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CHAPTER XXV. MASLOVA'S DECISION.
The dismal prison house, with its sentinel and lamp burning under the gateway, produced an even more dismal impression, with its long row of lighted windows, than it had done in the morning, in spite of the white covering that now lay over everything - the porch, the roof and the walls.
The imposing inspector came up to the gate and read the pass that had been given to Nekhludoff and the Englishman by the light of the lamp, shrugged his fine shoulders in surprise, but, in obedience to the order, asked the visitors to follow him in. He led them through the courtyard and then in at a door to the right and up a staircase into the office. He offered them a seat and asked what he could do for them, and when he heard that Nekhludoff would like to see Maslova at once, he sent a jailer to fetch her. Then he prepared himself to answer the questions which the Englishman began to put to him, Nekhludoff acting as interpreter.
"How many persons is the prison built to hold?" the Englishman asked. "How many are confined in it? How many men? How many women? Children? How many sentenced to the mines? How many exiles? How many sick persons?"
Nekhludoff translated the Englishman's and the inspector's words without paying any attention to their meaning, and felt an awkwardness he had not in the least expected at the thought of the impending interview. When, in the midst of a sentence he was translating for the Englishman, he heard the sound of approaching footsteps, and the office door opened, and, as had happened many times before, a jailer came in, followed by Katusha, and he saw her with a kerchief tied round her head, and in a prison jacket a heavy sensation came over him. "I wish to live, I want a family, children, I want a human life." These thoughts flashed through his mind as she entered the room with rapid steps and blinking her eyes.
He rose and made a few steps to meet her, and her face appeared hard and unpleasant to him. It was again as it had been at the time when she reproached him. She flushed and turned pale, her fingers nervously twisting a corner of her jacket. She looked up at him, then cast down her eyes.
"You know that a mitigation has come?"
"Yes, the jailer told me."
"So that as soon as the original document arrives you may come away and settle where you like. We shall consider - "
She interrupted him hurriedly. "What have I to consider? Where Valdemar Simonson goes, there I shall follow." In spite of the excitement she was in she raised her eyes to Nekhludoff's and pronounced these words quickly and distinctly, as if she had prepared what she had to say.
"Well, Dmitri Ivanovitch, you see he wishes me to live with him - " and she stopped, quite frightened, and corrected herself. "He wishes me to be near him. What more can I desire? I must look upon it as happiness. What else is there for me - "
"One of two things," thought he. "Either she loves Simonson and does not in the least require the sacrifice I imagined I was bringing her, or she still loves me and refuses me for my own sake, and is burning her ships by uniting her fate with Simonson." And Nekhludoff felt ashamed and knew that he was blushing.
"And you yourself, do you love him?" he asked.
"Loving or not loving, what does it matter? I have given up all that. And then Valdemar Simonson is quite an exceptional man."
"Yes, of course," Nekhludoff began. "He is a splendid man, and I think - "
But she again interrupted him, as if afraid that he might say too much or that she should not say all. "No, Dmitri Ivanovitch, you must forgive me if I am not doing what you wish," and she looked at him with those unfathomable, squinting eyes of hers. "Yes, it evidently must be so. You must live, too."
She said just what he had been telling himself a few moments before, but he no longer thought so now and felt very differently. He was not only ashamed, but felt sorry to lose all he was losing with her. "I did not expect this," he said.
"Why should you live here and suffer? You have suffered enough."
"I have not suffered. It was good for me, and I should like to go on serving you if I could."
"We do not want anything," she said, and looked at him.
"You have done so much for me as it is. If it had not been for you - " She wished to say more, but her voice trembled.
"You certainly have no reason to thank me," Nekhludoff said.
"Where is the use of our reckoning? God will make up our accounts," she said, and her black eyes began to glisten with the tears that filled them.
"What a good woman you are," he said.
"I good?" she said through her tears, and a pathetic smile lit up her face.
"Are you ready?" the Englishman asked.
"Directly," replied Nekhludoff and asked her about Kryltzoff.
She got over her emotion and quietly told him all she knew. Kryltzoff was very weak and had been sent into the infirmary. Mary Pavlovna was very anxious, and had asked to be allowed to go to the infirmary as a nurse, but could not get the permission.
"Am I to go?" she asked, noticing that the Englishman was waiting.
"I will not say good-bye; I shall see you again," said Nekhludoff, holding out his hand.
"Forgive me," she said so low that he could hardly hear her. Their eyes met, and Nekhludoff knew by the strange look of her squinting eyes and the pathetic smile with which she said not "Good-bye" but "Forgive me," that of the two reasons that might have led to her resolution, the second was the real one. She loved him, and thought that by uniting herself to him she would be spoiling his life. By going with Simonson she thought she would be setting Nekhludoff free, and felt glad that she had done what she meant to do, and yet she suffered at parting from him.
She pressed his hand, turned quickly and left the room.
Nekhludoff was ready to go, but saw that the Englishman was noting something down, and did not disturb him, but sat down on a wooden seat by the wall, and suddenly a feeling of terrible weariness came over him. It was not a sleepless night that had tired him, not the journey, not the excitement, but he felt terribly tired of living. He leaned against the back of the bench, shut his eyes and in a moment fell into a deep, heavy sleep.
"Well, would you like to look round the cells now?" the inspector asked.
Nekhludoff looked up and was surprised to find himself where he was. The Englishman had finished his notes and expressed a wish to see the cells.
Nekhludoff, tired and indifferent, followed him.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER XXVI. THE ENGLISH VISITOR.