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CHAPTER XXIX. FOR HER SAKE AND FOR GOD'S.
On his return to Moscow Nekhludoff went at once to the prison hospital to bring Maslova the sad news that the Senate had confirmed the decision of the Court, and that she must prepare to go to Siberia. He had little hope of the success of his petition to the Emperor, which the advocate had written for him, and which he now brought with him for Maslova to sign. And, strange to say, he did not at present even wish to succeed; he had got used to the thought of going to Siberia and living among the exiled and the convicts, and he could not easily picture to himself how his life and Maslova's would shape if she were acquitted. He remembered the thought of the American writer, Thoreau, who at the time when slavery existed in America said that "under a government that imprisons any unjustly the true place for a just man is also a prison." Nekhludoff, especially after his visit to Petersburg and all he discovered there, thought in the same way.
"Yes, the only place befitting an honest man in Russia at the present time is a prison," he thought, and even felt that this applied to him personally, when he drove up to the prison and entered its walls.
The doorkeeper recognised Nekhludoff, and told him at once that Maslova was no longer there.
"Where is she, then?"
"In the cell again."
"Why has she been removed?" Nekhludoff asked.
"Oh, your excellency, what are such people?" said the doorkeeper, contemptuously. "She's been carrying on with the medical assistant, so the head doctor ordered her back."
Nekhludoff had had no idea how near Maslova and the state of her mind were to him. He was stunned by the news.
He felt as one feels at the news of a great and unforeseen misfortune, and his pain was very severe. His first feeling was one of shame. He, with his joyful idea of the change that he imagined was going on in her soul, now seemed ridiculous in his own eyes. He thought that all her pretence of not wishing to accept his sacrifice, all the reproaches and tears, were only the devices of a depraved woman, who wished to use him to the best advantage. He seemed to remember having seen signs of obduracy at his last interview with her. All this flashed through his mind as he instinctively put on his hat and left the hospital.
"What am I to do now? Am I still bound to her? Has this action of hers not set me free?" And as he put these questions to himself he knew at once that if he considered himself free, and threw her up, he would be punishing himself, and not her, which was what he wished to do, and he was seized with fear.
"No, what has happened cannot alter - it can only strengthen my resolve. Let her do what flows from the state her mind is in. If it is carrying on with the medical assistant, let her carry on with the medical assistant; that is her business. I must do what my conscience demands of me. And my conscience expects me to sacrifice my freedom. My resolution to marry her, if only in form, and to follow wherever she may be sent, remains unalterable." Nekhludoff said all this to himself with vicious obstinacy as he left the hospital and walked with resolute steps towards the big gates of the prison. He asked the warder on duty at the gate to inform the inspector that he wished to see Maslova. The warder knew Nekhludoff, and told him of an important change that had taken place in the prison. The old inspector had been discharged, and a new, very severe official appointed in his place.
"They are so strict nowadays, it's just awful," said the jailer. "He is in here; they will let him know directly."
The new inspector was in the prison and soon came to Nekhludoff. He was a tall, angular man, with high cheek bones, morose, and very slow in his movements.
"Interviews are allowed in the visiting room on the appointed days," he said, without looking at Nekhludoff.
"But I have a petition to the Emperor, which I want signed."
"You can give it to me."
"I must see the prisoner myself. I was always allowed to before."
"That was so, before," said the inspector, with a furtive glance at Nekhludoff.
"I have a permission from the governor," insisted Nekhludoff, and took out his pocket-book.
"Allow me," said the inspector, taking the paper from Nekhludoff with his long, dry, white fingers, on the first of which was a gold ring, still without looking him in the eyes. He read the paper slowly. "Step into the office, please."
This time the office was empty. The inspector sat down by the table and began sorting some papers that lay on it, evidently intending to be present at the interview.
When Nekhludoff asked whether he might see the political prisoner, Doukhova, the inspector answered, shortly, that he could not. "Interviews with political prisoners are not permitted," he said, and again fixed his attention on his papers. With a letter to Doukhova in his pocket, Nekhludoff felt as if he had committed some offence, and his plans had been discovered and frustrated.
When Maslova entered the room the inspector raised his head, and, without looking at either her or Nekhludoff, remarked: "You may talk," and went on sorting his papers. Maslova had again the white jacket, petticoat and kerchief on. When she came up to Nekhludoff and saw his cold, hard look, she blushed scarlet, and crumbling the hem of her jacket with her hand, she cast down her eyes. Her confusion, so it seemed to Nekhludoff, confirmed the hospital doorkeeper's words.
Nekhludoff had meant to treat her in the same way as before, but could not bring himself to shake hands with her, so disgusting was she to him now.
"I have brought you had news," he said, in a monotonous voice, without looking at her or taking her hand. "The Senate has refused."
"I knew it would," she said, in a strange tone, as if she were gasping for breath.
Formerly Nekhludoff would have asked why she said she knew it would; now he only looked at her. Her eyes were full of tears. But this did not soften him; it roused his irritation against her even more.
The inspector rose and began pacing up and down the room.
In spite of the disgust Nekhludoff was feeling at the moment, he considered it right to express his regret at the Senate's decision.
"You must not despair," he said. "The petition to the Emperor may meet with success, and I hope - -"
"I'm not thinking of that," she said, looking piteously at him with her wet, squinting eyes.
"What is it, then?"
"You have been to the hospital, and they have most likely told you about me - "
"What of that? That is your affair," said Nekhludoff coldly, and frowned. The cruel feeling of wounded pride that had quieted down rose with renewed force when she mentioned the hospital.
"He, a man of the world, whom any girl of the best families would think it happiness to marry, offered himself as a husband to this woman, and she could not even wait, but began intriguing with the medical assistant," thought he, with a look of hatred.
"Here, sign this petition," he said, taking a large envelope from his pocket, and laying the paper on the table. She wiped the tears with a corner of her kerchief, and asked what to write and where.
He showed her, and she sat down and arranged the cuff of her right sleeve with her left hand; he stood behind her, and silently looked at her back, which shook with suppressed emotion, and evil and good feelings were fighting in his breast - feelings of wounded pride and of pity for her who was suffering - and the last feeling was victorious.
He could not remember which came first; did the pity for her first enter his heart, or did he first remember his own sins - his own repulsive actions, the very same for which he was condemning her? Anyhow, he both felt himself guilty and pitied her.
Having signed the petition and wiped her inky finger on her petticoat, she got up and looked at him.
"Whatever happens, whatever comes of it, my resolve remains unchanged," said Nekhludoff. The thought that he had forgiven her heightened his feeling of pity and tenderness for her, and he wished to comfort her. "I will do what I have said; wherever they take you I shall be with you."
"What's the use?" she interrupted hurriedly, though her whole face lighted up.
Think what you will want on the way - "
"I don't know of anything in particular, thank you."
The inspector came up, and without waiting for a remark from him Nekhludoff took leave, and went out with peace, joy, and love towards everybody in his heart such as he had never felt before. The certainty that no action of Maslova could change his love for her filled him with joy and raised him to a level which he had never before attained. Let her intrigue with the medical assistant; that was her business. He loved her not for his own but for her sake and for God's.
And this intrigue, for which Maslova was turned out of the hospital, and of which Nekhludoff believed she was really guilty, consisted of the following:
Maslova was sent by the head nurse to get some herb tea from the dispensary at the end of the corridor, and there, all alone, she found the medical assistant, a tall man, with a blotchy face, who had for a long time been bothering her. In trying to get away from him Maslova gave him such a push that he knocked his head against a shelf, from which two bottles fell and broke. The head doctor, who was passing at that moment, heard the sound of breaking glass, and saw Maslova run out, quite red, and shouted to her:
"Ah, my good woman, if you start intriguing here, I'll send you about your business. What is the meaning of it?" he went on, addressing the medical assistant, and looking at him over his spectacles.
The assistant smiled, and began to justify himself. The doctor gave no heed to him, but, lifting his head so that he now looked through his spectacles, he entered the ward. He told the inspector the same day to send another more sedate assistant-nurse in Maslova's place. And this was her "intrigue" with the medical assistant.
Being turned out for a love intrigue was particularly painful to Maslova, because the relations with men, which had long been repulsive to her, had become specially disgusting after meeting Nekhludoff. The thought that, judging her by her past and present position, every man, the blotchy assistant among them, considered he had a right to offend her, and was surprised at her refusal, hurt her deeply, and made her pity herself and brought tears to her eyes.
When she went out to Nekhludoff this time she wished to clear herself of the false charge which she knew he would certainly have heard about. But when she began to justify herself she felt he did not believe her, and that her excuses would only strengthen his suspicions; tears choked her, and she was silent.
Maslova still thought and continued to persuade herself that she had never forgiven him, and hated him, as she told him at their second interview, but in reality she loved him again, and loved him so that she did all he wished her to do; left off drinking, smoking, coquetting, and entered the hospital because she knew he wished it. And if every time he reminded her of it, she refused so decidedly to accept his sacrifice and marry him, it was because she liked repeating the proud words she had once uttered, and because she knew that a marriage with her would be a misfortune for him.
She had resolutely made up her mind that she would not accept his sacrifice, and yet the thought that he despised her and believed that she still was what she had been, and did not notice the change that had taken place in her, was very painful. That he could still think she had done wrong while in the hospital tormented her more than the news that her sentence was confirmed.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER XXX. THE ASTONISHING INSTITUTION CALLED CRIMINAL LAW.