it in front of him; he’d take it away.”
Nekhludoff took out his purse as soon as the inspector had turned his back; but had no time to hand her the note before the inspector faced them again, so he crushed it up in his hand.
“This woman is dead,” Nekhludoff thought, looking at this once sweet, and now defiled, puffy face, lit up by an evil glitter in the black, squinting eyes which were now glancing at the hand in which he held the note, then following the inspector’s movements, and for a moment he hesitated. The tempter that had been speaking to him in the night again raised its voice, trying to lead him out of the realm of his inner into the realm of his outer life, away from the question of what he should do to the question of what the consequences would be, and what would he practical.
“You can do nothing with this woman,” said the voice; “you will only tie a stone round your neck, which will help to drown you and hinder you from being useful to others.
“Is it not better to give her all the money that is here, say good-bye, and finish with her forever?” whispered the voice.
But here he felt that now, at this very moment, something most important was taking place in his soul — that his inner life was, as it were, wavering in the balance, so that the slightest effort would make it sink to this side or the other. And he made this effort by calling to his assistance that God whom he had felt in his soul the day before, and that God instantly responded. He resolved to tell her everything now — at once.
“Katusha, I have come to ask you to forgive me, and you have given me no answer. Have you forgiven me? Will you ever forgive me?” he asked.
She did not listen to him, but looked at his hand and at the inspector, and when the latter turned she hastily stretched out her hand, grasped the note, and hid it under her belt.
“That’s odd, what you are saying there,” she said, with a smile of contempt, as it seemed to him.
Nekhludoff felt that there was in her soul one who was his enemy and who was protecting her, such as she was now, and preventing him from getting at her heart. But, strange to say, this did not repel him, but drew him nearer to her by some fresh, peculiar power. He knew that he must waken her soul, that this was terribly difficult, but the very difficulty attracted him. He now felt towards her as he had never felt towards her or any one else before. There was nothing personal in this feeling: he wanted nothing from her for himself, but only wished that she might not remain as she now was, that she might awaken and become again what she had been.
“Katusha, why do you speak like that? I know you; I remember you — and the old days in Papovo.”
“What’s the use of recalling what’s past?” she remarked, drily.
“I am recalling it in order to put it right, to atone for my sin, Katusha,” and he was going to say that he would marry her, but, meeting her eyes, he read in them something so dreadful, so coarse, so repellent, that he could not go on.
At this moment the visitors began to go. The inspector came up to Nekhludoff and said that the time was up.
“Good-bye; I have still much to say to you, but you see it is impossible to do so now,” said Nekhludoff, and held out his hand. “I shall come again.”
“I think you have said all.”
She took his hand but did not press it.
“No; I shall try to see you again, somewhere where we can talk, and then I shall tell you what I have to say-something very important.”
“Well, then, come; why not?” she answered, and smiled with that habitual, inviting, and promising smile which she gave to the men whom she wished to please.
“You are more than a sister to me,” said Nekhludoff.
“That’s odd,” she said again, and went behind the grating.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00