The jailer who had brought Maslova in sat on a windowsill at some distance from them.
The decisive moment had come for Nekhludoff. He had been incessantly blaming himself for not having told her the principal thing at the first interview, and was now determined to tell her that he would marry her. She was sitting at the further side of the table. Nekhludoff sat down opposite her. It was light in the room, and Nekhludoff for the first time saw her face quite near. He distinctly saw the crowsfeet round her eyes, the wrinkles round her mouth, and the swollen eyelids. He felt more sorry than before. Leaning over the table so as not to be beard by the jailer — a man of Jewish type with grizzly whiskers, who sat by the window — Nekhludoff said:
“Should this petition come to nothing we shall appeal to the Emperor. All that is possible shall be done.”
“There, now, if we had had a proper advocate from the first,” she interrupted. “My defendant was quite a silly. He did nothing but pay me compliments,” she said, and laughed. “If it had then been known that I was acquainted with you, it would have been another matter. They think every one’s a thief.”
“How strange she is to-day,” Nekhludoff thought, and was just going to say what he had on his mind when she began again:
“There’s something I want to say. We have here an old woman; such a fine one, d’you know, she just surprises every one; she is imprisoned for nothing, and her son, too, and everybody knows they are innocent, though they are accused of having set fire to a house. D’you know, hearing I was acquainted with you, she says: ‘Tell him to ask to see my son; he’ll tell him all about it.”’ Thus spoke Maslova, turning her head from side to side, and glancing at Nekhludoff. “Their name’s Menshoff. Well, will you do it? Such a fine old thing, you know; you can see at once she’s innocent. You’ll do it, there’s a dear,” and she smiled, glanced up at him, and then cast down her eyes.
“All right. I’ll find out about them,” Nekhludoff said, more and more astonished by her free-and-easy manner. “But I was going to speak to you about myself. Do you remember what I told you last time?”
“You said a lot last time. What was it you told me?” she said, continuing to smile and to turn her head from side to side.
“I said I had come to ask you to forgive me,” he began.
“What’s the use of that? Forgive, forgive, where’s the good of —”
“To atone for my sin, not by mere words, but in deed. I have made up my mind to marry you.”
An expression of fear suddenly came over her face. Her squinting eyes remained fixed on him, and yet seemed not to be looking at him.
“What’s that for?” she said, with an angry frown.
“I feel that it is my duty before God to do it.”
“What God have you found now? You are not saying what you ought to. God, indeed! What God? You ought to have remembered God then,” she said, and stopped with her mouth open. It was only now that Nekhludoff noticed that her breath smelled of spirits, and that he understood the cause of her excitement.
“Try and be calm,” he said.
“Why should I be calm?” she began, quickly, flushing scarlet. “I am a convict, and you are a gentleman and a prince. There’s no need for you to soil yourself by touching me. You go to your princesses; my price is a ten-rouble note.”
“However cruelly you may speak, you cannot express what I myself am feeling,” he said, trembling all over; “you cannot imagine to what extent I feel myself guilty towards you.”
“Feel yourself guilty?” she said, angrily mimicking him. “You did not feel so then, but threw me 100 roubles. That’s your price.”
“I know, I know; but what is to be done now?” said Nekhludoff. “I have decided not to leave you, and what I have said I shall do.”
“And I say you sha’n’t,” she said, and laughed aloud.
“Katusha” he said, touching her hand.
“You go away. I am a convict and you a prince, and you’ve no business here,” she cried, pulling away her hand, her whole appearance transformed by her wrath. “You’ve got pleasure out of me in this life, and want to save yourself through me in the life to come. You are disgusting to me — your spectacles and the whole of your dirty fat mug. Go, go!” she screamed, starting to her feet.
The jailer came up to them.
“What are you kicking up this row for?’ That won’t —”
“Let her alone, please,” said Nekhludoff.
“She must not forget herself,” said the jailer. “Please wait a little,” said Nekhludoff, and the jailer returned to the window.
Maslova sat down again, dropping her eyes and firmly clasping her small hands.
Nekhludoff stooped over her, not knowing what to do.
“You do not believe me?” he said.
“That you mean to marry me? It will never be. I’ll rather hang myself. So there!”
“Well, still I shall go on serving you.”
“That’s your affair, only I don’t want anything from you. I am telling you the plain truth,” she said. “Oh, why did I not die then?” she added, and began to cry piteously.
Nekhludoff could not speak; her tears infected him.
She lifted her eyes, looked at him in surprise, and began to wipe her tears with her kerchief.
The jailer came up again and reminded them that it was time to part.
“You are excited. If it is possible, I shall come again tomorrow; you think it over,” said Nekhludoff.
She gave him no answer and, without looking up, followed the jailer out of the room.
“Well, lass, you’ll have rare times now,” Korableva said, when Maslova returned to the cell. “Seems he’s mighty sweet on you; make the most of it while he’s after you. He’ll help you out. Rich people can do anything.”
“Yes, that’s so,” remarked the watchman’s wife, with her musical voice. “When a poor man thinks of getting married, there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip; but a rich man need only make up his mind and it’s done. We knew a toff like that duckie. What d’you think he did?”
“Well, have you spoken about my affairs?” the old woman asked.
But Maslova gave her fellow-prisoners no answer; she lay down on the shelf bedstead, her squinting eyes fixed on a corner of the room, and lay there until the evening.
A painful struggle went on in her soul. What Nekhludoff had told her called up the memory of that world in which she had suffered and which she had left without having understood, hating it. She now feared to wake from the trance in which she was living. Not having arrived at any conclusion when evening came, she again bought some vodka and drank with her companions.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00