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CHAPTER XVI. SIMONSON SPEAKS TO NEKHLUDOFF.
The voices of officials sounded from the next room. All the prisoners were silent, and a sergeant, followed by two convoy soldiers, entered. The time of the inspection had come. The sergeant counted every one, and when Nekhludoff's turn came he addressed him with kindly familiarity.
"You must not stay any longer, Prince, after the inspection; you must go now."
Nekhludoff knew what this meant, went up to the sergeant and shoved a three-rouble note into his hand.
"Ah, well, what is one to do with you; stay a bit longer, if you like." The sergeant was about to go when another sergeant, followed by a convict, a spare man with a thin beard and a bruise under his eye, came in.
"It's about the girl I have come," said the convict.
"Here's daddy come," came the ringing accents of a child's voice, and a flaxen head appeared from behind Rintzeva, who, with Katusha's and Mary Pavlovna's help, was making a new garment for the child out of one of Rintzeva's own petticoats.
"Yes, daughter, it's me," Bousovkin, the prisoner, said softly.
"She is quite comfortable here," said Mary Pavlovna, looking with pity at Bousovkin's bruised face. "Leave her with us."
"The ladies are making me new clothes," said the girl, pointing to Rintzeva's sewing - "nice red ones," she went on, prattling.
"Do you wish to sleep with us?" asked Rintzeva, caressing the child.
"Yes, I wish. And daddy, too."
"No, daddy can't. Well, leave her then," she said, turning to the father.
"Yes, you may leave her," said the first sergeant, and went out with the other.
As soon as they were out of the room Nabatoff went up to Bousovkin, slapped him on the shoulder, and said: "I say, old fellow, is it true that Karmanoff wishes to exchange?"
Bousovkin's kindly, gentle face turned suddenly sad and a veil seemed to dim his eyes.
"We have heard nothing - hardly," he said, and with the same dimness still over his eyes he turned to the child.
"Well, Aksutka, it seems you're to make yourself comfortable with the ladies," and he hurried away.
"It's true about the exchange, and he knows it very well," said Nabatoff.
"What are you going to do?"
"I shall tell the authorities in the next town. I know both prisoners by sight," said Nekhludoff.
All were silent, fearing a recommencement of the dispute.
Simonson, who had been lying with his arms thrown back behind his head, and not speaking, rose, and determinately walked up to Nekhludoff, carefully passing round those who were sitting.
"Could you listen to me now?
"Of course," and Nekhludoff rose and followed him.
Katusha looked up with an expression of suspense, and meeting Nekhludoff's eyes, she blushed and shook her head.
"What I want to speak to you about is this," Simonson began, when they had come out into the passage. In the passage the din of the criminal's voices and shouts sounded louder. Nekhludoff made a face, but Simonson did not seem to take any notice.
"Knowing of your relations to Katerina Maslova," he began seriously and frankly, with his kind eyes looking straight into Nekhludoff's face, "I consider it my duty" - He was obliged to stop because two voices were heard disputing and shouting, both at once, close to the door.
"I tell you, blockhead, they are not mine," one voice shouted.
"May you choke, you devil," snorted the other.
At this moment Mary Pavlovna came out into the passage.
"How can one talk here?" she said; "go in, Vera is alone there," and she went in at the second door, and entered a tiny room, evidently meant for a solitary cell, which was now placed at the disposal of the political women prisoners, Vera Doukhova lay covered up, head and all, on the bed.
"She has got a headache, and is asleep, so she cannot hear you, and I will go away," said Mary Pavlovna.
"On the contrary, stay here," said Simonson; "I have no secrets from any one, certainly none from you."
"All right," said Mary Pavlovna, and moving her whole body from side to side, like a child, so as to get farther back on to the bed, she settled down to listen, her beautiful hazel eyes seeming to look somewhere far away.
"Well, then, this is my business," Simonson repeated. "Knowing of your relations to Katerina Maslova, I consider myself bound to explain to you my relations to her."
Nekhludoff could not help admiring the simplicity and truthfulness with which Simonson spoke to him.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that I should like to marry Katerina Maslova - "
"How strange!" said Mary Pavlovna, fixing her eyes on Simonson.
" - And so I made up my mind to ask her to be my wife," Simonson continued.
"What can I do? It depends on her," said Nekhludoff.
"Yes; but she will not come to any decision without you."
"Because as long as your relations with her are unsettled she cannot make up her mind."
"As far as I am concerned, it is finally settled. I should like to do what I consider to be my duty and also to lighten her fate, but on no account would I wish to put any restraint on her."
"Yes, but she does not wish to accept your sacrifice."
"It is no sacrifice."
"And I know that this decision of hers is final."
"Well, then, there is no need to speak to me," said Nekhludoff.
"She wants you to acknowledge that you think as she does."
"How can I acknowledge that I must not do what I consider to be my duty? All I can say is that I am not free, but she is."
Simonson was silent; then, after thinking a little, he said: "Very well, then, I'll tell her. You must not think I am in love with her," he continued; "I love her as a splendid, unique, human being who has suffered much. I want nothing from her. I have only an awful longing to help her, to lighten her posi - "
Nekhludoff was surprised to hear the trembling in Simonson's voice.
" - To lighten her position," Simonson continued. "If she does not wish to accept your help, let her accept mine. If she consents, I shall ask to be sent to the place where she will be imprisoned. Four years are not an eternity. I would live near her, and perhaps might lighten her fate - " and he again stopped, too agitated to continue.
"What am I to say?" said Nekhludoff. "I am very glad she has found such a protector as you - "
"That's what I wanted to know," Simonson interrupted.
"I wanted to know if, loving her and wishing her happiness, you would consider it good for her to marry me?"
"Oh, yes," said Nekhludoff decidedly.
"It all depends on her; I only wish that this suffering soul should find rest," said Simonson, with such childlike tenderness as no one could have expected from so morose-looking a man.
Simonson rose, and stretching his lips out to Nekhludoff, smiled shyly and kissed him.
"So I shall tell her," and he went away.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER XVII. 'I HAVE NOTHING MORE TO SAY.'