The next morning Rudin had only just finished dressing when a servant came to him with an invitation from Darya Mihailovna to come to her boudoir and drink tea with her. Rudin found her alone. She greeted him very cordially, inquired whether he had passed a good night, poured him out a cup of tea with her own hands, asked him whether there was sugar enough in it, offered him a cigarette, and twice again repeated that she was surprised that she had not met him long before. Rudin was about to take a seat some distance away; but Darya Mihailovna motioned him to an easy chair, which stood near her lounge, and bending a little towards him began to question him about his family, his plans and intentions. Darya Mihailovna spoke carelessly and listened with an air of indifference; but it was perfectly evident to Rudin that she was laying herself out to please him, even to flatter him. It was not for nothing that she had arranged this morning interview, and had dressed so simply yet elegantly à la Madame Récamier! But Darya Mihailovna soon left off questioning him. She began to tell him about herself, her youth, and the people she had known. Rudin gave a sympathetic attention to her lucubrations, though—a curious fact—whatever personage Darya Mihailovna might be talking about, she always stood in the foreground, she alone, and the personage seemed to be effaced, to slink away in the background, and to disappear. But to make up for that, Rudin learnt in full detail precisely what Darya Mihailovna had said to a certain distinguished statesman, and what influence she had had on such and such a celebrated poet. To judge from Darya Mihailovna’s accounts, one might fancy that all the distinguished men of the last five-and-twenty years had dreamt of nothing but how they could make her acquaintance, and gain her good opinion. She spoke of them simply, without particular enthusiasm or admiration, as though they were her daily associates, calling some of them queer fellows. As she talked of them, like a rich setting round a worthless stone, their names ranged themselves in a brilliant circlet round the principal name—around Darya Mihailovna.
Rudin listened, smoking a cigarette, and said little. He could speak well and liked speaking; carrying on a conversation was not in his line, though he was also a good listener. All men—if only they had not been intimidated by him to begin with—opened their hearts with confidence in his presence; he followed the thread of another man’s narrative so readily and sympathetically. He had a great deal of good-nature—that special good-nature of which men are full, who are accustomed to feel themselves superior to others. In arguments he seldom allowed his antagonist to express himself fully, he crushed him by his eager, vehement and passionate dialectic.
Darya Mihailovna expressed herself in Russian. She prided herself on her knowledge of her own language, though French words and expressions often escaped her. She intentionally made use of simple popular terms of speech; but not always successfully. Rudin’s ear was not outraged by the strange medley of language on Darya Mihailovna’s lips, indeed he hardly had an ear for it.
Darya Mihailovna was exhausted at last and letting her head fall on the cushions of her easy-chair she fixed her eyes on Rudin and was silent.
‘I understand now,’ began Rudin, speaking slowly, ‘I understand why you come every summer into the country. This period of rest is essential for you; the peace of the country after your life in the capital refreshes and strengthens you. I am convinced that you must be profoundly sensitive to the beauties of nature.’
Darya Mihailovna gave Rudin a sidelong look.
‘Nature—yes—yes—of course. . . . I am passionately fond of it; but do you know, Dmitri Nikolaitch, even in the country one cannot do without society. And here there is practically none. Pigasov is the most intelligent person here.’
‘The cross old gentleman who was here last night?’ inquired Rudin.
‘Yes. . . . In the country though, even he is of use—he sometimes makes one laugh.’
‘He is by no means stupid,’ returned Rudin, ‘but he is on the wrong path. I don’t know whether you will agree with me, Darya Mihailovna, but in negation—in complete and universal negation—there is no salvation to be found? Deny everything and you will easily pass for a man of ability; it’s a well-known trick. Simple-hearted people are quite ready to conclude that you are worth more than what you deny. And that’s often an error. In the first place, you can pick holes in anything; and secondly, even if you are right in what you say, it’s the worse for you; your intellect, directed by simple negation, grows colourless and withers up. While you gratify your vanity, you are deprived of the true consolations of thought; life—the essence of life—evades your petty and jaundiced criticism, and you end by scolding and becoming ridiculous. Only one who loves has the right to censure and find fault.’
‘Voilà, Monsieur Pigasov enterré,’ observed Darya Mihailovna. ‘What a genius you have for defining a man! But Pigasov certainly would not have even understood you. He loves nothing but his own individuality.’
‘And he finds fault with that so as to have the right to find fault with others,’ Rudin put in.
Darya Mihailovna laughed.
‘“He judges the sound,” as the saying is, “the sound by the sick.” By the way, what do you think of the baron?’
‘The baron? He is an excellent man, with a good heart and a knowledge . . . but he has no character . . . and he will remain all his life half a savant, half a man of the world, that is to say, a dilettante, that is to say, to speak plainly,—neither one thing nor the other. . . . But it’s a pity!’
‘That was my own idea,’ observed Darya Mihailovna. ‘I read his article.. . . Entre nous . . . cela a assez peu de fond!’
‘Who else have you here?’ asked Rudin, after a pause.
Darya Mihailovna knocked off the ash of her cigarette with her little finger.
‘Oh, there is hardly any one more. Madame Lipin, Alexandra Pavlovna, whom you saw yesterday; she is very sweet—but that is all. Her brother is also a capital fellow—un parfait honnête homme. The Prince Garin you know. Those are all. There are two or three neighbours besides, but they are really good for nothing. They either give themselves airs or are unsociable, or else quite unsuitably free and easy. The ladies, as you know, I see nothing of. There is one other of our neighbours said to be a very cultivated, even a learned, man, but a dreadfully queer creature, a whimsical character. Alexandrine, knows him, and I fancy is not indifferent to him. . . . Come, you ought to talk to her, Dmitri Nikolaitch; she’s a sweet creature. She only wants developing.’
‘I liked her very much,’ remarked Rudin.
‘A perfect child, Dmitri Nikolaitch, an absolute baby. She has been married, mais c’est tout comme. . . . If I were a man, I should only fall in love with women like that.’
‘Certainly. Such women are at least fresh, and freshness cannot be put on.’
‘And can everything else?’ Rudin asked, and he smiled—a thing which rarely happened with him. When he smiled his face assumed a strange, almost aged appearance, his eyes disappeared, his nose was wrinkled up.
‘And who is this queer creature, as you call him, to whom Madame Lipin is not indifferent?’ he asked.
‘A certain Lezhnyov, Mihailo Mihailitch, a landowner here.’
Rudin seemed astonished; he raised his head.
‘Lezhnyov—Mihailo Mihailitch?’ he questioned. ‘Is he a neighbour of yours?’
‘Yes. Do you know him?’
Rudin did not speak for a minute.
‘I used to know him long ago. He is a rich man, I suppose?’ he added, pulling the fringe on his chair.
‘Yes, he is rich, though he dresses shockingly, and drives in a racing droshky like a bailiff. I have been anxious to get him to come here; he is spoken of as clever; I have some business with him. . . . You know I manage my property myself.’
Rudin bowed assent.
‘Yes; I manage it myself,’ Darya Mihailovna continued. ‘I don’t introduce any foreign crazes, but prefer what is our own, what is Russian, and, as you see, things don’t seem to do badly,’ she added, with a wave of her hand.
‘I have always been persuaded,’ observed Rudin urbanely, ‘of the absolutely mistaken position of those people who refuse to admit the practical intelligence of women.’
Darya Mihailovna smiled affably.
‘You are very good to us,’ was her comment ‘But what was I going to say? What were we speaking of? Oh, yes; Lezhnyov: I have some business with him about a boundary. I have several times invited him here, and even to-day I am expecting him; but there’s no knowing whether he’ll come . . . he’s such a strange creature.’
The curtain before the door was softly moved aside and the steward came in, a tall man, grey and bald, in a black coat, a white cravat, and a white waistcoat.
‘What is it?’ inquired Darya Mihailovna, and, turning a little towards Rudin, she added in a low voice, ‘n’est ce pas, comme il ressemble à Canning?’
‘Mihailo Mihailitch Lezhnyov is here,’ announced the steward. ‘Will you see him?’
‘Good Heavens!’ exclaimed Darya Mihailovna, ‘speak of the devil———ask him up.’
The steward went away.
‘He’s such an awkward creature. Now he has come, it’s at the wrong moment; he has interrupted our talk.’
Rudin got up from his seat, but Darya Mihailovna stopped him.
‘Where are you going? We can discuss the matter as well before you. And I want you to analyse him too, as you did Pigasov. When you talk, vous gravez comme avec un burin. Please stay.’ Rudin was going to protest, but after a moment’s thought he sat down.
Mihailo Mihailitch, whom the reader already knows, came into the room. He wore the same grey overcoat, and in his sunburnt hands he carried the same old foraging cap. He bowed tranquilly to Darya Mihailovna, and came up to the tea-table.
‘At last you have favoured me with a visit, Monsieur Lezhnyov!’ began Darya Mihailovna. ‘Pray sit down. You are already acquainted, I hear,’ she continued, with a gesture in Rudin’s direction.
Lezhnyov looked at Rudin and smiled rather queerly.
‘I know Mr. Rudin,’ he assented, with a slight bow.
‘We were together at the university,’ observed Rudin in a low voice, dropping his eyes.
‘And we met afterwards also,’ remarked Lezhnyov coldly.
Darya Mihailovna looked at both in some perplexity and asked Lezhnyov to sit down He sat down.
‘You wanted to see me,’ he began, ‘on the subject of the boundary?’
‘Yes; about the boundary. But I also wished to see you in any case. We are near neighbours, you know, and all but relations.’
‘I am much obliged to you,’ returned Lezhnyov. ‘As regards the boundary, we have perfectly arranged that matter with your manager; I have agreed to all his proposals.’
‘I knew that.’
‘But he told me that the contract could not be signed without a personal interview with you.’
‘Yes; that is my rule. By the way, allow me to ask: all your peasants, I believe, pay rent?’
‘And you trouble yourself about boundaries! That’s very praiseworthy.’
Lezhnyov did not speak for a minute.
‘Well, I have come for a personal interview,’ he said at last.
Darya Mihailovna smiled.
‘I see you have come. You say that in such a tone. . . . You could not have been very anxious to come to see me.’
‘I never go anywhere,’ rejoined Lezhnyov phlegmatically.
‘Not anywhere? But you go to see Alexandra Pavlovna.’
‘I am an old friend of her brother’s.’
‘Her brother’s! However, I never wish to force any one. . . . But pardon me, Mihailo Mihailitch, I am older than you, and I may be allowed to give you advice; what charm do you find in such an unsociable way of living? Or is my house in particular displeasing to you? You dislike me?’
‘I don’t know you, Darya Mihailovna, and so I can’t dislike you. You have a splendid house; but I will confess to you frankly I don’t like to have to stand on ceremony. And I haven’t a respectable suit, I haven’t any gloves, and I don’t belong to your set.’
‘By birth, by education, you belong to it, Mihailo Mihailitch! vous êtes des notres.’
‘Birth and education are all very well, Darya Mihailovna; that’s not the question.’
‘A man ought to live with his fellows, Mihailo Mihailitch! What pleasure is there in sitting like Diogenes in his tub?’
‘Well, to begin with, he was very well off there, and besides, how do you know I don’t live with my fellows?’
Darya Mihailovna bit her lip.
‘That’s a different matter! It only remains for me to express my regret that I have not the honour of being included in the number of your friends.’
‘Monsieur Lezhnyov,’ put in Rudin, ‘seems to carry to excess a laudable sentiment—the love of independence.’
Lezhnyov made no reply, he only looked at Rudin. A short silence followed.
‘And so,’ began Lezhnyov, getting up, ‘I may consider our business as concluded, and tell your manager to send me the papers.’
‘You may, . . . though I confess you are so uncivil I ought really to refuse you.’
‘But you know this rearrangement of the boundary is far more in your interest than in mine.’
Darya Mihailovna shrugged her shoulders.
‘You will not even have luncheon here?’ she asked.
‘Thank you; I never take luncheon, and I am in a hurry to get home.’
Darya Mihailovna got up.
‘I will not detain you,’ she said, going to the window. ‘I will not venture to detain you.’
Lezhnyov began to take leave.
‘Good-bye, Monsieur Lezhnyov! Pardon me for having troubled you.’
‘Oh, not at all!’ said Lezhnyov, and he went away.
‘Well, what do you say to that?’ Darya Mihailovna asked of Rudin. ‘I had heard he was eccentric, but really that was beyond everything!’
‘His is the same disease as Pigasov’s,’ observed Rudin, ‘the desire of being original. One affects to be a Mephistopheles—the other a cynic. In all that, there is much egoism, much vanity, but little truth, little love. Indeed, there is even calculation of a sort in it. A man puts on a mask of indifference and indolence so that some one will be sure to think. “Look at that man; what talents he has thrown away!” But if you come to look at him more attentively, there is no talent in him whatever.’
‘Et de deux!’ was Darya Mihailovna’s comment. ‘You are a terrible man at hitting people off. One can hide nothing from you.’
‘Do you think so?’ said Rudin. . . . ‘However,’ he continued, ‘I ought not really to speak about Lezhnyov; I loved him, loved him as a friend . . . but afterwards, through various misunderstandings . . .’
‘No. But we parted, and parted, it seems, for ever.’
‘Ah, I noticed that the whole time of his visit you were not quite yourself. . . . But I am much indebted to you for this morning. I have spent my time extremely pleasantly. But one must know where to stop. I will let you go till lunch time and I will go and look after my business. My secretary, you saw him—Constantin, c’est lui qui est mon secrétaire—must be waiting for me by now. I commend him to you; he is an excellent, obliging young man, and quite enthusiastic about you. Au revoir, cher Dmitri Nikolaitch! How grateful I am to the baron for having made me acquainted with you!’
And Darya Mihailovna held out her hand to Rudin. He first pressed it, then raised it to his lips and went away to the drawing-room and from there to the terrace. On the terrace he met Natalya.