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CHAPTER XXIV. MARIETTE TEMPTS NEKHLUDOFF.
When they left the Senate, Nekhludoff and the advocate walked on together, the advocate having given the driver of his carriage orders to follow them. The advocate told Nekhludoff the story of the chief of a Government department, about whom the Senators had been talking: how the thing was found out, and how the man, who according to law should have been sent to the mines, had been appointed Governor of a town in Siberia. Then he related with particular pleasure how several high-placed persons stole a lot of money collected for the erection of the still unfinished monument which they had passed that morning; also, how the mistress of So-and-so got a lot of money at the Stock Exchange, and how So-and-so agreed with So-and-so to sell him his wife. The advocate began another story about a swindle, and all sorts of crimes committed by persons in high places, who, instead of being in prison, sat on presidential chairs in all sorts of Government institutions. These tales, of which the advocate seemed to have an unending supply, gave him much pleasure, showing as they did, with perfect clearness, that his means of getting money were quite just and innocent compared to the means which the highest officials in Petersburg made use of. The advocate was therefore surprised when Nekhludoff took an isvostchik before hearing the end of the story, said good-bye, and left him. Nekhludoff felt very sad. It was chiefly the rejection of the appeal by the Senate, confirming the senseless torments that the innocent Maslova was enduring, that saddened him, and also the fact that this rejection made it still harder for him to unite his fate with hers. The stories about existing evils, which the advocate recounted with such relish, heightened his sadness, and so did the cold, unkind look that the once sweet-natured, frank, noble Selenin had given him, and which kept recurring to his mind.
On his return the doorkeeper handed him a note, and said, rather scornfully, that some kind of woman had written it in the hall. It was a note from Shoustova's mother. She wrote that she had come to thank her daughter's benefactor and saviour, and to implore him to come to see them on the Vasilievsky, Sth Line, house No. - . This was very necessary because of Vera Doukhova. He need not be afraid that they would weary him with expressions of gratitude. They would not speak their gratitude, but be simply glad to see him. Would he not come next morning, if he could?
There was another note from Bogotyreff, a former fellow-officer, aide-de-camp to the Emperor, whom Nekhludoff had asked to hand personally to the Emperor his petition on behalf of the sectarians. Bogotyreff wrote, in his large, firm hand, that he would put the petition into the Emperor's own hands, as he had promised; but that it had occurred to him that it might be better for Nekhludoff first to go and see the person on whom the matter depended.
After the impressions received during the last few days, Nekhludoff felt perfectly hopeless of getting anything done. The plans he had formed in Moscow seemed now something like the dreams of youth, which are inevitably followed by disillusion when life comes to be faced. Still, being now in Petersburg, he considered it his duty to do all he had intended, and he resolved next day, after consulting Bogotyreff, to act on his advice and see the person on whom the case of the sectarians depended.
He got out the sectarians' petition from his portfolio, and began reading it over, when there was a knock at his door, and a footman came in with a message from the Countess Katerina Ivanovna, who asked him to come up and have a cup of tea with her.
Nekhludoff said he would come at once, and having put the papers back into the portfolio, he went up to his aunt's. He looked out of a window on his way, and saw Mariette's pair of bays standing in front of the house, and he suddenly brightened and felt inclined to smile.
Mariette, with a hat on her head, not in black but with a light dress of many shades, sat with a cup in her hand beside the Countess's easy chair, prattling about something while her beautiful, laughing eyes glistened. She had said something funny - something indecently funny - just as Nekhludoff entered the room. He knew it by the way she laughed, and by the way the good-natured Countess Katerina Ivanovna's fat body was shaking with laughter; while Mariette, her smiling mouth slightly drawn to one side, her head a little bent, a peculiarly mischievous expression in her merry, energetic face, sat silently looking at her companion. From a few words which he overheard, Nekhludoff guessed that they were talking of the second piece of Petersburg news, the episode of the Siberian Governor, and that it was in reference to this subject that Mariette had said something so funny that the Countess could not control herself for a long time.
"You will kill me," she said, coughing.
After saying "How d'you do?" Nekhludoff sat down. He was about to censure Mariette in his mind for her levity when, noticing the serious and even slightly dissatisfied look in his eyes, she suddenly, to please him, changed not only the expression of her face, but also the attitude of her mind; for she felt the wish to please him as soon as she looked at him. She suddenly turned serious, dissatisfied with her life, as if seeking and striving after something; it was not that she pretended, but she really reproduced in herself the very same state of mind that he was in, although it would have been impossible for her to express in words what was the state of Nekhludoff's mind at that moment.
She asked him how he had accomplished his tasks. He told her about his failure in the Senate and his meeting Selenin.
"Oh, what a pure soul! He is, indeed, a chevalier sans peur et sans reproche. A pure soul!" said both ladies, using the epithet commonly applied to Selenin in Petersburg society.
"What is his wife like?" Nekhludoff asked.
"His wife? Well, I do not wish to judge, but she does not understand him."
"Is it possible that he, too, was for rejecting the appeal? Mariette asked with real sympathy. "It is dreadful. How sorry I am for her," she added with a sigh.
He frowned, and in order to change the subject began to speak about Shoustova, who had been imprisoned in the fortress and was now set free through the influence of Mariette's husband. He thanked her for her trouble, and was going on to say how dreadful he thought it, that this woman and the whole of her family had suffered merely, because no one had reminded the authorities about them, but Mariette interrupted him and expressed her own indignation.
"Say nothing about it to me," she said. "When my husband told me she could be set free, it was this that struck me, 'What was she kept in prison for if she is innocent?'" She went on expressing what Nekhludoff was about to say.
"It is revolting - revolting."
Countess Katerina Ivanovna noticed that Mariette was coquetting with her nephew, and this amused her. "What do you think?" she said, when they were silent. "Supposing you come to Aline's to-morrow night. Kiesewetter will be there. And you, too," she said, turning to Mariette. "Il vous a remarque," she went on to her nephew. "He told me that what you say (I repeated it all to him) is a very good sign, and that you will certainly come to Christ. You must come absolutely. Tell him to, Mariette, and come yourself."
"Countess, in the first place, I have no right whatever to give any kind of advice to the Prince," said Mariette, and gave Nekhludoff a look that somehow established a full comprehension between them of their attitude in relation to the Countess's words and evangelicalism in general. "Secondly, I do not much care, you know."
Yes, I know you always do things the wrong way round, and according to your own ideas."
"My own ideas? I have faith like the most simple peasant woman," said Mariette with a smile. "And, thirdly, I am going to the French Theatre to-morrow night."
"Ah! And have you seen that - What's her name?" asked Countess Katerina Ivanovna. Mariette gave the name of a celebrated French actress.
"You must go, most decidedly; she is wonderful."
"Whom am I to see first, ma tante - the actress or the preacher?" Nekhludoff said with a smile.
"Please don't catch at my words."
"I should think the preacher first and then the actress, or else the desire for the sermon might vanish altogether," said Nekhludoff.
"No; better begin with the French Theatre, and do penance afterwards."
"Now, then, you are not to hold me up for ridicule. The preacher is the preacher and the theatre is the theatre. One need not weep in order to be saved. One must have faith, and then one is sure to be gay."
"You, ma tante, preach better than any preacher."
"Do you know what?" said Mariette. "Come into my box to-morrow."
"I am afraid I shall not be able to."
The footman interrupted the conversation by announcing a visitor. It was the secretary of a philanthropic society of which the Countess was president.
"Oh, that is the dullest of men. I think I shall receive him out there, and return to you later on. Mariette, give him his tea," said the Countess, and left the room, with her quick, wriggling walk.
Mariette took the glove off her firm, rather flat hand, the fourth finger of which was covered with rings.
"Want any?" she said, taking hold of the silver teapot, under which a spirit lamp was burning, and extending her little finger curiously. Her face looked sad and serious.
"It is always terribly painful to me to notice that people whose opinion I value confound me with the position I am placed in." She seemed ready to cry as she said these last words. And though these words had no meaning, or at any rate a very indefinite meaning, they seemed to be of exceptional depth, meaning, or goodness to Nekhludoff, so much was he attracted by the look of the bright eyes which accompanied the words of this young, beautiful, and well-dressed woman.
Nekhludoff looked at her in silence, and could not take his eyes from her face.
"You think I do not understand you and all that goes on in you. Why, everybody knows what you are doing. C'est le secret de polichinelle. And I am delighted with your work, and think highly of you."
"Really, there is nothing to be delighted with; and I have done so little as Yet."
"No matter. I understand your feelings, and I understand her. All right, all right. I will say nothing more about it," she said, noticing displeasure on his face. "But I also understand that after seeing all the suffering and the horror in the prisons," Mariette went on, her only desire that of attracting him, and guessing with her woman's instinct what was dear and important to him, "you wish to help the sufferers, those who are made to suffer so terribly by other men, and their cruelty and indifference. I understand the willingness to give one's life, and could give mine in such a cause, but we each have our own fate."
"Are you, then, dissatisfied with your fate?"
"I?" she asked, as if struck with surprise that such a question could be put to her. "I have to be satisfied, and am satisfied. But there is a worm that wakes up - "
"And he must not be allowed to fall asleep again. It is a voice that must he obeyed," Nekhludoff said, failing into the trap.
Many a time later on Nekhludoff remembered with shame his talk with her. He remembered her words, which were not so much lies as imitations of his own, and her face, which seemed looking at him with sympathetic attention when he told her about the terrors of the prison and of his impressions in the country.
When the Countess returned they were talking not merely like old, but like exclusive friends who alone understood one another. They were talking about the injustice of power, of the sufferings of the unfortunate, the poverty of the people, yet in reality in the midst of the sound of their talk their eyes, gazing at each other, kept asking, "Can you love me?" and answering, "I can," and the sex-feeling, taking the most unexpected and brightest forms, drew them to each other. As she was going away she told him that she would always he willing to serve him in any way she could, and asked him to come and see her, if only for a moment, in the theatre next day, as she had a very important thing to tell him about.
"Yes, and when shall I see you again?" she added, with a sigh, carefully drawing the glove over her jewelled hand.
"Say you will come."
That night, when Nekhludoff was alone in his room, and lay down after putting out his candle, he could not sleep. He thought of Maslova, of the decision of the Senate, of his resolve to follow her in any case, of his having given up the land. The face of Mariette appeared to him as if in answer to those thoughts - her look, her sigh, her words, "When shall I see you again?" and her smile seemed vivid as if he really saw her, and he also smiled. "Shall I be doing right in going to Siberia? And have I done right in divesting myself of my wealth?" And the answers to the questions on this Petersburg night, on which the daylight streamed into the window from under the blind, were quite indefinite. All seemed mixed in his head. He recalled his former state of mind, and the former sequence of his thoughts, but they had no longer their former power or validity.
"And supposing I have invented all this, and am unable to live it through - supposing I repent of having acted right," he thought; and unable to answer he was seized with such anguish and despair as he had long not felt. Unable to free himself from his perplexity, he fell into a heavy sleep, such as he had slept after a heavy loss at cards.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER XXV. LYDIA SHOUSTOVA'S HOME.