Fathers and Sons/Chapter 17

AS WE ALL KNOW, TIME SOMETIMES FLIES LIKE A BIRD, AND sometimes crawls like a worm, but people may be unusually happy when they do not even notice whether time has passed quickly or slowly; in this way Arkady and Bazarov spent a whole fortnight with Madame Odintsov. Such a result was achieved partly by the order and regularity which she had established in her house and mode of life. She adhered strictly to this order herself and obliged others to submit to it as well. Everything during the day was done at a fixed time. In the morning, at eight o'clock precisely, the whole party assembled for tea; from then till breakfast everyone did what he liked, the hostess herself was engaged with her bailiff (the estate was run on the rental system), her butler, and her head housekeeper. Before dinner the party met again for conversation or reading; the evening was devoted to walking, cards, or music; at half-past ten Anna Sergeyevna retired to her own room, gave her orders for the next day and went to bed. Bazarov did not care for this measured and rather formal regularity in daily life, like "gliding along rails" he called it; livened footmen and stately butlers offended his democratic sentiments. He declared that once you went so far you might as well dine in the English style--in tail coats and white ties. He once spoke out his views on the subject to Anna Sergeyevna. Her manner was such that people never hesitated to say what they thought in front of her. She heard him out, and then remarked, "From your point of view you are right--and perhaps in that way I am too much of a lady--but one must lead an orderly life in the country; otherwise one is overcome by boredom,"--and she continued to go her own way. Bazarov grumbled, but both he and Arkady found life easy at Madame Odintsov's just because everything in the house ran so smoothly "on rails." Nevertheless some change had occurred in both the young men since the first days of their stay at Nikolskoe. Bazarov, whose company Anna Sergeyevna obviously enjoyed, though she rarely agreed with him, began to show quite unprecedented signs of unrest; he was easily irritated, spoke with reluctance, often looked angry, and could not sit still in one place, as if moved about by some irresistible desire; while Arkady, who had conclusively made up his mind that he was in love with Madame Odintsov, began to abandon himself to a quiet melancholy. This melancholy, however, did not prevent him from making friends with Katya; it even helped him to develop a more affectionate relationship with her. "She does not appreciate me!" he thought. "So be it . . . ! but here is a kind person who does not repulse me," and his heart again knew the sweetness of generous emotions. Katya vaguely understood that he was seeking a kind of consolation in her company, and did not deny him or herself the innocent pleasure of a shy confidential friendship. They did not talk to each other in Anna Sergeyevna's presence; Katya always shrank into herself under her sister's sharp eyes, while Arkady naturally could pay attention to nothing else when he was close to the object of his love; but he felt happy with Katya when he was alone with her. He knew that it was beyond his power to interest Madame Odintsov; he was shy and at a loss when he was left in her company, nor had she anything special to say to him; he was too young for her. On the other hand, with Katya Arkady felt quite at home; he treated her indulgently, encouraged her to talk about her own impressions of music, novels, verses and other trifles, without noticing or acknowledging that these trifles interested him also. Katya, for her part, did not interfere with his melancholy. Arkady felt at ease with Katya, and Madame Odintsov with Bazarov, so it usually happened that after the two couples had been together for a while, they went off on their separate ways, especially during walks. Katya adored nature, and so did Arkady, though he did not dare to admit it; Madame Odintsov, like Bazarov, was rather indifferent to natural beauties. The continued separation of the two friends produced its consequences; their relationship began to change. Bazarov gave up talking to Arkady about Madame Odintsov, he even stopped abusing her "aristocratic habits"; however, he continued to praise Katya, and advised Arkady only to restrain her sentimental tendencies, but his praises were hurried and perfunctory, his advice was dry, and in general he talked much less to Arkady than before . . . he seemed to avoid him, he was ill at ease in his presence . . .

Arkady observed all this, but kept his observations to himself.

The real cause of all this "novelty" was the feeling inspired in Bazarov by Madame Odintsov, a feeling which at once tortured and maddened him, and which he would have promptly denied with contemptuous laughter and cynical abuse if anyone had even remotely hinted at the possibility of what was happening within him. Bazarov was very fond of women and of feminine beauty, but love in the ideal, or as he called it romantic, sense, he described as idiocy, unpardonable folly; he regarded chivalrous feelings as a kind of deformity or disease, and had more than once expressed his amazement that Toggenburg and all the minnesingers and troubadours had not been shut up in a lunatic asylum. "If a woman appeals to you," he used to say, "try to gain your end; and if you can't--well, just turn your back on her--there are lots more good fish in the sea." Madame Odintsov appealed to him; the rumors he had heard about her, the freedom and independence of her ideas, her obvious liking for him--all seemed to be in his favor; but he soon saw that with her he could not "gain his end," and as for turning his back on her, he found, to his own amazement, he had no strength to do so. His blood was on fire directly he thought about her; he could easily have mastered bis blood, but something else was taking possession of him, something he had never allowed, at which he had always scoffed and at which his pride revolted. In his conversations with Anna Sergeyevna he expressed more strongly than ever his calm indifference to any kind of "romanticism"; but when he was alone he indignantly recognized romanticism in himself. Then he would go off into the forest, and stride about smashing the twigs which came in his way and cursing under his breath both her and himself; or he would go into the hayloft in the barn, and obstinately closing his eyes, force himself to sleep, in which, of course, he did not always succeed. Suddenly he would imagine those chaste hands twining themselves around his neck, those proud lips responding to his kisses, those intelligent eyes looking with tenderness--yes, with tenderness--into his, and his head went round, and he forgot himself for a moment, till indignation boiled up again within him. He caught himself indulging in all sorts of "shameful thoughts," as though a devil were mocking at him. It seemed to him sometimes that a change was also taking place in Madame Odintsov, that her face expressed something unusual, that perhaps . . . but at that point he would stamp on the ground, grind his teeth or clench his fist.

Meanwhile he was not entirely mistaken. He had struck Madame Odintsov's imagination; he interested her; she thought a lot about him. In his absence she was not exactly bored, she did not wait for him with impatience, but when he appeared she immediately became livelier; she enjoyed being left alone with him and she enjoyed talking to him, even when he annoyed her or offended her taste and her refined habits. She seemed eager both to test him and to analyse herself.

One day, walking with her in the garden, he abruptly announced in a surly voice that he intended to leave very soon to go to his father's place . . . She turned white, as if something had pricked her heart; she was surprised at the sudden pain she felt and pondered long afterwards on what it could mean. Bazarov had told her about his departure without any idea of trying out the effect of the news upon her; he never fabricated stories. That same morning he had seen his father's bailiff, Timofeich, who had looked after him as a child. This Timofeich, an experienced and astute little old man, with faded yellow hair, a weather-beaten red face and with tiny teardrops in his shrunken eyes, had appeared quite unexpectedly in front of Bazarov, in his short coat of thick grey-blue cloth, leather girdle and tarred boots.

"Hullo, old man, how are you?" exclaimed Bazarov.

"How do you do, Evgeny Vassilich?" began the little old man, smiling with joy, so that his whole face was immediately covered with wrinkles.

"What have you come here for? They sent you to find me, eh?"

"Fancy that, sir! How is it possible?" mumbled Timofeich (he remembered the strict injunctions he had received from his master before he left). "We were sent to town on the master's business and heard news of your honor, so we turned off on the way--well--to have a look at your honor . . . as if we could think of disturbing you!"

"Now then, don't lie!" Bazarov cut him short. "It's no use your pretending this is on the road to the town."

Timofeich hesitated and said nothing.

"Is my father well?"

"Thank God, yes!"

"And my mother?"

"Arina Vlasyevna too, glory be to God."

"They're expecting me, I suppose."

The old man leaned his little head on one side.

"Oh, Evgeny Vassilich, how they wait for you! Believe me, it makes the heart ache to see them."

"All right, all right, don't rub it in. Tell them I'm coming soon."

"I obey," answered Timofeich with a sigh.

As he left the house he pulled his cap down with both hands over his head, then clambered into a dilapidated racing carriage, and went off at a trot, but not in the direction of the town.

On the evening of that day Madame Odintsov was sitting in one room with Bazarov while Arkady walked up and down the hall listening to Katya playing the piano. The princess had gone upstairs to her own room; she always loathed visitors, but she resented particularly the "new raving lunatics," as she called them. In the main rooms she only sulked, but she made up for that in her own room by bursting into such a torrent of abuse in front of her maid that the cap danced on her head, wig and all. Madame Odintsov knew all about this.

"How is it that you are proposing to leave us," she began; "what about your promises?"

Bazarov made a movement of surprise. "What promises?"

"Have you forgotten? You intended to give me some chemistry lessons."

"It can't be helped! My father expects me; I can't put it off any longer. Besides, you can read Pelouse et Frémy, Notions Générales de Chimie; it's a good book and clearly written. You will find in it all you need."

"But you remember you assured me that a book can't take the place of . . . I forget how you put it, but you know what I mean . . . don't you remember?"

"It can't be helped," repeated Bazarov.

"Why should you go?" said Madame Odintsov, dropping her voice.

He glanced at her. Her head had fallen on the back of the armchair and her arms, bare to the elbow, were folded over her bosom. She seemed paler in the light of the single lamp covered with a translucent paper shade. A broad white dress covered her completely in its soft folds; even the tips of her feet, also crossed, were hardly visible.

"And why should I stay?" answered Bazarov.

Madame Odintsov turned her head slightly. "You ask why. Have you not enjoyed staying here? Or do you think no one will miss you when you are gone?"

"I am sure of that."

Madame Odintsov was silent for a moment. "You are wrong in thinking so. But I don't believe you. You can't say that seriously." Bazarov continued to sit motionless. "Evgeny Vassilich, why don't you speak?"

"What am I to say to you? There is no point in missing people, and that applies to me even more than to most."

"Why so?"

"I'm a straightforward uninteresting person. I don't know how to talk."

"You are fishing for compliments, Evgeny Vassilich."

"That's not my custom. Don't you know yourself that the graceful side of life, which you value so highly, is beyond my reach?"

Madame Odintsov bit the corner of her handkerchief.

"You may think what you like, but I shall find it dull when you go away."

"Arkady will stay on," remarked Bazarov. Madame Odintsov slightly shrugged her shoulders.

"It will be dull for me," she repeated.

"Really? In any case you won't feel like that for long."

"What makes you suppose so?"

"Because you told me yourself that you are bored only when your orderly routine is disturbed. You have organized your life with such impeccable regularity that there can't be any place left in it for boredom or sadness . . . for any painful emotions."

"And do you consider that I am so impeccable . . . I mean, that I have organized my life so thoroughly . . ."

"I should think so! For example, in five minutes the clock will strike ten and I already know in advance that you will turn me out of the room."

"No, I won't turn you out, Evgeny Vassilich. You may stay. Open that window . . . I feel half stifled."

Bazarov got up and pushed the window; it flew wide open with a crash . . . he had not expected it to open so easily; also, his hands were trembling. The soft dark night looked into the room, with its nearly black sky, its faintly rustling trees, and the fresh fragrance of the pure open air.

"Draw the blind and sit down," said Madame Odintsov. "I want to have a talk with you before you go away. Tell me something about yourself; you never talk about yourself."

"I try to talk to you about useful subjects, Anna Sergeyevna."

"You are very modest . . . but I should like to know something about you, about your family and your father, for whom you are forsaking us."

"Why is she talking like this?" thought Bazarov.

"All that is very uninteresting," he said aloud, "particularly for you. We are obscure people."

"You regard me as an aristocrat?"

Bazarov lifted his eyes and looked at Madame Odintsov.

"Yes," he said with exaggerated harshness.

She smiled. "I see you know me very little, though of course you maintain that all people are alike and that it is not worth while studying individuals. I will tell the story of my life sometime . . . but first tell me yours."

"I know you very little," repeated Bazarov. "Perhaps you are right; perhaps really everyone is a riddle. You, for instance; you avoid society, you find it tedious--and you invited two students to stay with you. What makes you, with your beauty and your intelligence, live permanently in the country?"

"What? What did you say?" Madame Odintsov interposed eagerly, "with . . . my beauty?"

Bazarov frowned. "Never mind about that," he muttered; "I wanted to say that I don't properly understand why you settled in the country!"

"You don't understand it . . . yet you explain it to yourself somehow?"

"Yes . . . I suppose that you prefer to remain in one place because you are self-indulgent, very fond of comfort and ease and very indifferent to everything else."

Madame Odintsov smiled again.

"You absolutely refuse to believe that I am capable of being carried away by anything?"

Bazarov glanced at her from under his brows.

"By curiosity--perhaps, but in no other way."

"Indeed? Well, now I understand why we have become such friends, you are just like me--"

"We have become friends . . . ," Bazarov muttered in a hollow voice.

"Yes. . . . Why, I had forgotten that you want to go away."

Bazarov got up. The lamp burned dimly in the darkening, isolated fragrant room; the blind swayed from time to time and let in the stimulating freshness of the night and its mysterious whispers. Madame Odintsov did not stir, but a hidden excitement gradually took possession of her . . . It communicated itself to Bazarov. He suddenly felt he was alone with a young and beautiful woman . . .

"Where are you going?" she said slowly. He made no answer and sank into a chair.

"And so you consider me a placid, pampered, self-indulgent creature," she continued in the same tone and without taking her eyes off the window. "But I know so much about myself that I am unhappy."

"You unhappy! What for? Surely you can't attach any importance to slanderous gossip!"

Madame Odintsov frowned. She was upset that he had understood her words in that way.

"Such gossip does not even amuse me, Evgeny Vassilich, and I am too proud to allow it to disturb me. I am unhappy because . . . I have no desires, no love of life. You look at me suspiciously; you think those are the words of an aristocrat who sits in lace on a velvet chair. I don't deny for a moment that I like what you call comfort, and at the same time I have little desire to live. Reconcile that contradiction as best you can. Of course it is all sheer romanticism to you."

Bazarov shook his head; "You are healthy, independent and rich; what more is left? What do you want?"

"What do I want," repeated Madame Odintsov and sighed. "I am very tired, I am old, I feel as if I had lived a very long time. Yes, I am old--" she added, softly drawing the ends of her shawl over her bare arms. Her eyes met Bazarov's and she blushed slightly. "So many memories are behind me; life in Petersburg, wealth, then poverty, then my father's death, marriage, then traveling abroad, as was inevitable . . . so many memories and so little worth remembering, and in front of me--a long, long road without a goal . . . I have not even the desire to go on."

"Are you so disappointed?" asked Bazarov.

"No," answered Madame Odintsov, speaking with deliberation, "but I am dissatisfied. I think if I were strongly attached to something . . ."

"You want to fall in love," Bazarov interrupted her, "but you can't love. That is your unhappiness."

Madame Odintsov started looking at the shawl over her sleeve.

"Am I incapable of love?" she murmured.

"Hardly! But I was wrong in calling it unhappiness. On the contrary, a person should rather be pitied when that happens to him."

"When what happens to him?"

"Falling in love."

"And how do you know that?"

"I have heard it," answered Bazarov angrily. "You are flirting," he thought. "You're bored and are playing with me for want of anything better to do, while I . . ." Truly his heart was torn.

"Besides, you may be expecting too much," he said, leaning forward with his whole body and playing with the fringe of his chair.

"Perhaps. I want everything or nothing. A life for a life, taking one and giving up another without hesitation and beyond recall. Or else better have nothing!"

"Well," observed Bazarov, "those are fair terms, and I'm surprised that so far you . . . haven't found what you want."

"And do you think it would be easy to give oneself up entirely to anything?"

"Not easy, if you start reflecting, waiting, estimating your value, appraising yourself, I mean; but to give oneself unreasoningly is very easy."

"How can one help valuing oneself? If I have no value, then who needs my devotion?"

"That is not my affair; it is for another person to investigate my value. The main thing is to know how to devote oneself."

Madame Odintsov leaned forward from the back of her chair.

"You speak as if you had experienced it all yourself," she said. "It happened to come up in the course of our conversation; but all that, as you know, is not in my line."

"But could you devote yourself unreservedly?"

"I don't know. I don't want to boast."

Madame Odintsov said nothing and Bazarov remained silent. The sounds of the piano floated up to them from the drawing room.

"How is it that Katya is playing so late?" observed Madame Odintsov.

Bazarov got up.

"Yes, it really is late now, time for you to go to bed."

"Wait a little, why should you hurry? . . . I want to say one word to you."

"What is it?"

"Wait a little," whispered Madame Odintsov. Her eyes rested on Bazarov; it seemed as if she was examining him attentively.

He walked across the room, then suddenly came up to her, hurriedly said "Good-by," squeezed her hand so that she almost screamed and went out. She raised her compressed fingers to her lips, breathed on them, then rose impulsively from her armchair and moved rapidly towards the door, as if she wanted to bring Bazarov back . . . A maid entered the room carrying a decanter on a silver tray. Madame Odintsov stood still, told the maid she could go, and sat down again deep in thought. Her hair slipped loose and fell in a dark coil over her shoulders. The lamp went on burning for a long time in her room while she still sat there motionless, only from time to time rubbing her hands which were bitten by the cold night air.

Bazarov returned to his bedroom two hours later, his boots wet with dew, looking disheveled and gloomy. He found Arkady sitting at the writing desk with a book in his hands, his coat buttoned up to the neck.

"Not in bed yet?" he exclaimed with what sounded like annoyance.

"You were sitting a long time with Anna Sergeyevna this evening," said Arkady without answering his question.

"Yes, I sat with her all the time you were playing the piano with Katerina Sergeyevna."

"I was not playing . . ." began Arkady and stopped. He felt that tears were rising in his eyes and he did not want to cry in front of his sarcastic friend.