Fathers and Sons/Chapter 11

HALF AN HOUR LATER NIKOLAI PETROVICH WENT INTO THE garden to his favorite arbor. He was filled with melancholy thoughts. For the first time he saw clearly the distance separating him from his son and he foresaw that it would grow wider every day. So they were spent in vain, those winters in Petersburg, when sometimes he had pored for whole days on end over the latest books; in vain had he listened to the talk of the young men, and rejoiced when he succeeded in slipping a few of his own words into heated discussions.

"My brother says we are right," he thought, "and laying aside all vanity, it even seems to me that they are further from the truth than we are, though all the same I feel they have something behind them which we lack, some superiority over us . . . is it youth? No, it can't only be that; their superiority may be that they show fewer traces of the slaveowner than we do."

Nikolai Petrovich's head sank despondently, and he passed his hand over his face.

"But to renounce poetry, to have no feeling for art, for nature . . ."

And he looked round, as though trying to understand how it was possible to have no feeling for nature. It was already evening; the sun was hidden behind a small clump of aspens which grew about a quarter of a mile from the garden; its shadow stretched indefinitely across the motionless fields. A little peasant on a white pony was riding along the dark narrow path near the wood; his whole figure was clearly visible even to the patch on his shoulder, although he was in the shade; the pony's hoofs rose and fell with graceful distinctness. The sun's rays on the farther side fell full on the clump of trees, and piercing through them threw such a warm light on the aspen trunks that they looked like pines, and their leaves seemed almost dark blue, while above them rose a pale blue sky, tinged by the red sunset glow. The swallows flew high; the wind had quite died down, some late bees hummed lazily among the lilac blossoms, a swarm of midges hung like a cloud over a solitary branch which stood out against the sky. "How beautiful, my God!" thought Nikolai Petrovich, and his favorite verses almost rose to his lips; then he remembered Arkady's Stoff und Kraft--and remained silent, but he still sat there, abandoning himself to the sad consolation of solitary thought. He was fond of dreaming, and his country life had developed that tendency in him. How short a time ago he had been dreaming like this, waiting for his son at the posting station, and how much had changed since that day; their relations, then indeterminate, had now been defined--and how defined! His dead wife came back to his imagination, but not as he had known her for so many years, not as a good domesticated housewife, but as a young girl with a slim waist, an innocent inquiring look and a tightly twisted pigtail on her childish neck. He remembered how he had seen her for the first time. He was still a student then. He had met her on the staircase of his lodgings, and running into her by accident he tried to apologize but could only mutter "Pardon, Monsieur," while she bowed, smiled, then suddenly seemed frightened and ran away, glanced quickly back at him, looked serious and blushed. Afterwards the first timid visits, the hints, the half-smiles and embarrassment; the uncertain sadness, the ups and downs and at last that overwhelming joy . . . where had it all vanished away? She had been his wife, he had been happy as few on earth are happy . . . "But," he mused, "those sweet fleeting moments, why could one not live an eternal undying life in them?"

He made no effort to clarify his thoughts, but he felt that he longed to hold that blissful time by something stronger than memory; he longed to feel his Marya near him, to sense her warmth and breathing; already he could fancy her actual presence . . .

"Nikolai Petrovich," came the sound of Fenichka's voice close by. "Where are you?"

He started. He felt no remorse, no shame. He never admitted even the possibility of comparison between his wife and Fenichka, but he was sorry that she had thought of coming to look for him. Her voice had brought back to him at once his grey hairs, his age, his daily existence . . .

The enchanted world arising out of the dim mists of the past, into which he had just stepped, quivered--and disappeared.

"I'm here," he answered; "I'm coming. You run along." "There they are, traces of the slaveowner," flashed through his mind. Fenichka peeped into the arbor without speaking to him and went away again; and he noticed with surprise that night had fallen while he was dreaming. Everything around was dark and hushed, and Fenichka's face had glimmered in front of him, so pale and slight. He got up and was about to go home, but the emotions stirring his heart could not be calmed so soon, and he began walking slowly about the garden, sometimes meditatively surveying the ground, then raising his eyes to the sky where multitudes of stars were twinkling. He went on walking till he was almost tired out, but the restlessness within him, a yearning vague melancholy excitement, was still not appeased. Oh, how Bazarov would have laughed at him if he had known what was happening to him then! Even Arkady would have condemned him. He, a man of forty-four, an agriculturist and a landowner, was shedding tears, tears without reason; it was a hundred times worse than playing the cello.

Nikolai Petrovich still walked up and down and could not make up his mind to go into the house, into the cosy peaceful nest, which looked at him so hospitably from its lighted windows; he had not the strength to tear himself away from the darkness, the garden, the sensation of fresh air on his face, and from that sad restless excitement.

At a turn in the path he met Pavel Petrovich. "What is the matter with you?" he asked Nikolai Petrovich. "You are as white as a ghost; you must be unwell. Why don't you go to bed?" Nikolai said a few words to his brother about his state of mind and moved away. Pavel Petrovich walked on to the end of the garden, also deep in thought, and he, too, raised his eyes to the sky--but his beautiful dark eyes reflected only the light of the stars. He was not born a romantic idealist, and his fastidiously dry though ardent soul, with its tinge of French scepticism, was not addicted to dreaming . . .

"Do you know what?" Bazarov was saying to Arkady that very night. "I've had a splendid idea. Your father was saying today that he had received an invitation from that illustrious relative of yours. Your father doesn't want to go, but why shouldn't we be off to X? You know the man invites you as well. You see what fine weather it is; we'll stroll around and look at the town. Let's have a jaunt for five or six days, no more.

"And you'll come back here afterwards?"

"No, I must go to my father's. You know he lives about twenty miles from X. I've not seen him or my mother for a long time; I must cheer the old people up. They've been good to me, my father particularly; he's awfully funny. I'm their only one. "Will you stay long with them?"

"I don't think so. It will be dull, of course. "And you'll come to us again on your way back."

"I don't know . . . we'll see. Well, what do you say? Shall we go?"

"If you like," answered Arkady languidly.

In his heart he was overjoyed by his friend's suggestion, but thought it a duty to conceal his feeling. He was not a nihilist for nothing!

The next day he set off with Bazarov to X. The younger members of the household at Maryino were sorry about their departure; Dunyasha even wept . . . but the older people breathed more freely.