When he rang the bell at the front entrance Nekhludoff’s heart stood still with horror as he thought of the state he might find Maslova in to-day, and at the mystery that he felt to be in her and in the people that were collected in the prison. He asked the jailer who opened the door for Maslova. After making the necessary inquiry the jailer informed him that she was in the hospital. Nekhludoff went there. A kindly old man, the hospital doorkeeper, let him in at once and, after asking Nekhludoff whom he wanted, directed him to the children’s ward. A young doctor saturated with carbolic acid met Nekhludoff in the passage and asked him severely what he wanted. This doctor was always making all sorts of concessions to the prisoners, and was therefore continually coming into conflict with the prison authorities and even with the head doctor. Fearing lest Nekhludoff should demand something unlawful, and wishing to show that he made no exceptions for any one, he pretended to be cross. “There are no women here; it is the children’s ward,” he said.
“Yes, I know; but a prisoner has been removed here to be an assistant nurse.”
“Yes, there are two such here. Then whom do you want?”
“I am closely connected with one of them, named Maslova,” Nekhludoff answered, “and should like to speak to her. I am going to Petersburg to hand in an appeal to the Senate about her case and should like to give her this. It is only a photo,” Nekhludoff said, taking an envelope out of his pocket.
“All right, you may do that,” said the doctor, relenting, and turning to an old woman with a white apron, he told her to call the prisoner — Nurse Maslova.
“Will you take a seat, or go into the waiting-room?”
“Thanks,” said Nekhludoff, and profiting by the favourable change in the manner of the doctor towards him asked how they were satisfied with Maslova in the hospital.
“Oh, she is all right. She works fairly well, if you the conditions of her former life into account. But here she is.”
The old nurse came in at one of the doors, followed by Maslova, who wore a blue striped dress, a white apron, a kerchief that quite covered her hair. When she saw Nekhludoff her face flushed, and she stopped as if hesitating, then frowned, and with downcast eyes went quickly towards him along the strip of carpet in the middle of the passage. When she came up to Nekhludoff she did not wish to give him her hand, and then gave it, growing redder still. Nekhludoff had not seen her since the day when she begged forgiveness for having been in a passion, and he expected to find her the same as she was then. But to-day she quite different. There was something new in the expression of her face, reserve and shyness, and, as it seemed to him, animosity towards him. He told her what he had already said to the doctor, i.e., that he was going to Petersburg, and he handed her the envelope with the photograph which he had brought from Panovo.
“I found this in Panovo — it’s an old photo; perhaps you would like it. Take it.”
Lifting her dark eyebrows, she looked at him with surprise in her squinting eyes, as if asking, “What is this for?” took the photo silently and put it in the bib of her apron.
“I saw your aunt there,” said Nekhludoff.
“Did you?” she said, indifferently.
“Are you all right here?” Nekhludoff asked.
“Oh, yes, it’s all right,” she said.
“Not too difficult?”
“Oh, no. But I am not used to it yet.”
“I am glad, for your sake. Anyhow, it is better than there.”
“Than where — there?” she asked, her face flushing again.
“There — in the prison,” Nekhludoff hurriedly answered.
“Why better?” she asked.
“I think the people are better. Here are none such as there must be there.”
“There are many good ones there,” she said.
“I have been seeing about the Menshoffs, and hope they will be liberated,” said Nekhludoff.
“God grant they may. Such a splendid old woman,” she said, again repeating her opinion of the old woman, and slightly smiling.
“I am going to Petersburg to-day. Your case will come on soon, and I hope the sentence will be repealed.”
“Whether it is repealed or not won’t matter now,” she said.
“Why not now?”
“So,” she said, looking with a quick, questioning glance into his eyes.
Nekhludoff understood the word and the look to mean that she wished to know whether he still kept firm to his decision or had accepted her refusal.
“I do not know why it does not matter to you,” he said. “It certainly does not matter as far as I am concerned whether you are acquitted or not. I am ready to do what I told you in any case,” he said decidedly.
She lifted her head and her black squinting eyes remained fixed on him and beyond him, and her face beamed with joy. But the words she spoke were very different from what her eyes said.
“You should not speak like that,” she said.
“I am saying it so that you should know.”
“Everything has been said about that, and there is no use speaking,” she said, with difficulty repressing a smile.
A sudden noise came from the hospital ward, and the sound of a child crying.
“I think they are calling me,” she said, and looked round uneasily.
“Well, good-bye, then,” he said. She pretended not to see his extended hand, and, without taking it, turned away and hastily walked along the strip of carpet, trying to hide the triumph she felt.
“What is going on in her? What is she thinking? What does she feel? Does she mean to prove me, or can she really not forgive me? Is it that she cannot or that she will not express what she feels and thinks? Has she softened or hardened?” he asked himself, and could find no answer. He only knew that she had altered and that an important change was going on in her soul, and this change united him not only to her but also to Him for whose sake that change was being wrought. And this union brought on a state of joyful animation and tenderness.
When she returned to the ward, in which there stood eight small beds, Maslova began, in obedience to the nurse’s order, to arrange one of the beds; and, bending over too far with the sheet, she slipped and nearly fell down.
A little convalescent boy with a bandaged neck, who was looking at her, laughed. Maslova could no longer contain herself and burst into loud laughter, and such contagious laughter that several of the children also burst out laughing, and one of the sisters rebuked her angrily.
“What are you giggling at? Do you think you are where you used to be? Go and fetch the food.” Maslova obeyed and went where she was sent; but, catching the eye of the bandaged boy who was not allowed to laugh, she again burst out laughing.
Whenever she was alone Maslova again and again pulled the photograph partly out of the envelope and looked at it admiringly; but only in the evening when she was off duty and alone in the bedroom which she shared with a nurse, did she take it quite out of the envelope and gaze long at the faded yellow photograph, caressing with, her eyes every detail of faces and clothing, the steps of the veranda, and the bushes which served as a background to his and hers and his aunts’ faces, and could not cease from admiring especially herself — her pretty young face with the curly hair round the forehead. She was so absorbed that she did not hear her fellow-nurse come into the room.
“What is it that he’s given you?” said the good-natured, fat nurse, stooping over the photograph.
“Who’s this? You?”
“Who else?” said Maslova, looking into her companion’s face with a smile.
“And who’s this?”
“And is this his mother?”
“No, his aunt. Would you not have known me?”
“Never. The whole face is altered. Why, it must be 10 years since then.”
“Not years, but a lifetime,” said Maslova. And suddenly her animation went, her face grew gloomy, and a deep line appeared between her brows.
“Why so? Your way of life must have been an easy one.”
“Easy, indeed,” Maslova reiterated, closing her eyes and shaking her head. “It is hell.”
“Why, what makes it so?”
“What makes it so! From eight till four in the morning, and every night the same!”
“Then why don’t they give it up?”
“They can’t give it up if they want to. But what’s the use of talking?” Maslova said, jumping up and throwing the photograph into the drawer of the table. And with difficulty repressing angry tears, she ran out into the passage and slammed the door.
While looking at the group she imagined herself such as she was there and dreamt of her happiness then and of the possibility of happiness with him now. But her companion’s words reminded her of what she was now and what she had been, and brought back all the horrors of that life, which she had felt but dimly, and not allowed herself to realise.
It was only now that the memory of all those terrible nights came vividly back to her, especially one during the carnival when she was expecting a student who had promised to buy her out. She remembered how she — wearing her low necked silk dress stained with wine, a red bow in her untidy hair, wearied, weak, half tipsy, having seen her visitors off, sat down during an interval in the dancing by the piano beside the bony pianiste with the blotchy face, who played the accompaniments to the violin, and began complaining of her hard fate; and how this pianiste said that she, too, was feeling how heavy her position was and would like to change it; and how Clara suddenly came up to them; and how they all three decided to change their life. They thought that the night was over, and were about to go away, when suddenly the noise of tipsy voices was herd in the ante-room. The violinist played a tune and the pianiste began hammering the first figure of a quadrille on the piano, to the tune of a most merry Russian song. A small, perspiring man, smelling of spirits, with a white tie and swallow-tail coat, which he took off after the first figure, came up to her, hiccoughing, and caught her up, while another fat man, with a beard, and also wearing a dress-coat (they had come straight from a ball) caught Clara up, and for a long time they turned, danced, screamed, drank. . . . And so it went on for another year, and another, and a third. How could she help changing? And he was the cause of it all. And, suddenly, all her former bitterness against him reawoke; she wished to scold, to reproach him. She regretted having neglected the opportunity of repeating to him once more that she knew him, and would not give in to him — would not let him make use of her spiritually as he had done physically.
And she longed for drink in order to stifle the feeling of pity to herself and the useless feeling of reproach to him. And she would have broken her word if she had been inside the prison. Here she could not get any spirits except by applying to the medical assistant, and she was afraid of him because he made up to her, and intimate relations with men were disgusting to her now. After sitting a while on a form in the passage she returned to her little room, and without paying any heed to her companion’s words, she wept for a long time over her wrecked life.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00