Fathers and Sons/Chapter 26

THE LATE ODINTSOV HAD DISLIKED INNOVATIONS, BUT HE admitted "a certain play of ennobled taste" and had consequently erected in his garden, between the hothouse and the lake, a building in the style of a Creek temple, made of Russian brick. Along the windowless back wall of this temple or gallery were placed six niches for statues, which Odintsov proceeded to order from abroad. These statues were intended to represent Solitude, Silence, Meditation, Melancholy, Modesty and Sensibility. One of them, the Goddess of Silence, with her finger on her lips, had been delivered and placed in position; but on the very same day some of the farm boys knocked off her nose, and although the neighboring plasterer undertook to make her a new nose, "twice as good as the previous one," Odintsov ordered her to be removed, and she could still be seen in the corner of the threshing barn, where she had stood for many years, a source of superstitious terror to the peasant women. The front part of the temple had long ago been overgrown with thick bushes; only the capitals of the columns could be seen above the thick green. Inside the temple itself it was cool even at midday. Anna Sergeyevna did not like visiting this place ever since she had seen a snake there; but Katya often came and sat on a wide stone seat constructed under one of the niches. Here, surrounded by shade and coolness, she used to read and work, or give herself up to that sensation of perfect peace, known probably to everyone, the charm of which consists in the half-conscious mute listening to that vast current of life which uninterruptedly flows both around us and within us.

On the day after Bazarov's arrival, Katya was sitting on her favorite stone seat, and Arkady was sitting beside her again. He had begged her to come with him to the temple.

It was about an hour before lunchtime; the dewy morning had given place to a hot day. Arkady's face retained the expression of the preceding day; Katya looked preoccupied. Her sister, immediately after their morning tea, had called her into her study, and after some preliminary caresses--which always rather alarmed Katya--advised her to be more guarded in her behavior with Arkady, and to avoid solitary talks with him, which had attracted the attention of her aunt and the household. Apart from that, Anna Sergeyevna was still in a bad mood from the evening before, and Katya herself felt embarrassed, as if she had done something wrong. When she yielded to Arkady's entreaties, she said to herself that it was for the last time.

"Katerina Sergeyevna," he began with a sort of bashful carelessness, "ever since I have had the happiness of living under the same roof with you, I have discussed many things with you, but meanwhile there is one very important question--for me--which I have not yet touched on. You remarked yesterday that I have been transformed here," he went on, at once catching and avoiding the inquiring look which Katya fixed on him. "In fact I have changed a lot, and you know that better than anyone else--you to whom above all I owe this change."

"I . . . ? Me . . . ?" said Katya.

"I am no longer now the conceited boy I was when I arrived here," went on Arkady. "I've not reached the age of twenty-three for nothing; as before I want to be useful, I want to devote all my powers to the truth; but I don't look for my ideals where I used to look before; they have shown themselves to me . . . so much nearer. Up till now I failed to understand myself, I set myself tasks which were beyond my strength . . . My eyes have recently been opened, thanks to one feeling . . . I'm not expressing myself quite clearly, but I hope you understand me . . ."

Katya made no reply, but she stopped looking at Arkady.

"I suppose," he began again, this time in a more agitated voice, while above his head a chaffinch sang its song heedlessly among the leaves of a birch tree, "I suppose it is the duty of every honest person to be absolutely frank with those . . . with those people, who . . . in a word, with those who are near to him, and so I . . . I intend . . ."

But at this point Arkady's eloquence abandoned him; he fumbled for words, stammered and was obliged to pause for a while. Katya still did not raise her eyes. It seemed as though she did not even understand what he was leading up to with all this, as though she were awaiting something.

"I foresee that I shall surprise you," began Arkady, pulling himself together again with an effort; "all the more since this feeling is connected in a certain way--in a certain way, remember--with you. You reproached me yesterday, you remember, for a lack of seriousness," Arkady went on with the air of a person who has walked into a swamp, feels that he is sinking in deeper and deeper at every step, and yet hurries forward in the hope of crossing it quicker; "that reproach is often aimed . . . often falls . . . on young men even when they no longer deserve it; and if I had more self-confidence . . ." ("Come, help me, do help me," Arkady was thinking in desperation, but Katya kept her head averted as before.) "If I could hope . . ."

"If I could feel convinced of what you said," sounded at that moment the clear voice of Anna Sergeyevna.

Arkady fell silent at once and Katya turned pale. Alongside the very bushes which screened the temple ran a little path. Anna Sergeyevna was walking along it accompanied by Bazarov. Katya and Arkady could not see them, but they heard every word, the rustle of their clothes, their very breathing. They walked on a few steps and then, as if on purpose, stopped right opposite the temple.

"You see," continued Anna Sergeyevna, "you and I made a mistake; we have both passed our first youthful stage, I particularly; we have seen life, we are tired; we are both intelligent--why pretend otfierwise?--at first we were interested in each other, our curiosity was aroused . . . and afterwards. . ."

"And afterwards my interest fell flat," interposed Bazarov.

"You know that was not the cause of our misunderstanding. But however that may be, we did not need each other, that's the main thing; there was in us . . . how shall I put it? . . . too much of the same thing. We did not realize that straight away. Now Arkady, on the contrary . . ."

"Do you need him?" asked Bazarov.

"Stop, Evgeny Vassilich. You say he is not indifferent to me, and it always seemed to me that he liked me. I know that I could well be his aunt, but I don't want to conceal from you that I have begun to think about him more often. In that fresh youthful feeling there is a special charm . . ."

"The word fascination is more often used in such cases," interrupted Bazarov; a violent suppressed bitterness could be detected in the steady but hollow tone of his voice. "Arkady was secretive with me about something yesterday, and wouldn't talk about either you or your sister . . . that's a serious symptom."

"He's just like a brother with Katya," remarked Anna Sergeyevna, "and I like that in him, though perhaps I ought not to have let them become so intimate."

"Is that idea prompted by your feelings . . . as a sister?" said Bazarov, dragging out his words.

"Of course . . . but why are we standing here? Let us go on. What a strange talk we're having, aren't we? I could never have believed I should talk to you like this. You know, I'm afraid of you . . . and at the same time I trust you, because at bottom you are very good."

"In the first place, I'm far from good; and in the second place I no longer mean anything to you, and you tell me that I am good . . . It's just like placing a wreath of flowers round the head of a corpse."

"Evgeny Vassilich, we are not masters . . ." began Anna Sergeyevna; but a gust of wind blew across, started the leaves rustling and carried away her words.

"Of course, you are free," said Bazarov after a pause. Nothing more could be distinguished; the steps went farther away . . . all became quiet again.

Arkady turned to Katya. She was sitting in the same position, but her head bent still lower.

"Katerina Sergeyevna," he said; his voice shook and he clenched his hands; "I love you--forever and irrevocably, and I love no one except you. I wanted to tell you this, to find out what you will say and to ask you to marry me, because, of course, I'm not rich and I feel ready for any kind of sacrifice . . . You don't answer? You don't believe me? Do you think I'm talking lightly? But remember these last days! Surely you must be convinced by now that everything else--you understand me--absolutely everything else has vanished long ago and left no trace? Look at me, say one word to me . . . I love . . . I love you . . . believe me."

Katya turned her eyes to Arkady with a grave and radiant look, and after a long reflective pause, she murmured, smiling slightly, "Yes."

Arkady jumped up from the seat.

"Yes! You said 'yes,' Katerina Sergeyevna! What does that word mean? Just that I love you, that you believe me . . . or . . . I daren't go on . ."

"Yes," repeated Katya, and this time he understood her. He seized her large beautiful hands and, breathless with enthusiasm, he pressed them to his heart. He could hardly stand on his feet, and only kept on repeating, "Katya, Katya . . ." and she began to weep in such an innocent way, smiling gently at her own tears. Whoever has not seen such tears in the eyes of a beloved person has not yet experienced to what an extent, overwhelmed with gratitude and awe, a human being may find happiness on earth.

The next day in the early morning, Anna Sergeyevna sent a message asking Bazarov to come to her study, and with a strained laugh she handed him a folded sheet of notepaper. It was a letter from Arkady, in which he asked for her sister's hand in marriage.

Bazarov quickly read through the letter, and could only with some effort conceal the malicious impulse which at once flared up within him.

"So there it is," he remarked, "and apparently you thought no longer ago than yesterday that his feelings for Katerina Sergeyevna were of the brotherly sort. What do you intend to do now?"

"What would you advise me to do?" asked Anna Sergeyevna, continuing to laugh.

"Well, I suppose," answered Bazarov, also with a laugh, though he felt anything but gay and no more wanted to laugh than she did; "I suppose you ought to give the young people your blessing. It's a good match from every point of view; Kirsanov is tolerably well off, he's the only son, and his father's a good-natured fellow; he won't object."

Madame Odintsov walked up and down the room. Her face flushed and turned pale by turns.

"You think so?" she said. "Well, I see no obstacles . . . I'm glad for Katya . . . and for Arkady Nikolaich. Of course, I shall wait for his father's answer. I will send him in person to him. So it turns out that I was right yesterday when I told you that we have both become old people. . . . How was it I noticed nothing? That surprises me."

Anna Sergeyevna laughed again and quickly turned her head away.

"The younger generation of today has grown painfully cunning," remarked Bazarov, and he also gave a short laugh. "Good-by," he began again after a short silence. "I hope you will bring this affair to the most agreeable conclusion; and I will rejoice from a distance."

Madame Odintsov turned to him quickly. "Are you going away? Why shouldn't you stay now? Do stay . . . it's such fun talking to you . . . one seems to be walking on the edge of a precipice. At first one feels timid, but one gets somehow exhilarated as one goes along. Won't you stay?"

"Thank you for the invitation, Anna Sergeyevna, and for your flattering opinion of my conversational talents. But I find I've already been moving around for too long in a sphere which is alien to me. Flying fish can hold out for a time in the air, but soon they have to splash back into the water; you must allow me too to flop down into my natural element."

Madame Odintsov looked at Bazarov. A bitter smile twisted his pale face. "This man loved me," she thought, and she felt sorry for him and held out her hand with sympathy.

But he too understood her. "No," he said, stepping back a pace. "I'm a poor man, but I've never accepted charity so far. Good-by and good luck."

"I am sure that we are not seeing each other for the last time," said Anna Sergeyevna with an unconscious movement.

"Anything can happen in this world," answered Bazarov, and he bowed and went out.

"So you propose to build yourself a nest?" he said the same day to Arkady, crouching on the floor as he packed his trunk. "Well, it's a good thing. Only you needn't have been such a humbug about it. I expected you'd go in quite a different direction. Perhaps, though, it took you unawares?"

"I certainly didn't expect this when I left you," answered Arkady; "but why are you being a humbug yourself and calling it a 'good thing,' as if I didn't know your opinion of marriage?"

"Ah, my dear friend," said Bazarov, "how you express yourself. You see what I'm doing; there happened to be an empty space in my trunk, and I'm putting hay into it; that's how it is with the luggage of our life; we would stuff it up with anything rather than leave a void. Don't be offended, please; you probably remember what I always thought of Katerina Sergeyevna. Many a young lady is called intelligent simply because she can sigh intelligently; but yours can hold her own, and indeed she'll hold it so well that she'll have you under her thumb--well, and that's quite as it should be." He slammed the lid and got up from the floor. "And now I say again, farewell . . . because it's useless to deceive ourselves; we are parting forever, and you know it yourself . . . you acted sensibly; you were not made for our bitter, rough, lonely existence. There's no daring in you, no hatred, though you've got youthful dash and youthful fervor; that's not enough for our business. Your sort, the nobility, can never go farther than noble resignation or noble indignation, but those things are trifles. For instance, you won't fight--and yet you fancy yourselves as brave fellows--but we want to fight. So there! Our dust would get into your eyes, our mud would soil you, but you're not up to our standard, you unconsciously admire yourselves and you enjoy finding fault with yourselves; but we're fed up with all that--we want something else! We want to smash people! You're a fine fellow, but all the same you're a mild little liberal gentleman--ay volatoo, as my parent would say."

"You are bidding good-by to me for ever, Evgeny," said Arkady sadly, "and you have nothing else to say to me."

Bazarov scratched the back of his head.

"Yes, Arkady, I have other things to say to you, but I won't say them, because that's romanticism--that means sentimental trash. But you hurry up and marry, settle down in your nest and have as many children as you like. They'll have the gumption to be born in a better time than you and me. Aha! I see the horses are ready. It's time to go. I've said good-by to everyone . . . well, what's this? Embracing, eh?"

Arkady threw himself on the neck of his former teacher and friend, and tears fairly streamed from his eyes.

"That's what comes of being young!" remarked Bazarov calmly. "But I rely on Katerina Sergeyevna. You'll see how quickly she can console you."

"Farewell, brother," he called out to Arkady, as he was already climbing into the cart, and pointing to a pair of jackdaws, sitting side by side on the roof of the stables, he added, "There you are! Learn from the example."

"What does that mean?" asked Arkady.

"What? Are you so weak in natural history or have you forgotten that the jackdaw is a most respectable family bird! An example to you . . . ! Good-by."

The cart creaked and rolled away.

Bazarov spoke the truth. Talking that evening with Katya, Arkady had completely forgotten about his former teacher. He had already begun to follow her lead, and Katya felt this and was not surprised. He was to set off the next day to Maryino to see Nikolai Petrovich. Anna Sergeyevna had no wish to hamper the freedom of the young people, but on account of decorum she did not leave them alone for too long. She generously kept the princess out of their way; the old lady had been reduced to a state of tearful frenzy by the news of the approaching marriage. At first Anna Sergeyevna was afraid that the sight of their happiness would prove rather upsetting to herself, but it turned out to the contrary; it not only did not upset her to see their happiness, it occupied her mind, and in the end it even soothed her heart. This outcome both gladdened and grieved Anna Sergeyevna. "Evidently Bazarov was right," she thought, "I have curiosity, nothing but curiosity, and love of a quiet life, and egoism . . ."

"Children," she said aloud, "do you think love is an imaginary feeling?"

But neither Katya nor Arkady even understood her. They were shy with her; the fragment of conversation which they had accidentally overheard haunted their minds. But Anna Sergeyevna soon relieved their anxieties, and that was not difficult for her; she had set her own mind at rest.