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CHAPTER XI. MASLOVA AND HER COMPANIONS.
The political prisoners were kept in two small rooms, the doors of which opened into a part of the passage partitioned off from the rest. The first person Nekhludoff saw on entering into this part of the passage was Simonson in his rubber jacket and with a log of pine wood in his hands, crouching in front of a stove, the door of which trembled, drawn in by the heat inside.
When he saw Nekhludoff he looked up at him from under his protruding brow, and gave him his hand without rising.
"I am glad you have come; I want to speak to you," he said, looking Nekhludoff straight in the eyes with an expression of importance.
"Yes; what is it?" Nekhludoff asked.
"It will do later on; I am busy just now," and Simonson turned again towards the stove, which he was heating according to a theory of his own, so as to lose as little heat energy as possible.
Nekhludoff was going to enter in at the first door, when Maslova, stooping and pushing a large heap of rubbish and dust towards the stove with a handleless birch broom, came out of the other. She had a white jacket on, her skirt was tucked up, and a kerchief, drawn down to her eyebrows, protected her hair from the dust. When she saw Nekhludoff, she drew herself up, flushing and animated, put down the broom, wiped her hands on her skirt, and stopped right in front of him. "You are tidying up the apartments, I see," said Nekhludoff, shaking hands.
"Yes; my old occupation," and she smiled. "But the dirt! You can't imagine what it is. We have been cleaning and cleaning. Well, is the plaid dry?" she asked, turning to Simonson.
"Almost," Simonson answered, giving her a strange look, which struck Nekhludoff.
"All right, I'll come for it, and will bring the cloaks to dry. Our people are all in here," she said to Nekhludoff, pointing to the first door as she went out of the second.
Nekhludoff opened the door and entered a small room dimly lit by a little metal lamp, which was standing low down on the shelf bedstead. It was cold in the room, and there was a smell of the dust, which had not had time to settle, damp and tobacco smoke.
Only those who were close to the lamp were clearly visible, the bedsteads were in the shade and wavering shadows glided over the walls. Two men, appointed as caterers, who had gone to fetch boiling water and provisions, were away; most of the political prisoners were gathered together in the small room. There was Nekhludoff's old acquaintance, Vera Doukhova, with her large, frightened eyes, and the swollen vein on her forehead, in a grey jacket with short hair, and thinner and yellower than ever.. She had a newspaper spread out in front of her, and sat rolling cigarettes with a jerky movement of her hands.
Emily Rintzeva, whom Nekhludoff considered to be the pleasantest of the political prisoners, was also here. She looked after the housekeeping, and managed to spread a feeling of home comfort even in the midst of the most trying surroundings. She sat beside the lamp, with her sleeves rolled up, wiping cups and mugs, and placing them, with her deft, red and sunburnt hands, on a cloth that was spread on the bedstead. Rintzeva was a plain-looking young woman, with a clever and mild expression of face, which, when she smiled, had a way of suddenly becoming merry, animated and captivating. It was with such a smile that she now welcomed Nekhludoff.
"Why, we thought you had gone back to Russia," she said.
Here in a dark corner was also Mary Pavlovna, busy with a little, fair-haired girl, who kept prattling in her sweet, childish accents.
"How nice that you have come," she said to Nekhludoff.
Have you seen Katusha? And we have a visitor here," and she pointed to the little girl.
Here was also Anatole Kryltzoff with felt boots on, sitting in a far corner with his feet under him, doubled up and shivering, his arms folded in the sleeves of his cloak, and looking at Nekhludoff with feverish eyes. Nekhludoff was going up to him, but to the right of the door a man with spectacles and reddish curls, dressed in a rubber jacket, sat talking to the pretty, smiling Grabetz. This was the celebrated revolutionist Novodvoroff. Nekhludoff hastened to greet him. He was in a particular hurry about it, because this man was the only one among all the political prisoners whom he disliked. Novodvoroff's eyes glistened through his spectacles as he looked at Nekhludoff and held his narrow hand out to him.
"Well, are you having a pleasant journey?" he asked, with apparent irony.
"Yes, there is much that is interesting," Nekhludoff answered, as if he did not notice the irony, but took the question for politeness, and passed on to Kryltzoff.
Though Nekhludoff appeared indifferent, he was really far from indifferent, and these words of Novodvoroff, showing his evident desire to say or do something unpleasant, interfered with the state of kindness in which Nekhludoff found himself, and he felt depressed and sad.
"Well, how are you?" he asked, pressing Kryltzoff's cold and trembling hand.
"Pretty well, only I cannot get warm; I got wet through," Kryltzoff answered, quickly replacing his hands into the sleeves of his cloak. "And here it is also beastly cold. There, look, the window-panes are broken," and he pointed to the broken panes behind the iron bars. "And how are you? Why did you not come?"
"I was not allowed to, the authorities were so strict, but to-day the officer is lenient."
"Lenient indeed!" Kryltzoff remarked. "Ask Mary what she did this morning."
Mary Pavlovna from her place in the corner related what had happened about the little girl that morning when they left the halting station.
"I think it is absolutely necessary to make a collective protest," said Vera Doukhova, in a determined tone, and yet looking now at one, now at another, with a frightened, undecided look. "Valdemar Simonson did protest, but that is not sufficient."
"What protest!" muttered Kryltzoff, cross and frowning. Her want of simplicity, artificial tone and nervousness had evidently been irritating him for a long time.
"Are you looking for Katusha?" he asked, addressing Nekhludoff. "She is working all the time. She has cleaned this, the men's room, and now she has gone to clean the women's! Only it is not possible to clean away the fleas. And what is Mary doing there?" he asked, nodding towards the corner where Mary Pavlovna sat.
"She is combing out her adopted daughter's hair," replied Rintzeva.
"But won't she let the insects loose on us?" asked Kryltzoff.
"No, no; I am very careful. She is a clean little girl now. You take her," said Mary, turning to Rintzeva, "while I go and help Katusha, and I will also bring him his plaid."
Rintzeva took the little girl on her lap, pressing her plump, bare, little arms to her bosom with a mother's tenderness, and gave her a bit of sugar. As Mary Pavlovna left the room, two men came in with boiling water and provisions.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER XII. NABATOFF AND MARKEL.