Nekhludoff awoke next morning feeling as if he had been guilty of some iniquity the day before. He began considering. He could not remember having done anything wrong; he had committed no evil act, but he had had evil thoughts. He had thought that all his present resolutions to marry Katusha and to give up his land were unachievable dreams; that he should be unable to bear it; that it was artificial, unnatural; and that he would have to go on living as he lived.
He had committed no evil action, but, what was far worse than an evil action, he had entertained evil thoughts whence all evil actions proceed. An evil action may not be repeated, and can be repented of; but evil thoughts generate all evil actions.
An evil action only smooths the path for other evil acts; evil thoughts uncontrollably drag one along that path.
When Nekhludoff repeated in his mind the thoughts of the day before, he was surprised that he could for a moment have believed these thoughts. However new and difficult that which he had decided to do might be, he knew that it was the only possible way of life for him now, and however easy and natural it might have been to return to his former state, he knew that state to be death.
Yesterday’s temptation seemed like the feeling when one awakes from deep sleep, and, without feeling sleepy, wants to lie comfortably in bed a little longer, yet knows that it is time to rise and commence the glad and important work that awaits one.
On that, his last day in Petersburg, he went in the morning to the Vasilievski Ostrov to see Shoustova. Shoustova lived on the second floor, and having been shown the back stairs, Nekhludoff entered straight into the hot kitchen, which smelt strongly of food. An elderly woman, with turned-up sleeves, with an apron and spectacles, stood by the fire stirring something in a steaming pan.
“Whom do you want?” she asked severely, looking at him over her spectacles.
Before Nekhludoff had time to answer, an expression of fright and joy appeared on her face.
“Oh, Prince!” she exclaimed, wiping her hands on her apron. “But why have you come the back way? Our Benefactor! I am her mother. They have nearly killed my little girl. You have saved us,” she said, catching hold of Nekhludoff’s hand and trying to kiss it.
“I went to see you yesterday. My sister asked me to. She is here. This way, this way, please,” said Shoustova’s mother, as she led the way through a narrow door, and a dark passage, arranging her hair and pulling at her tucked-up skirt. “My sister’s name is Kornilova. You must have heard of her,” she added, stopping before a closed door. “She was mixed up in a political affair. An extremely clever woman!”
Shoustova’s mother opened the door and showed Nekhludoff into a little room where on a sofa with a table before it sat a plump, short girl with fair hair that curled round her pale, round face, which was very like her mother’s. She had a striped cotton blouse on.
Opposite her, in an armchair, leaning forward, so that he was nearly bent double, sat a young fellow with a slight, black beard and moustaches.
“Lydia, Prince Nekhludoff!” he said.
The pale girl jumped up, nervously pushing back a lock of hair behind her ear, and gazing at the newcomer with a frightened look in her large, grey eyes.
“So you are that dangerous woman whom Vera Doukhova wished me to intercede for?” Nekhludoff asked, with a smile.
“Yes, I am,” said Lydia Shoustova, her broad, kind, child-like smile disclosing a row of beautiful teeth. “It was aunt who was so anxious to see you. Aunt!” she called out, in a pleasant, tender voice through a door.
“Your imprisonment grieved Vera Doukhova very much,” said Nekhludoff.
“Take a seat here, or better here,” said Shoustova, pointing to the battered easy-chair from which the young man had just risen.
“My cousin, Zakharov,” she said, noticing that Nekhludoff looked at the young man.
The young man greeted the visitor with a smile as kindly as Shoustova’s, and when Nekhludoff sat down he brought himself another chair, and sat by his side. A fair-haired schoolboy of about 10 also came into the room and silently sat down on the window-sill.
“Vera Doukhova is a great friend of my aunt’s, but I hardly know her,” said Shoustova.
Then a woman with a very pleasant face, with a white blouse and leather belt, came in from the next room.
“How do you do? Thanks for coming,” she began as soon as she had taken the place next Shoustova’s on the sofa.
“Well, and how is Vera. You have seen her? How does she bear her fate?”
“She does not complain,” said Nekhludoff. “She says she feels perfectly happy.”’
“Ah, that’s like Vera. I know her,” said the aunt, smiling and shaking her head. “One must know her. She has a fine character. Everything for others; nothing for herself.”
“No, she asked nothing for herself, but only seemed concerned about your niece. What seemed to trouble her most was, as she said, that your niece was imprisoned for nothing.”
“Yes, that’s true,” said the aunt. “It is a dreadful business. She suffered, in reality, because of me.”
“Not at all, aunt. I should have taken the papers without you all the same.”
“Allow me to know better,” said the aunt. “You see,” she went on to Nekhludoff, “it all happened because a certain person asked me to keep his papers for a time, and I, having no house at the time, brought them to her. And that very night the police searched her room and took her and the papers, and have kept her up to now, demanding that she should say from whom she had them.”
“But I never told them,” said Shoustova quickly, pulling nervously at a lock that was not even out of place.
“I never said you did” answered the aunt.
“If they took Mitin up it was certainly not through me,” said Shoustova, blushing, and looking round uneasily.
“Don’t speak about it, Lydia dear,” said her mother.
“Why not? I should like to relate it,” said Shoustova, no longer smiling nor pulling her lock, but twisting it round her finger and getting redder.
“Don’t forget what happened yesterday when you began talking about it.”
“Not at all —-Leave me alone, mamma. I did not tell, I only kept quiet. When he examined me about Mitin and about aunt, I said nothing, and told him I would not answer.”
“Then this — Petrov —”
“Petrov is a spy, a gendarme, and a blackguard,” put in the aunt, to explain her niece’s words to Nekhludoff.
“Then he began persuading,” continued Shoustova, excitedly and hurriedly. “‘Anything you tell me,’ he said, ‘can harm no one; on the contrary, if you tell me, we may be able to set free innocent people whom we may be uselessly tormenting.’ Well, I still said I would not tell. Then he said, ‘All right, don’t tell, but do not deny what I am going to say.’ And he named Mitin.”
“Don’t talk about it,” said the aunt.
“Oh, aunt, don’t interrupt,” and she went on pulling the lock of hair and looking round. “And then, only fancy, the next day I hear — they let me know by knocking at the wall — that Mitin is arrested. Well, I think I have betrayed him, and this tormented me so — it tormented me so that I nearly went mad.”
“And it turned out that it was not at all because of you he was taken up?”
“Yes, but I didn’t know. I think, ‘There, now, I have betrayed him.’ I walk and walk up and down from wall to wall, and cannot help thinking. I think, ‘I have betrayed him.’ I lie down and cover myself up, and hear something whispering, ‘Betrayed! betrayed Mitin! Mitin betrayed!’ I know it is an hallucination, but cannot help listening. I wish to fall asleep, I cannot. I wish not to think, and cannot cease. That is terrible!” and as Shoustova spoke she got more and more excited, and twisted and untwisted the lock of hair round her finger.
“Lydia, dear, be calm,” the mother said, touching her shoulder.
But Shoustova could not stop herself.
“It is all the more terrible —” she began again, but did not finish, and jumping up with a cry rushed out of the room.
Her mother turned to follow her.
“They ought to be hanged, the rascals!” said the schoolboy who was sitting on the window-sill.
“What’s that?” said the mother.
“I only said — Oh, it’s nothing,” the schoolboy answered, and taking a cigarette that lay on the table, he began to smoke.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14