ON THE EVE
By Ivan Turgenev
Translated from the Russian By Constance Garnett
[With an introduction by Edward Garnett]
London: William Heinemann 1895
This exquisite novel, first published in 1859, like so many great works of art, holds depths of meaning which at first sight lie veiled under the simplicity and harmony of the technique. To the English reader On the Eve is a charmingly drawn picture of a quiet Russian household, with a delicate analysis of a young girl's soul; but to Russians it is also a deep and penetrating diagnosis of the destinies of the Russia of the fifties.
Elena, the Russian girl, is the central figure of the novel. In comparing her with Turgenev's other women, the reader will remark that he is allowed to come into closer spiritual contact with her than even with Lisa. The successful portraits of women drawn by men in fiction are generally figures for the imagination to play on; however much that is told to one about them, the secret springs of their character are left a little obscure, but when Elena stands before us we know all the innermost secrets of her character. Her strength of will, her serious, courageous, proud soul, her capacity for passion, all the play of her delicate idealistic nature troubled by the contradictions, aspirations, and unhappiness that the dawn of love brings to her, all this is conveyed to us by the simplest and the most consummate art. The diary (chapter xvi.) that Elena keeps is in itself a masterly revelation of a young girl's heart; it has never been equalled by any other novelist. How exquisitely Turgenev reveals his characters may be seen by an examination of the parts Shubin the artist, and Bersenyev the student, play towards Elena. Both young men are in love with her, and the description of their after relations as friends, and the feelings of Elena towards them, and her own self-communings are interwoven with unfaltering skill. All the most complex and baffling shades of the mental life, which in the hands of many latter-day novelists build up characters far too thin and too unconvincing, in the hands of Turgenev are used with deftness and certainty to bring to light that great kingdom which is always lying hidden beneath the surface, beneath the common-place of daily life. In the difficult art of literary perspective, in the effective grouping of contrasts in character and the criss-cross of the influence of the different individuals, lies the secret of Turgenev's supremacy. As an example the reader may note how he is made to judge Elena through six pairs of eyes. Her father's contempt for his daughter, her mother's affectionate bewilderment, Shubin's petulant criticism, Bersenyev's half hearted enthralment, Insarov's recognition, and Zoya's indifference, being the facets for converging light on Elena's sincerity and depth of soul. Again one may note Turgenev's method for rehabilitating Shubin in our eyes; Shubin is simply made to criticise Stahov; the thing is done in a few seemingly careless lines, but these lines lay bare Shubin's strength and weakness, the fluidity of his nature. The reader who does not see the art which underlies almost every line of On the Eve is merely paying the highest tribute to that art; as often the clear waters of a pool conceal its surprising depth. Taking Shubin's character as an example of creative skill, we cannot call to mind any instance in the range of European fiction where the typical artist mind, on its lighter sides, has been analysed with such delicacy and truth as here by Turgenev. Hawthorne and others have treated it, but the colour seems to fade from their artist characters when a comparison is made between them and Shubin. And yet Turgenev's is but a sketch of an artist, compared with, let us say, the admirable figure of Roderick Hudson. The irresponsibility, alertness, the whimsicality and mobility of Shubin combine to charm and irritate the reader in the exact proportion that such a character affects him in actual life; there is not the least touch of exaggeration, and all the values are kept to a marvel. Looking at the minor characters, perhaps one may say that the husband, Stahov, will be the most suggestive, and not the least familiar character, to English households. His essentially masculine meanness, his self-complacency, his unconscious indifference to the opinion of others, his absurdity as 'un pere de famille' is balanced by the foolish affection and jealousy which his wife, Anna Vassilyevna, cannot help feeling towards him. The perfect balance and duality of Turgenev's outlook is here shown by the equal cleverness with which he seizes on and quietly derides the typical masculine and typical feminine attitude in such a married life as the two Stahovs'.
Turning to the figure of the Bulgarian hero, it is interesting to find from the Souvenirs sur Tourguenev (published in 1887) that Turgenev's only distinct failure of importance in character drawing, Insarov, was not taken from life, but was the legacy of a friend Karateieff, who implored Turgenev to work out an unfinished conception. Insarov is a figure of wood. He is so cleverly constructed, and the central idea behind him is so strong, that his wooden joints move naturally, and the spectator has only the instinct, not the certainty, of being cheated. The idea he incarnates, that of a man whose soul is aflame with patriotism, is finely suggested, but an idea, even a great one, does not make an individuality. And in fact Insarov is not a man, he is an automaton. To compare Shubin's utterances with his is to perceive that there is no spontaneity, no inevitability in Insarov. He is a patriotic clock wound up to go for the occasion, and in truth he is very useful. Only on his deathbed, when the unexpected happens, and the machinery runs down, do we feel moved. Then, he appears more striking dead than alive—a rather damning testimony to the power Turgenev credits him with. This artistic failure of Turgenev's is, as he no doubt recognised, curiously lessened by the fact that young girls of Elena's lofty idealistic type are particularly impressed by certain stiff types of men of action and great will-power, whose capacity for moving straight towards a certain goal by no means implies corresponding brain-power. The insight of a Shubin and the moral worth of a Bersenyev are not so valuable to the Elenas of this world, whose ardent desire to be made good use of, and to seek some great end, is best developed by strength of aim in the men they love.
And now to see what the novel before us means to the Russian mind, we must turn to the infinitely suggestive background. Turgenev's genius was of the same force in politics as in art; it was that of seeing aright. He saw his country as it was, with clearer eyes than any man before or since. If Tolstoi is a purer native expression of Russia's force, Turgenev is the personification of Russian aspiration working with the instruments of wide cosmopolitan culture. As a critic of his countrymen nothing escaped Turgenev's eye, as a politician he foretold nearly all that actually came to pass in his life, and as a consummate artist, led first and foremost by his love for his art, his novels are undying historical pictures. It is not that there is anything allegorical in his novels—allegory is at the furthest pole from his method: it is that whenever he created an important figure in fiction, that figure is necessarily a revelation of the secrets of the fatherland, the soil, the race. Turgenev, in short, was a psychologist not merely of men, but of nations; and so the chief figure of On the Eve, Elena, foreshadows and stands for the rise of young Russia in the sixties. Elena is young Russia, and to whom does she turn in her prayer for strength? Not to Bersenyev, the philosopher, the dreamer; not to Shubin, the man carried outside himself by every passing distraction; but to the strong man, Insarov. And here the irony of Insarov being made a foreigner, a Bulgarian, is significant of Turgenev's distrust of his country's weakness. The hidden meaning of the novel is a cry to the coming men to unite their strength against the foe without and the foe within the gates; it is an appeal to them not only to hasten the death of the old regime of Nicolas I, but an appeal to them to conquer their sluggishness, their weakness, and their apathy. It is a cry for Men. Turgenev sought in vain in life for a type of man to satisfy Russia, and ended by taking no living model for his hero, but the hearsay Insarov, a foreigner. Russia has not yet produced men of this type. But the artist does not despair of the future. Here we come upon one of the most striking figures of Turgenev—that of Uvar Ivanovitch. He symbolises the ever-predominant type of Russian, the sleepy, slothful Slav of to-day, yesterday, and to-morrow. He is the Slav whose inherent force Europe is as ignorant of as he is himself. Though he speaks only twenty sentences in the book he is a creation of Tolstoian force. His very words are dark and of practically no significance. There lies the irony of the portrait. The last words of the novel, the most biting surely that Turgenev ever wrote, contain the whole essence of On the Eve. On the Eve of What? one asks. Time has given contradictory answers to the men of all parties. The Elenas of to-day need not turn their eyes abroad to find their counterpart in spirit; so far at least the pessimists are refuted: but the note of death that Turgenev strikes in his marvellous chapter on Venice has still for young Russia an ominous echo—so many generations have arisen eager, only to be flung aside helpless, that one asks, what of the generation that fronts Autocracy to-day?
'Do you remember I asked you, "Will there ever be men among us?" and you answered, "there will be. O primaeval force!" And now from here in "my poetic distance", I will ask you again, "What do you say, Uvar Ivanovitch, will there be?"'
'Uvar Ivanovitch flourished his fingers, and fixed his enigmatical stare into the far distance.'
This creation of an universal national type, out of the flesh and blood of a fat taciturn country gentleman, brings us to see that Turgenev was not merely an artist, but that he was a poet using fiction as his medium. To this end it is instructive to compare Jane Austen, perhaps the greatest English exponent of the domestic novel, with the Russian master, and to note that, while as a novelist she emerges favourably from the comparison, she is absolutely wanting in his poetic insight. How petty and parochial appears her outlook in Emma, compared to the wide and unflinching gaze of Turgenev. She painted most admirably the English types she knew, and how well she knew them! but she failed to correlate them with the national life; and yet, while her men and women were acting and thinking, Trafalgar and Waterloo were being fought and won. But each of Turgenev's novels in some subtle way suggests that the people he introduces are playing their little part in a great national drama everywhere around us, invisible, yet audible through the clamour of voices near us. And so On the Eve, the work of a poet, has certain deep notes, which break through the harmonious tenor of the whole, and strangely and swiftly transfigure the quiet story, troubling us with a dawning consciousness of the march of mighty events. Suddenly a strange sense steals upon the reader that he is living in a perilous atmosphere, filling his heart with foreboding, and enveloping at length the characters themselves, all unconsciously awaiting disaster in the sunny woods and gardens of Kuntsovo. But not till the last chapters are reached does the English reader perceive that in recreating for him the mental atmosphere of a single educated Russian household, Turgenev has been casting before his eyes the faint shadow of the national drama which was indeed played, though left unfinished, on the Balkan battlefields of 1876-7. Briefly, Turgenev, in sketching the dawn of love in a young girl's soul, has managed faintly, but unmistakably, to make spring and flourish in our minds the ineradicable, though hidden, idea at the back of Slav thought—the unification of the Slav races. How doubly welcome that art should be which can lead us, the foreigners, thus straight to the heart of the national secrets of a great people, secrets which our own critics and diplomatists must necessarily misrepresent. Each of Turgenev's novels may be said to contain a light-bringing rejoinder to the old-fashioned criticism of the Muscovite, current up to the rise of the Russian novel, and still, unfortunately, lingering among us; but On the Eve, of all the novels, contains perhaps the most instructive political lesson England can learn. Europe has always had, and most assuredly England has been over-rich in those alarm-monger critics, watchdogs for ever baying at Slav cupidity, treachery, intrigue, and so on and so on. It is useful to have these well-meaning animals on the political premises, giving noisy tongue whenever the Slav stretches out his long arm and opens his drowsy eyes, but how rare it is to find a man who can teach us to interpret a nation's aspirations, to gauge its inner force, its aim, its inevitability. Turgenev gives us such clues. In the respectful, if slightly forced, silence that has been imposed by certain recent political events on the tribe of faithful watchdogs, it may be permitted to one to say, that whatever England's interest may be in relation to Russia's development, it is better for us to understand the force of Russian aims, before we measure our strength against it And a novel, such as On the Eve, though now nearly forty years old, and to the short-sighted out of date, reveals in a flash the attitude of the Slav towards his political destiny. His aspirations may have to slumber through policy or necessity; they may be distorted or misrepresented, or led astray by official action, but we confess that for us, On the Eve suggests the existence of a mighty lake, whose waters, dammed back for a while, are rising slowly, but are still some way from the brim. How long will it take to the overflow? Nobody knows; but when the long winter of Russia's dark internal policy shall be broken up, will the snows, melting on the mountains, stream south-west, inundating the Valley of the Danube? Or, as the national poet, Pushkin, has sung, will there be a pouring of many Slavonian rivulets into the Russian sea, a powerful attraction of the Slav races towards a common centre to create an era of peace and development within, whereby Russia may rise free and rejoicing to face her great destinies? Hard and bitter is the shaping of nations. Uvar Ivanovitch still fixes his enigmatical stare into the far distance.
THE NAMES OF THE CHARACTERS IN THE BOOK
NIKOLA'I [Nicolas] ARTE'MYEVITCH STA'HOV.
ELE'NA [LE'NOTCHKA, Helene] NIKOLA'EVNA.
ZO'YA [Zoe] NIKI'TISHNA MU'LLER.
ANDRE'I PETRO'VITCH BERSE'NYEV.
PA'VEL [Paul] YA'KOVLITCH (or YA'KOVITCH) SHU'BIN.
DMI'TRI NIKANO'ROVITCH (or NIKANO'RITCH) INSA'ROV.
YEGO'R ANDRE'ITCH KURNATO'VSKY.
UVA'R IVA'NOVITCH STA'HOV.
In transcribing the Russian names into English—
a has the sound of a in father. e,,.............a in pane. i,,.............ee. u,,............. oo. y is always consonantal except when it is the last letter of the word. g is always hard.
On one of the hottest days of the summer of 1853, in the shade of a tall lime-tree on the bank of the river Moskva, not far from Kuntsovo, two young men were lying on the grass. One, who looked about twenty-three, tall and swarthy, with a sharp and rather crooked nose, a high forehead, and a restrained smile on his wide mouth, was lying on his back and gazing meditatively into the distance, his small grey eyes half closed. The other was lying on his chest, his curly, fair head propped on his two hands; he, too, was looking away into the distance. He was three years older than his companion, but seemed much younger. His moustache was only just growing, and his chin was covered with a light curly down. There was something childishly pretty, something attractively delicate, in the small features of his fresh round face, in his soft brown eyes, lovely pouting lips, and little white hands. Everything about him was suggestive of the happy light-heartedness of perfect health and youth—the carelessness, conceit, self-indulgence, and charm of youth. He used his eyes, and smiled and leaned his head as boys do who know that people look at them admiringly. He wore a loose white coat, made like a blouse, a blue kerchief wrapped his slender throat, and a battered straw hat had been flung on the grass beside him.
His companion seemed elderly in comparison with him; and no one would have supposed, from his angular figure, that he too was happy and enjoying himself. He lay in an awkward attitude; his large head—wide at the crown and narrower at the base—hung awkwardly on his long neck; awkwardness was expressed in the very pose of his hands, of his body, tightly clothed in a short black coat, and of his long legs with their knees raised, like the hind-legs of a grasshopper. For all that, it was impossible not to recognise that he was a man of good education; the whole of his clumsy person bore the stamp of good-breeding; and his face, plain and even a little ridiculous as it was, showed a kindly nature and a thoughtful habit. His name was Andrei Petrovitch Bersenyev; his companion, the fair-haired young man, was called Pavel Yakovlitch Shubin.
'Why don't you lie on your face, like me?' began Shubin. 'It's ever so much nicer so; especially when you kick up your heels and clap them together—like this. You have the grass under your nose; when you're sick of staring at the landscape you can watch a fat beetle crawling on a blade of grass, or an ant fussing about. It's really much nicer. But you've taken up a pseudo-classical pose, for all the world like a ballet-dancer, when she reclines upon a rock of paste-board. You should remember you have a perfect right to take a rest now. It's no joking matter to come out third! Take your ease, sir; give up all exertion, and rest your weary limbs!'
Shubin delivered this speech through his nose in a half-lazy, half-joking voice (spoilt children speak so to friends of the house who bring them sweetmeats), and without waiting for an answer he went on:
'What strikes me most forcibly in the ants and beetles and other worthy insects is their astounding seriousness. They run to and fro with such a solemn air, as though their life were something of such importance! A man the lord of creation, the highest being, stares at them, if you please, and they pay no attention to him. Why, a gnat will even settle on the lord of creation's nose, and make use of him for food. It's most offensive. And, on the other hand, how is their life inferior to ours? And why shouldn't they take themselves seriously, if we are to be allowed to take ourselves seriously? There now, philosopher, solve that problem for me! Why don't you speak? Eh?'
'What?' said Bersenyev, starting.
'What!' repeated Shubin. 'Your friend lays his deepest thoughts before you, and you don't listen to him.'
'I was admiring the view. Look how hot and bright those fields are in the sun.' Bersenyev spoke with a slight lisp.
'There's some fine colour laid on there,' observed Shubin. 'Nature's a good hand at it, that's the fact!'
Bersenyev shook his head.
'You ought to be even more ecstatic over it than I. It's in your line: you're an artist.'
'No; it's not in my line,' rejoined Shubin, putting his hat on the back of his head. 'Flesh is my line; my work's with flesh—modelling flesh, shoulders, legs, and arms, and here there's no form, no finish; it's all over the place.... Catch it if you can.'
'But there is beauty here, too,' remarked Bersenyev.—'By the way, have you finished your bas-relief?'
'The boy with the goat.'
'Hang it! Hang it! Hang it!' cried Shubin, drawling—'I looked at the genuine old things, the antiques, and I smashed my rubbish to pieces. You point to nature, and say "there's beauty here, too." Of course, there's beauty in everything, even in your nose there's beauty; but you can't try after all kinds of beauty. The ancients, they didn't try after it; beauty came down of itself upon their creations from somewhere or other—from heaven, I suppose. The whole world belonged to them; it's not for us to be so large in our reach; our arms are short. We drop our hook into one little pool, and keep watch over it. If we get a bite, so much the better, if not——'
Shubin put out his tongue.
'Stop, stop,' said Bensenyev, 'that's a paradox. If you have no sympathy for beauty, if you do not love beauty wherever you meet it, it will not come to you even in your art. If a beautiful view, if beautiful music does not touch your heart; I mean, if you are not sympathetic——'
'Ah, you are a confirmed sympathetic!' broke in Shubin, laughing at the new title he had coined, while Bersenyev sank into thought.
'No, my dear fellow,' Shubin went on, 'you're a clever person, a philosopher, third graduate of the Moscow University; it's dreadful arguing with you, especially for an ignoramus like me, but I tell you what; besides my art, the only beauty I love is in women... in girls, and even that's recently.'
He turned over on to his back and clasped his hands behind his head.
A few instants passed by in silence. The hush of the noonday heat lay upon the drowsy, blazing fields.
'Speaking of women,' Shubin began again, 'how is it no one looks after Stahov? Did you see him in Moscow?'
'The old fellow's gone clean off his head. He sits for whole days together at his Augustina Christianovna's, he's bored to death, but still he sits there. They gaze at one another so stupidly.... It's positively disgusting to see them. Man's a strange animal. A man with such a home; but no, he must have his Augustina Christianovna! I don't know anything more repulsive than her face, just like a duck's! The other day I modelled a caricature of her in the style of Dantan. It wasn't half bad. I will show it you.'
'And Elena Nikolaevna's bust?' inquired Bersenyev, 'is it getting on?'
'No, my dear boy, it's not getting on. That face is enough to drive one to despair. The lines are pure, severe, correct; one would think there would be no difficulty in catching a likeness. It's not as easy as one would think though. It's like a treasure in a fairy-tale—you can't get hold of it. Have you ever noticed how she listens? There's not a single feature different, but the whole expression of the eyes is constantly changing, and with that the whole face changes. What is a sculptor—and a poor one too—to do with such a face? She's a wonderful creature—a strange creature,' he added after a brief pause.
'Yes; she is a wonderful girl,' Bersenyev repeated after him.
'And she the daughter of Nikolai Artemyevitch Stahov! And after that people talk about blood, about stock! The amusing part of it is that she really is his daughter, like him, as well as like her mother, Anna Vassilyevna. I respect Anna Vassilyevna from the depths of my heart, she's been awfully good to me; but she's no better than a hen. Where did Elena get that soul of hers? Who kindled that fire in her? There's another problem for you, philosopher!'
But as before, the 'philosopher' made no reply. Bersenyev did not in general err on the side of talkativeness, and when he did speak, he expressed himself awkwardly, with hesitation, and unnecessary gesticulation. And at this time a kind of special stillness had fallen on his soul, a stillness akin to lassitude and melancholy. He had not long come from town after prolonged hard work, which had absorbed him for many hours every day. The inactivity, the softness and purity of the air, the consciousness of having attained his object, the whimsical and careless talk of his friend, and the image—so suddenly called up—of one dear to him, all these impressions different—yet at the same time in a way akin—were mingled in him into a single vague emotion, which at once soothed and excited him, and robbed him of his power. He was a very highly strung young man.
It was cool and peaceful under the lime-tree; the flies and bees seemed to hum more softly as they flitted within its circle of shade. The fresh fine grass, of purest emerald green, without a tinge of gold, did not quiver, the tall flower stalks stood motionless, as though enchanted. On the lower twigs of the lime-tree the little bunches of yellow flowers hung still as death. At every breath a sweet fragrance made its way to the very depths of the lungs, and eagerly the lungs inhaled it. Beyond the river in the distance, right up to the horizon, all was bright and glowing. At times a slight breeze passed over, breaking up the landscape and intensifying the brightness; a sunlit vapour hung over the fields. No sound came from the birds; they do not sing in the heat of noonday; but the grasshoppers were chirping everywhere, and it was pleasant as they sat in the cool and quietness, to hear that hot, eager sound of life; it disposed to slumber and inclined the heart to reveries.
'Have you noticed,' began Bersenyev, eking out his words with gesticulations, 'what a strange feeling nature produces in us? Everything in nature is so complete, so defined, I mean to say, so content with itself, and we understand that and admire it, and at the same time, in me at least, it always excites a kind of restlessness, a kind of uneasiness, even melancholy. What is the meaning of it? Is it that in the face of nature we are more vividly conscious of all our incompleteness, our indefiniteness, or have we little of that content with which nature is satisfied, but something else—I mean to say, what we need, nature has not?'
'H'm,' replied Shubin, 'I'll tell you, Andrei Petrovitch, what all that comes from. You describe the sensations of a solitary man, who is not living but only looking on in ecstasy. Why look on? Live, yourself, and you will be all right. However much you knock at nature's door, she will never answer you in comprehensible words, because she is dumb. She will utter a musical sound, or a moan, like a harp string, but don't expect a song from her. A living heart, now—that will give you your answer—especially a woman's heart. So, my dear fellow, I advise you to get yourself some one to share your heart, and all your distressing sensations will vanish at once. "That's what we need," as you say. This agitation, and melancholy, all that, you know, is simply a hunger of a kind. Give the stomach some real food, and everything will be right directly. Take your place in the landscape, live in the body, my dear boy. And after all, what is nature? what's the use of it? Only hear the word, love—what an intense, glowing sound it has! Nature—what a cold, pedantic expression. And so' (Shubin began humming), 'my greetings to Marya Petrovna! or rather,' he added, 'not Marya Petrovna, but it's all the same! Voo me compreny.'
Bersenyev got up and stood with his chin leaning on his clasped hands. 'What is there to laugh at?' he said, without looking at his companion, 'why should you scoff? Yes, you are right: love is a grand word, a grand feeling.... But what sort of love do you mean?'
Shubin too, got up. 'What sort? What you like, so long as it's there. I will confess to you that I don't believe in the existence of different kinds of love. If you are in love——'
'With your whole heart,' put in Bersenyev.
'Well, of course, that's an understood thing; the heart's not an apple; you can't divide it. If you're in love, you're justified. And I wasn't thinking of scoffing. My heart's as soft at this moment as if it had been melted.... I only wanted to explain why nature has the effect on us you spoke of. It's because she arouses in us a need for love, and is not capable of satisfying it. Nature is gently driving us to other living embraces, but we don't understand, and expect something from nature herself. Ah, Andrei, Andrei, this sun, this sky is beautiful, everything around us is beautiful, still you are sad; but if, at this instant, you were holding the hand of a woman you loved, if that hand and the whole woman were yours, if you were even seeing with her eyes, feeling not your own isolated emotion, but her emotion—nature would not make you melancholy or restless then, and you would not be observing nature's beauty; nature herself would be full of joy and praise; she would be re-echoing your hymn, because then you would have given her—dumb nature—speech!'
Shubin leaped on to his feet and walked twice up and down, but Bersenyev bent his head, and his face was overcast by a faint flush.
'I don't altogether agree with you,' he began: 'nature does not always urge us... towards love.' (He could not at once pronounce the word.) 'Nature threatens us, too; she reminds us of dreadful... yes, insoluble mysteries. Is she not destined to swallow us up, is she not swallowing us up unceasingly? She holds life and death as well; and death speaks in her as loudly as life.'
'In love, too, there is both life and death,' interposed Shubin.
'And then,' Bersenyev went on: 'when I, for example, stand in the spring in the forest, in a green glade, when I can fancy the romantic notes of Oberon's fairy horn' (Bersenyev was a little ashamed when he had spoken these words)—'is that, too——'
'The thirst for love, the thirst for happiness, nothing more!' broke in Shubin. 'I, too, know those notes, I know the languor and the expectation which come upon the soul in the forest's shade, in its deep recesses, or at evening in the open fields when the sun sets and the river mist rises behind the bushes. But forest, and river, and fields, and sky, every cloud and every blade of grass sets me expecting, hoping for happiness, I feel the approach, I hear the voice of happiness calling in everything. "God of my worship, bright and gay!" That was how I tried to begin my sole poem; you must own it's a splendid first line, but I could never produce a second. Happiness! happiness! as long as life is not over, as long as we have the use of all our limbs, as long as we are going up, not down, hill! Damn it all!' pursued Shubin with sudden vehemence, 'we are young, and neither fools nor monsters; we will conquer happiness for ourselves!'
He shook his curls, and turned a confident almost challenging glance upwards to the sky. Bersenyev raised his eyes and looked at him.
'Is there nothing higher than happiness?' he commented softly.
'And what, for instance?' asked Shubin, stopping short.
'Why, for instance, you and I are, as you say, young; we are good men, let us suppose; each of us desires happiness for himself.... But is that word, happiness, one that could unite us, set us both on fire, and make us clasp each other's hands? Isn't that word an egoistic one; I mean, isn't it a source of disunion?'
'Do you know words, then, that unite men?'
'Yes; and they are not few in number; and you know them, too.'
'Eh? What words?'
'Well, even Art—since you are an artist—Country, Science, Freedom, Justice.'
'And what of love?' asked Shubin.
'Love, too, is a word that unites; but not the love you are eager for now; the love which is not enjoyment, the love which is self-sacrifice.'
'That's all very well for Germans; I want to love for myself; I want to be first.'
'To be first,' repeated Bersenyev. 'But it seems to me that to put one's-self in the second place is the whole significance of our life.'
'If all men were to act as you advise,' commented Shubin with a plaintive expression, 'none on earth would eat pine-apples; every one would be offering them to other people.'
'That's as much as to say, pine-apples are not necessary; but you need not be alarmed; there will always be plenty of people who like them enough to take the bread out of other men's mouths to get them.'
Both friends were silent a little.
'I met Insarov again the other day,' began Bersenyev. 'I invited him to stay with me; I really must introduce him to you—and to the Stahovs.'
'Who is Insarov? Ah, to be sure, isn't it that Servian or Bulgarian you were telling me about? The patriot? Now isn't it he who's at the bottom of all these philosophical ideas?'
'Is he an exceptional individual?'
'Clever—talented—I don't know, I don't think so.'
'Not? Then, what is there remarkable in him?'
'You shall see. But now I think it's time to be going. Anna Vassilyevna will be waiting for us, very likely. What's the time?'
'Three o'clock. Let us go. How baking it is! This conversation has set all my blood aflame. There was a moment when you, too,... I am not an artist for nothing; I observe everything. Confess, you are interested in a woman?'
Shubin tried to get a look at Bersenyev's face, but he turned away and walked out of the lime-tree's shade. Shubin went after him, moving his little feet with easy grace. Bersenyev walked clumsily, with his shoulders high and his neck craned forward. Yet, he looked a man of finer breeding than Shubin; more of a gentleman, one might say, if that word had not been so vulgarised among us.
The young men went down to the river Moskva and walked along its bank. There was a breath of freshness from the water, and the soft plash of tiny waves caressed the ear.
'I would have another bathe,' said Shubin, 'only I'm afraid of being late. Look at the river; it seems to beckon us. The ancient Greeks would have beheld a nymph in it. But we are not Greeks, O nymph! we are thick-skinned Scythians.'
'We have roussalkas,' observed Bersenyev.
'Get along with your roussalkas! What's the use to me—a sculptor—of those children of a cold, terror-stricken fancy, those shapes begotten in the stifling hut, in the dark of winter nights? I want light, space.... Good God, when shall I go to Italy? When——'
'To Little Russia, I suppose you mean?'
'For shame, Andrei Petrovitch, to reproach me for an act of unpremeditated folly, which I have repented bitterly enough without that. Oh, of course, I behaved like a fool; Anna Vassilyevna most kindly gave me the money for an expedition to Italy, and I went off to the Little Russians to eat dumplings and——'
'Don't let me have the rest, please,' interposed Bersenyev.
'Yet still, I will say, the money was not spent in vain. I saw there such types, especially of women.... Of course, I know; there is no salvation to be found outside of Italy!'
'You will go to Italy,' said Bersenyev, without turning towards him, 'and will do nothing. You will always be pluming your wings and never take flight. We know you!'
'Stavasser has taken flight.... And he's not the only one. If I don't fly, it will prove that I'm a sea penguin, and have no wings. I am stifled here, I want to be in Italy,' pursued Shubin, 'there is sunshine, there is beauty.'
A young girl in a large straw hat, with a pink parasol on her shoulder, came into sight at that instant, in the little path along which the friends were walking.
'But what do I see? Even here, there is beauty—coming to meet us! A humble artist's compliments to the enchanting Zoya!' Shubin cried at once, with a theatrical flourish of his hat.
The young girl to whom this exclamation referred, stopped, threatening him with her finger, and, waiting for the two friends to come up to her, she said in a ringing voice:
'Why is it, gentlemen, you don't come in to dinner? It is on the table.'
'What do I hear?' said Shubin, throwing his arms up. 'Can it be that you, bewitching Zoya, faced such heat to come and look for us? Dare I think that is the meaning of your words? Tell me, can it be so? Or no, do not utter that word; I shall die of regret on the spot'
'Oh, do leave off, Pavel Yakovlitch,' replied the young girl with some annoyance. 'Why will you never talk to me seriously? I shall be angry,' she added with a little coquettish grimace, and she pouted.
'You will not be angry with me, ideal Zoya Nikitishna; you would not drive me to the dark depths of hopeless despair. And I can't talk to you seriously, because I'm not a serious person.'
The young girl shrugged her shoulders, and turned to Bersenyev.
'There, he's always like that; he treats me like a child; and I am eighteen. I am grown-up now.'
'O Lord!' groaned Shubin, rolling his eyes upwards; and Bersenyev smiled quietly.
The girl stamped with her little foot.
'Pavel Yakovlitch, I shall be angry! Helene was coming with me,' she went on, 'but she stopped in the garden. The heat frightened her, but I am not afraid of the heat. Come along.'
She moved forward along the path, slightly swaying her slender figure at each step, and with a pretty black-mittened little hand pushing her long soft curls back from her face.
The friends walked after her (Shubin first pressed his hands, without speaking, to his heart, and then flung them higher than his head), and in a few instants they came out in front of one of the numerous country villas with which Kuntsovo is surrounded. A small wooden house with a gable, painted a pink colour, stood in the middle of the garden, and seemed to be peeping out innocently from behind the green trees. Zoya was the first to open the gate; she ran into the garden, crying: 'I have brought the wanderers!' A young girl, with a pale and expressive face, rose from a garden bench near the little path, and in the doorway of the house appeared a lady in a lilac silk dress, holding an embroidered cambric handkerchief over her head to screen it from the sun, and smiling with a weary and listless air.
Anna Vassilyevna Stahov—her maiden name was Shubin—had been left, at seven years old, an orphan and heiress of a pretty considerable property. She had very rich and also very poor relations; the poor relations were on her father's, the rich on her mother's side; the latter including the senator Volgin and the Princes Tchikurasov. Prince Ardalion Tchikurasov, who had been appointed her guardian, placed her in the best Moscow boarding-school, and when she left school, took her into his own home. He kept open house, and gave balls in the winter. Anna Vassilyevna's future husband, Nikolai Artemyevitch Stahov, captured her heart at one of these balls when she was arrayed in a charming rose-coloured gown, with a wreath of tiny roses. She had treasured that wreath all her life. Nikolai Artemyevitch Stahov was the son of a retired captain, who had been wounded in 1812, and had received a lucrative post in Petersburg. Nikolai Artemyevitch entered the School of Cadets at sixteen, and left to go into the Guards. He was a handsome, well-made fellow, and reckoned almost the most dashing beau at evening parties of the middling sort, which were those he frequented for the most part; he had not gained a footing in the best society. From his youth he had been absorbed by two ideals: to get into the Imperial adjutants, and to make a good marriage; the first ideal he soon discarded, but he clung all the more closely to the second, and it was with that object that he went every winter to Moscow. Nikolai Artemyevitch spoke French fairly, and passed for being a philosopher, because he was not a rake. Even while he was no more than an ensign, he was given to discussing, persistently, such questions as whether it is possible for a man to visit the whole of the globe in the course of his whole lifetime, whether it is possible for a man to know what is happening at the bottom of the sea; and he always maintained the view that these things were impossible.
Nikolai Artemyevitch was twenty-five years old when he 'hooked' Anna Vassilyevna; he retired from the service and went into the country to manage the property. He was soon tired of country life, and as the peasants' labour was all commuted for rent he could easily leave the estate; he settled in Moscow in his wife's house. In his youth he had played no games of any kind, but now he developed a passion for loto, and, when loto was prohibited, for whist. At home he was bored; he formed a connection with a widow of German extraction, and spent almost all his time with her. In the year 1853 he had not moved to Kuntsovo; he stopped at Moscow, ostensibly to take advantage of the mineral waters; in reality, he did not want to part from his widow. He did not, however, have much conversation with her, but argued more than ever as to whether one can foretell the weather and such questions. Some one had once called him a frondeur; he was greatly delighted with that name. 'Yes,' he thought, letting the corners of his mouth drop complacently and shaking his head, 'I am not easily satisfied; you won't take me in.' Nikolai Artemyevitch's frondeurism consisted in saying, for instance, when he heard the word nerves: 'And what do you mean by nerves?' or if some one alluded in his presence to the discoveries of astronomy, asking: 'And do you believe in astronomy?' When he wanted to overwhelm his opponent completely, he said: 'All that is nothing but words.' It must be admitted that to many persons remarks of that kind seemed (and still seem) irrefutable arguments. But Nikolai Artemyevitch never suspected that Augustina Christianovna, in letters to her cousin, Theodolina Peterzelius, called him Mein Pinselchen.
Nikolai Artemyevitch's wife, Anna Vassilyevna, was a thin, little woman with delicate features, and a tendency to be emotional and melancholy. At school, she had devoted herself to music and reading novels; afterwards she abandoned all that. She began to be absorbed in dress, and that, too, she gave up. She did, for a time, undertake her daughter's education, but she got tired of that too, and handed her over to a governess. She ended by spending her whole time in sentimental brooding and tender melancholy. The birth of Elena Nikolaevna had ruined her health, and she could never have another child. Nikolai Artemyevitch used to hint at this fact in justification of his intimacy with Augustina Christianovna. Her husband's infidelity wounded Anna Vassilyevna deeply; she had been specially hurt by his once giving his German woman, on the sly, a pair of grey horses out of her (Anna Vassilyevna's) own stable. She had never reproached him to his face, but she complained of him secretly to every one in the house in turn, even to her daughter. Anna Vassilyevna did not care for going out, she liked visitors to come and sit with her and talk to her; she collapsed at once when she was left alone. She had a very tender and loving heart; life had soon crushed her.
Pavel Yakovlitch Shubin happened to be a distant cousin of hers. His father had been a government official in Moscow. His brothers had entered cadets' corps; he was the youngest, his mother's darling, and of delicate constitution; he stopped at home. They intended him for the university, and strained every effort to keep him at the gymnasium. From his early years he began to show an inclination for sculpture. The ponderous senator, Volgin, saw a statuette of his one day at his aunt's—he was then sixteen—and declared that he intended to protect this youthful genius. The sudden death of Shubin's father very nearly effected a complete transformation in the young man's future. The senator, the patron of genius, made him a present of a bust of Homer in plaster, and did nothing more. But Anna Vassilyevna helped him with money, and at nineteen he scraped through into the university in the faculty of medicine. Pavel felt no inclination for medical science, but, as the university was then constituted, it was impossible for him to enter in any other faculty. Besides, he looked forward to studying anatomy. But he did not complete his anatomical studies; at the end of the first year, and before the examination, he left the university to devote himself exclusively to his vocation. He worked zealously, but by fits and starts; he used to stroll about the country round Moscow sketching and modelling portraits of peasant girls, and striking up acquaintance with all sorts of people, young and old, of high and low degree, Italian models and Russian artists. He would not hear of the Academy, and recognised no one as a teacher. He was possessed of unmistakeable talent; it began to be talked about in Moscow. His mother, who came of a good Parisian family, a kind-hearted and clever woman, had taught him French thoroughly and had toiled and thought for him day and night. She was proud of him, and when, while still young in years, she died of consumption, she entreated Anna Vassilyevna to take him under her care. He was at that time twenty-one. Anna Vassilyevna carried out her last wish; a small room in the lodge of the country villa was given up to him.
'Come to dinner, come along,' said the lady of the house in a plaintive voice, and they all went into the dining-room. 'Sit beside me, Zoe,' added Anna Vassilyevna, 'and you, Helene, take our guest; and you, Paul, please don't be naughty and tease Zoe. My head aches to-day.'
Shubin again turned his eyes up to the ceiling; Zoe responded with a half-smile. This Zoe, or, to speak more precisely, Zoya Nikitishna Mueller, was a pretty, fair-haired, half-Russian German girl, with a little nose rather wide at the end, and tiny red lips. She sang Russian ballads fairly well and could play various pieces, both lively and sentimental, very correctly on the piano. She dressed with taste, but in a rather childish style, and even over-precisely. Anna Vassilyevna had taken her as a companion for her daughter, and she kept her almost constantly at her side. Elena did not complain of that; she was absolutely at a loss what to say to Zoya when she happened to be left alone with her.
The dinner lasted rather a long time; Bersenyev talked with Elena about university life, and his own plans and hopes; Shubin listened without speaking, ate with an exaggerated show of greediness, and now and then threw comic glances of despair at Zoya, who responded always with the same phlegmatic smile. After dinner, Elena with Bersenyev and Shubin went into the garden; Zoya looked after them, and, with a slight shrug of her shoulders, sat down to the piano. Anna Vassilyevna began: 'Why don't you go for a walk, too?' but, without waiting for a reply, she added: 'Play me something melancholy.'
'La derniere pensee de Weber?' suggested Zoya.
'Ah, yes, Weber,' replied Anna Vassilyevna. She sank into an easy chair, and the tears started on to her eyelashes.
Meanwhile, Elena led the two friends to an arbour of acacias, with a little wooden table in the middle, and seats round. Shubin looked round, and, whispering 'Wait a minute!' he ran off, skipping and hopping to his own room, brought back a piece of clay, and began modelling a bust of Zoya, shaking his head and muttering and laughing to himself.
'At his old tricks again,' observed Elena, glancing at his work. She turned to Bersenyev, with whom she was continuing the conversation begun at dinner.
'My old tricks!' repeated Shubin. 'It's a subject that's simply inexhaustible! To-day, particularly, she drove me out of all patience.'
'Why so?' inquired Elena. 'One would think you were speaking of some spiteful, disagreeable old woman. She is a pretty young girl.'
'Of course,' Shubin broke in, 'she is pretty, very pretty; I am sure that no one who meets her could fail to think: that's some one I should like to—dance a polka with; I'm sure, too, that she knows that, and is pleased.... Else, what's the meaning of those modest simpers, that discreet air? There, you know what I mean,' he muttered between his teeth. 'But now you're absorbed in something else.'
And breaking up the bust of Zoya, Shubin set hastily to modelling and kneading the clay again with an air of vexation.
'So it is your wish to be a professor?' said Elena to Bersenyev.
'Yes,' he answered, squeezing his red hands between his knees. 'That's my cherished dream. Of course I know very well how far I fall short of being—to be worthy of such a high—I mean that I am too little prepared, but I hope to get permission for a course of travel abroad; I shall pass three or four years in that way, if necessary, and then——'
He stopped, dropped his eyes, then quickly raising them again, he gave an embarrassed smile and smoothed his hair. When Bersenyev was talking to a woman, his words came out more slowly, and he lisped more than ever.
'You want to be a professor of history?' inquired Elena.
'Yes, or of philosophy,' he added, in a lower voice—'if that is possible.'
'He's a perfect devil at philosophy already,' observed Shubin, making deep lines in the clay with his nail. 'What does he want to go abroad for?'
'And will you be perfectly contented with such a position?' asked Elena, leaning on her elbow and looking him straight in the face.
'Perfectly, Elena Nikolaevna, perfectly. What could be a finer vocation? To follow, perhaps, in the steps of Timofay Nikolaevitch ... The very thought of such work fills me with delight and confusion ... yes, confusion... which comes from a sense of my own deficiency. My dear father consecrated me to this work... I shall never forget his last words.'...
'Your father died last winter?'
'Yes, Elena Nikolaevna, in February.'
'They say,' Elena went on, 'that he left a remarkable work in manuscript; is it true?'
'Yes. He was a wonderful man. You would have loved him, Elena Nikolaevna.'
'I am sure I should. And what was the subject of the work?'
'To give you an idea of the subject of the work in few words, Elena Nikolaevna, would be somewhat difficult. My father was a learned man, a Schellingist; he used terms which were not always very clear——'
'Andrei Petrovitch,' interrupted Elena, 'excuse my ignorance, what does that mean, a Schellingist?'
Bersenyev smiled slightly.
'A Schellingist means a follower of Schelling, a German philosopher; and what the philosophy of Schelling consists in——'
'Andrei Petrovitch!' cried Shubin suddenly, 'for mercy's sake! Surely you don't mean to give Elena Nikolaevna a lecture on Schelling? Have pity on her!'
'Not a lecture at all,' murmured Bersenyev, turning crimson. 'I meant——'
'And why not a lecture?' put in Elena. 'You and I are in need of lectures, Pavel Yakovlitch.'
Shubin stared at her, and suddenly burst out laughing.
'What are you laughing at?' she said coldly, and almost sharply.
Shubin did not answer.
'Come, don't be angry,' he said, after a short pause. 'I am sorry. But really it's a strange taste, upon my word, to discuss philosophy in weather like this under these trees. Let us rather talk of nightingales and roses, youthful eyes and smiles.'
'Yes; and of French novels, and of feminine frills and fal-lals,' Elena went on.
'Fal-lals, too, of course,' rejoined Shubin, 'if they're pretty.'
'Of course. But suppose we don't want to talk of frills? You are always boasting of being a free artist; why do you encroach on the freedom of others? And allow me to inquire, if that's your bent of mind, why do you attack Zoya? With her it would be peculiarly suitable to talk of frills and roses?'
Shubin suddenly fired up, and rose from the garden seat. 'So that's it?' he began in a nervous voice. 'I understand your hint; you want to send me away to her, Elena Nikolaevna. In other words, I'm not wanted here.'
'I never thought of sending you away from here.'
'Do you mean to say,' Shubin continued passionately, 'that I am not worthy of other society, that I am her equal; that I am as vain, and silly and petty as that mawkish German girl? Is that it?'
Elena frowned. 'You did not always speak like that of her, Pavel Yakovlitch,' she remarked.
'Ah! reproaches! reproaches now!' cried Shubin. 'Well, then I don't deny there was a moment—one moment precisely, when those fresh, vulgar cheeks of hers... But if I wanted to repay you with reproaches and remind you... Good-bye,' he added suddenly, 'I feel I shall say something silly.'
And with a blow on the clay moulded into the shape of a head, he ran out of the arbour and went off to his room.
'What a baby,' said Elena, looking after him.
'He's an artist,' observed Bersenyev with a quiet smile. 'All artists are like that. One must forgive them their caprices. That is their privilege.'
'Yes,' replied Elena; 'but Pavel has not so far justified his claim to that privilege in any way. What has he done so far? Give me your arm, and let us go along the avenue. He was in our way. We were talking of your father's works.'
Bersenyev took Elena's arm in his, and walked beside her through the garden; but the conversation prematurely broken off was not renewed. Bersenyev began again unfolding his views on the vocation of a professor, and on his own future career. He walked slowly beside Elena, moving awkwardly, awkwardly holding her arm, sometimes jostling his shoulder against her, and not once looking at her; but his talk flowed more easily, even if not perfectly freely; he spoke simply and genuinely, and his eyes, as they strayed slowly over the trunks of the trees, the sand of the path and the grass, were bright with the quiet ardour of generous emotions, while in his soothed voice there was heard the delight of a man who feels that he is succeeding in expressing himself to one very dear to him. Elena listened to him very attentively, and turning half towards him, did not take her eyes off his face, which had grown a little paler—off his eyes, which were soft and affectionate, though they avoided meeting her eyes. Her soul expanded; and something tender, holy, and good seemed half sinking into her heart, half springing up within it.
Shubin did not leave his room before night. It was already quite dark; the moon—not yet at the full—stood high in the sky, the milky way shone white, and the stars spotted the heavens, when Bersenyev, after taking leave of Anna Vassilyevna, Elena, and Zoya, went up to his friend's door. He found it locked. He knocked.
'Who is there?' sounded Shubin's voice.
'I,' answered Bersenyev.
'What do you want?'
'Let me in, Pavel; don't be sulky; aren't you ashamed of yourself?'
'I am not sulky; I'm asleep and dreaming about Zoya.'
'Do stop that, please; you're not a baby. Let me in. I want to talk to you.'
'Haven't you had talk enough with Elena?'
'Come, come; let me in!' Shubin responded by a pretended snore.
Bersenyev shrugged his shoulders and turned homewards.
The night was warm and seemed strangely still, as though everything were listening and expectant; and Bersenyev, enfolded in the still darkness, stopped involuntarily; and he, too, listened expectant. On the tree-tops near there was a faint stir, like the rustle of a woman's dress, awaking in him a feeling half-sweet, half-painful, a feeling almost of fright. He felt a tingling in his cheeks, his eyes were chill with momentary tears; he would have liked to move quite noiselessly, to steal along in secret. A cross gust of wind blew suddenly on him; he almost shuddered, and his heart stood still; a drowsy beetle fell off a twig and dropped with a thud on the path; Bersenyev uttered a subdued 'Ah!' and again stopped. But he began to think of Elena, and all these passing sensations vanished at once; there remained only the reviving sense of the night freshness, of the walk by night; his whole soul was absorbed by the image of the young girl. Bersenyev walked with bent head, recalling her words, her questions. He fancied he heard the tramp of quick steps behind. He listened: some one was running, some one was overtaking him; he heard panting, and suddenly from a black circle of shadow cast by a huge tree Shubin sprang out before him, quite pale in the light of the moon, with no cap on his disordered curls.
'I am glad you came along this path,' he said with an effort. 'I should not have slept all night, if I had not overtaken you. Give me your hand. Are you going home?'
'I will see you home then.'
'But why have you come without a cap on?'
'That doesn't matter. I took off my neckerchief too. It is quite warm.'
The friends walked a few paces.
'I was very stupid to-day, wasn't I?' Shubin asked suddenly.
'To speak frankly, you were. I couldn't make you out. I have never seen you like that before. And what were you angry about really? Such trifles!'
'H'm,' muttered Shubin. 'That's how you put it; but they were not trifles to me. You see,' he went on, 'I ought to point out to you that I—that—you may think what you please of me—I—well there! I'm in love with Elena.'
'You in love with Elena!' repeated Bersenyev, standing still.
'Yes,' pursued Shubin with affected carelessness. 'Does that astonish you? I will tell you something else. Till this evening I still had hopes that she might come to love me in time. But to-day I have seen for certain that there is no hope for me. She is in love with some one else.'
'Some one else? Whom?'
'Whom? You!' cried Shubin, slapping Bersenyev on the shoulder.
'You,' repeated Shubin.
Bersenyev stepped back a pace, and stood motionless. Shubin looked intently at him.
'And does that astonish you? You are a modest youth. But she loves you. You can make your mind easy on that score.'
'What nonsense you talk!' Bersenyev protested at last with an air of vexation.
'No, it's not nonsense. But why are we standing still? Let us go on. It's easier to talk as we walk. I have known her a long while, and I know her well. I cannot be mistaken. You are a man after her own heart. There was a time when she found me agreeable; but, in the first place, I am too frivolous a young man for her, while you are a serious person, you are a morally and physically well-regulated person, you—hush, I have not finished, you are a conscientiously disposed enthusiast, a genuine type of those devotees of science, of whom—no not of whom—whereof the middle class of Russian gentry are so justly proud! And, secondly, Elena caught me the other day kissing Zoya's arms!'
'Yes, Zoya's. What would you have? She has such fine shoulders.'
'Well there, shoulders and arms, isn't it all the same? Elena caught me in this unconstrained proceeding after dinner, and before dinner I had been abusing Zoya in her hearing. Elena unfortunately doesn't understand how natural such contradictions are. Then you came on the scene, you have faith in—what the deuce is it you have faith in?... You blush and look confused, you discuss Schiller and Schelling (she's always on the look-out for remarkable men), and so you have won the day, and I, poor wretch, try to joke—and all the while——'
Shubin suddenly burst into tears, turned away, and dropping upon the ground clutched at his hair.
Bersenyev went up to him.
'Pavel,' he began, 'what childishness this is! Really! what's the matter with you to-day? God knows what nonsense you have got into your head, and you are crying. Upon my word, I believe you must be putting it on.'
Shubin lifted up his head. The tears shone bright on his cheeks in the moonlight, but there was a smile on his face.
'Andrei Petrovitch,' he said, 'you may think what you please about me. I am even ready to agree with you that I'm hysterical now, but, by God, I'm in love with Elena, and Elena loves you. I promised, though, to see you home, and I will keep my promise.'
He got up.
'What a night! silvery, dark, youthful! How sweet it must be to-night for men who are loved! How sweet for them not to sleep! Will you sleep, Andrei Petrovitch?'
Bersenyev made no answer, and quickened his pace.
'Where are you hurrying to?' Shubin went on. 'Trust my words, a night like this will never come again in your life, and at home, Schelling will keep. It's true he did you good service to-day; but you need not hurry for all that. Sing, if you can sing, sing louder than ever; if you can't sing, take off your hat, throw up your head, and smile to the stars. They are all looking at you, at you alone; the stars never do anything but look down upon lovers—that's why they are so charming. You are in love, I suppose, Andrei Petrovitch?... You don't answer me... why don't you answer?' Shubin began again: 'Oh, if you feel happy, be quiet, be quiet! I chatter because I am a poor devil, unloved, I am a jester, an artist, a buffoon; but what unutterable ecstasy would I quaff in the night wind under the stars, if I knew that I were loved!... Bersenyev, are you happy?'
Bersenyev was silent as before, and walked quickly along the smooth path. In front, between the trees, glimmered the lights of the little village in which he was staying; it consisted of about a dozen small villas for summer visitors. At the very beginning of the village, to the right of the road, a little shop stood under two spreading birch-trees; its windows were all closed already, but a wide patch of light fell fan-shaped from the open door upon the trodden grass, and was cast upwards on the trees, showing up sharply the whitish undersides of the thick growing leaves. A girl, who looked like a maid-servant, was standing in the shop with her back against the doorpost, bargaining with the shopkeeper; from beneath the red kerchief which she had wrapped round her head, and held with bare hand under her chin, could just be seen her round cheek and slender throat. The young men stepped into the patch of light; Shubin looked into the shop, stopped short, and cried 'Annushka!' The girl turned round quickly. They saw a nice-looking, rather broad but fresh face, with merry brown eyes and black eyebrows. 'Annushka!' repeated Shubin. The girl saw him, looked scared and shamefaced, and without finishing her purchases, she hurried down the steps, slipped quickly past, and, hardly looking round, went along the road to the left. The shopkeeper, a puffy man, unmoved by anything in the world, like all country shopkeepers gasped and gaped after her, while Shubin turned to Bersenyev with the words: 'That's... you see... there's a family here I know... so at their house... you mustn't imagine' ... and, without finishing his speech, he ran after the retreating girl.
'You'd better at least wipe your tears away,' Bersenyev shouted after him, and he could not refrain from laughing. But when he got home, his face had not a mirthful expression; he laughed no longer. He had not for a single instant believed what Shubin had told him, but the words he had uttered had sunk deep into his soul.
'Pavel was making a fool of me,' he thought; '... but she will love one day... whom will she love?'
In Bersenyev's room there was a piano, small, and by no means new, but of a soft and sweet tone, though not perfectly in tune. Bersenyev sat down to it, and began to strike some chords. Like all Russians of good birth, he had studied music in his childhood, and like almost all Russian gentlemen, he played very badly; but he loved music passionately. Strictly speaking, he did not love the art, the forms in which music is expressed (symphonies and sonatas, even operas wearied him), but he loved the poetry of music: he loved those vague and sweet, shapeless, and all-embracing emotions which are stirred in the soul by the combinations and successions of sounds. For more than an hour, he did not move from the piano, repeating many times the same chords, awkwardly picking out new ones, pausing and melting over the minor sevenths. His heart ached, and his eyes more than once filled with tears. He was not ashamed of them; he let them flow in the darkness. 'Pavel was right,' he thought, 'I feel it; this evening will not come again.' At last he got up, lighted a candle, put on his dressing-gown, took down from the bookshelf the second volume of Raumer's History of the Hohenstaufen, and sighing twice, he set to work diligently to read it.
Meanwhile, Elena had gone to her room, and sat down at the open window, her head resting on her hands. To spend about a quarter of an hour every evening at her bedroom window had become a habit with her. At this time she held converse with herself, and passed in review the preceding day. She had not long reached her twentieth year. She was tall, and had a pale and dark face, large grey eyes under arching brows, covered with tiny freckles, a perfectly regular forehead and nose, tightly compressed lips, and a rather sharp chin. Her hair, of a chestnut shade, fell low on her slender neck. In her whole personality, in the expression of her face, intent and a little timorous, in her clear but changing glance, in her smile, which was, as it were, intense, in her soft and uneven voice, there was something nervous, electric, something impulsive and hurried, something, in fact, which could never be attractive to every one, which even repelled some.
Her hands were slender and rosy, with long fingers; her feet were slender; she walked swiftly, almost impetuously, her figure bent a little forward. She had grown up very strangely; first she idolised her father, then she became passionately devoted to her mother, and had grown cold to both of them, especially to her father. Of late years she had behaved to her mother as to a sick grandmother; while her father, who had been proud of her while she had been regarded as an exceptional child, had come to be afraid of her when she was grown up, and said of her that she was a sort of enthusiastic republican—no one could say where she got it from. Weakness revolted her, stupidity made her angry, and deceit she could never, never pardon. She was exacting beyond all bounds, even her prayers had more than once been mingled with reproaches. When once a person had lost her respect—and she passed judgment quickly, often too quickly—he ceased to exist for her. All impressions cut deeply into her heart; life was bitter earnest for her.
The governess to whom Anna Vassilyevna had entrusted the finishing of her daughter's education—an education, we may remark in parenthesis, which had not even been begun by the languid lady—was a Russian, the daughter of a ruined official, educated at a government boarding school, a very emotional, soft-hearted, and deceitful creature; she was for ever falling in love, and ended in her fiftieth year (when Elena was seventeen) by marrying an officer of some sort, who deserted her without loss of time. This governess was very fond of literature, and wrote verses herself; she inspired Elena with a love of reading, but reading alone did not satisfy the girl; from childhood she thirsted for action, for active well-doing—the poor, the hungry, and the sick absorbed her thoughts, tormented her, and made her heart heavy; she used to dream of them, and to ply all her friends with questions about them; she gave alms carefully, with unconscious solemnity, almost with a thrill of emotion. All ill-used creatures, starved dogs, cats condemned to death, sparrows fallen out of the nest, even insects and reptiles found a champion and protector in Elena; she fed them herself, and felt no repugnance for them. Her mother did not interfere with her; but her father used to be very indignant with his daughter, for her—as he called it—vulgar soft-heartedness, and declared there was not room to move for the cats and dogs in the house. 'Lenotchka,' he would shout to her, 'come quickly, here's a spider eating a fly; come and save the poor wretch!' And Lenotchka, all excitement, would run up, set the fly free, and disentangle its legs. 'Well, now let it bite you a little, since you are so kind,' her father would say ironically; but she did not hear him. At ten years old Elena made friends with a little beggar-girl, Katya, and used to go secretly to meet her in the garden, took her nice things to eat, and presented her with handkerchiefs and pennies; playthings Katya would not take. She would sit beside her on the dry earth among the bushes behind a thick growth of nettles; with a feeling of delicious humility she ate her stale bread and listened to her stories. Katya had an aunt, an ill-natured old woman, who often beat her; Katya hated her, and was always talking of how she would run away from her aunt and live in 'God's full freedom'; with secret respect and awe Elena drank in these new unknown words, stared intently at Katya and everything about her—her quick black, almost animal eyes, her sun-burnt hands, her hoarse voice, even her ragged clothes—seemed to Elena at such times something particular and distinguished, almost holy. Elena went back home, and for long after dreamed of beggars and God's freedom; she would dream over plans of how she would cut herself a hazel stick, and put on a wallet and run away with Katya; how she would wander about the roads in a wreath of corn-flowers; she had seen Katya one day in just such a wreath. If, at such times, any one of her family came into the room, she would shun them and look shy. One day she ran out in the rain to meet Katya, and made her frock muddy; her father saw her, and called her a slut and a peasant-wench. She grew hot all over, and there was something of terror and rapture in her heart Katya often sang some half-brutal soldier's song. Elena learnt this song from her.... Anna Vassilyevna overheard her singing it, and was very indignant.
'Where did you pick up such horrors?' she asked her daughter.
Elena only looked at her mother, and would not say a word; she felt that she would let them tear her to pieces sooner than betray her secret, and again there was a terror and sweetness in her heart. Her friendship with Katya, however, did not last long; the poor little girl fell sick of fever, and in a few days she was dead.
Elena was greatly distressed, and spent sleepless nights for long after she heard of Katya's death. The last words of the little beggar-girl were constantly ringing in her ears, and she fancied that she was being called....
The years passed and passed; swiftly and noiselessly, like waters running under the snow, Elena's youth glided by, outwardly uneventful, inwardly in conflict and emotion. She had no friend; she did not get on with any one of all the girls who visited the Stahovs' house. Her parents' authority had never weighed heavily on Elena, and from her sixteenth year she became absolutely independent; she began to live a life of her own, but it was a life of solitude. Her soul glowed, and the fire died away again in solitude; she struggled like a bird in a cage, and cage there was none; no one oppressed her, no one restrained her, while she was torn, and fretted within. Sometimes she did not understand herself, was even frightened of herself. Everything that surrounded her seemed to her half-senseless, half-incomprehensible. 'How live without love? and there's no one to love!' she thought; and she felt terror again at these thoughts, these sensations. At eighteen, she nearly died of malignant fever; her whole constitution—naturally healthy and vigorous—was seriously affected, and it was long before it could perfectly recover; the last traces of the illness disappeared at last, but Elena Nikolaevna's father was never tired of talking with some spitefulness of her 'nerves.' Sometimes she fancied that she wanted something which no one wanted, of which no one in all Russia dreamed. Then she would grow calmer, and even laugh at herself, and pass day after day unconcernedly; but suddenly some over-mastering, nameless force would surge up within her, and seem to clamour for an outlet. The storm passed over, and the wings of her soul drooped without flight; but these tempests of feeling cost her much. However she might strive not to betray what was passing within her, the suffering of the tormented spirit was expressed in her even external tranquillity, and her parents were often justified in shrugging their shoulders in astonishment, and failing to understand her 'queer ways.'
On the day with which our story began, Elena did not leave the window till later than usual. She thought much of Bersenyev, and of her conversation with him. She liked him; she believed in the warmth of his feelings, and the purity of his aims. He had never before talked to her as on that evening. She recalled the expression of his timid eyes, his smiles—and she smiled herself and fell to musing, but not of him. She began to look out into the night from the open window. For a long time she gazed at the dark, low-hanging sky; then she got up, flung back her hair from her face with a shake of her head, and, herself not knowing why, she stretched out to it—to that sky—her bare chilled arms; then she dropped them, fell on her knees beside her bed, pressed her face into the pillow, and, in spite of all her efforts not to yield to the passion overwhelming her, she burst into strange, uncomprehending, burning tears.
The next day at twelve o'clock, Bersenyev set off in a return coach to Moscow. He had to get some money from the post-office, to buy some books, and he wanted to seize the opportunity to see Insarov and have some conversation with him. The idea had occurred to Bersenyev, in the course of his last conversation with Shubin, to invite Insarov to stay with him at his country lodgings. But it was some time before he found him out; from his former lodging he had moved to another, which it was not easy to discover; it was in the court at the back of a squalid stone house, built in the Petersburg style, between Arbaty Road and Povarsky Street. In vain Bersenyev wandered from one dirty staircase to another, in vain he called first to a doorkeeper, then to a passer-by. Porters even in Petersburg try to avoid the eyes of visitors, and in Moscow much more so; no one answered Bersenyev's call; only an inquisitive tailor, in his shirt sleeves, with a skein of grey thread on his shoulder, thrust out from a high casement window a dirty, dull, unshorn face, with a blackened eye; and a black and hornless goat, clambering up on to a dung heap, turned round, bleated plaintively, and went on chewing the cud faster than before. A woman in an old cloak, and shoes trodden down at heel, took pity at last on Bersenyev and pointed out Insarov's lodging to him. Bersenyev found him at home. He had taken a room with the very tailor who had stared down so indifferently at the perplexity of a wandering stranger; a large, almost empty room, with dark green walls, three square windows, a tiny bedstead in one corner, a little leather sofa in another, and a huge cage hung up to the very ceiling; in this cage there had once lived a nightingale. Insarov came to meet Bersenyev directly he crossed the threshold, but he did not exclaim, 'Ah, it's you!' or 'Good Heavens, what happy chance has brought you?' He did not even say, 'How do you do?' but simply pressed his hand and led him up to the solitary chair in the room.
'Sit down,' he said, and he seated himself on the edge of the table.
'I am, as you see, still in disorder,' added Insarov, pointing to a pile of papers and books on the floor, 'I haven't got settled in as I ought. I have not had time yet.'
Insarov spoke Russian perfectly correctly, pronouncing every word fully and purely; but his guttural though pleasant voice sounded somehow not Russian. Insarov's foreign extraction (he was a Bulgarian by birth) was still more clearly marked in his appearance; he was a young man of five-and-twenty, spare and sinewy, with a hollow chest and knotted fingers; he had sharp features, a hooked nose, blue-black hair, a low forehead, small, intent-looking, deep-set eyes, and bushy eyebrows; when he smiled, splendid white teeth gleamed for an instant between his thin, hard, over-defined lips. He was in a rather old but tidy coat, buttoned up to the throat.
'Why did you leave your old lodging?' Bersenyev asked him.
'This is cheaper, and nearer to the university.'
'But now it's vacation.... And what could induce you to stay in the town in summer! You should have taken a country cottage if you were determined to move.'
Insarov made no reply to this remark, and offered Bersenyev a pipe, adding: 'Excuse me, I have no cigarettes or cigars.'
Bersenyev began smoking the pipe.
'Here have I,' he went on, 'taken a little house near Kuntsovo, very cheap and very roomy. In fact there is a room to spare upstairs.'
Insarov again made no answer.
Bersenyev drew at the pipe: 'I have even been thinking,' he began again, blowing out the smoke in a thin cloud, 'that if any one could be found—you, for instance, I thought of—who would care, who would consent to establish himself there upstairs, how nice it would be! What do you think, Dmitri Nikanorovitch?'
Insarov turned his little eyes on him. 'You propose my staying in your country house?'
'Yes; I have a room to spare there upstairs.'
'Thanks very much, Andrei Petrovitch; but I expect my means would not allow of it.'
'How do you mean?'
'My means would not allow of my living in a country house. It's impossible for me to keep two lodgings.'
'But of course I'—Bersenyev was beginning, but he stopped short. 'You would have no extra expense in that way,' he went on. 'Your lodging here would remain for you, let us suppose; but then everything there is very cheap; we could even arrange so as to dine, for instance, together.'
Insarov said nothing. Bersenyev began to feel awkward.
'You might at least pay me a visit sometime,' he began, after a short pause. 'A few steps from me there's a family living with whom I want very much to make you acquainted. If only you knew, Insarov, what a marvellous girl there is there! There is an intimate friend of mine staying there too, a man of great talent; I am sure you would get on with him. [The Russian loves to be hospitable—of his friends if he can offer nothing else.] Really, you must come. And what would be better still, come and stay with me, do. We could work and read together.... I am busy, as you know, with history and philosophy. All that would interest you. I have a lot of books.'
Insarov got up and walked about the room. 'Let me know,' he said, 'how much do you pay for your cottage?'
'A hundred silver roubles.'
'And how many rooms are there?'
'Then one may reckon that one room costs twenty roubles?'
'Yes, one may reckon so.... But really it's utterly unnecessary for me. It simply stands empty.'
'Perhaps so; but listen,' added Insarov, with a decided, but at the same time good-natured movement of his head: 'I can only take advantage of your offer if you agree to take the sum we have reckoned. Twenty roubles I am able to give, the more easily, since, as you say, I shall be economising there in other things.'
'Of course; but really I am ashamed to take it.'
'Otherwise it's impossible, Andrei Petrovitch.'
'Well, as you like; but what an obstinate fellow you are!'
Insarov again made no reply.
The young men made arrangements as to the day on which Insarov was to move. They called the landlord; at first he sent his daughter, a little girl of seven, with a large striped kerchief on her head; she listened attentively, almost with awe, to all Insarov said to her, and went away without speaking; after her, her mother, a woman far gone with child, made her appearance, also wearing a kerchief on her head, but a very diminutive one. Insarov informed her that he was going to stay at a cottage near Kuntsovo, but should keep on his lodging and leave all his things in their keeping; the tailor's wife too seemed scared and went away. At last the man himself came in: he seemed to understand everything from the first, and only said gloomily: 'Near Kuntsovo?' then all at once he opened the door and shouted: 'Are you going to keep the lodgings then?' Insarov reassured him. 'Well, one must know,' repeated the tailor morosely, as he disappeared.
Bersenyev returned home, well content with the success of his proposal. Insarov escorted him to the door with cordial good manners, not common in Russia; and, when he was left alone, carefully took off his coat, and set to work upon sorting his papers.
On the evening of the same day, Anna Vassilyevna was sitting in her drawing-room and was on the verge of weeping. There were also in the room her husband and a certain Uvar Ivanovitch Stahov, a distant cousin of Nikolai Artemyevitch, a retired cornet of sixty years old, a man corpulent to the point of immobility, with sleepy yellowish eyes, and colourless thick lips in a puffy yellow face. Ever since he had retired, he had lived in Moscow on the interest of a small capital left him by a wife who came of a shopkeeper's family. He did nothing, and it is doubtful whether he thought of anything; if he did think, he kept his thoughts to himself. Once only in his life he had been thrown into a state of excitement and shown signs of animation, and that was when he read in the newspapers of a new instrument at the Universal Exhibition in London, the 'contro-bombardon,' and became very anxious to order this instrument for himself, and even made inquiries as to where to send the money and through what office. Uvar Ivanovitch wore a loose snuff-coloured coat and a white neckcloth, used to eat often and much, and in moments of great perplexity, that is to say when it happened to him to express some opinion, he would flourish the fingers of his right hand meditatively in the air, with a convulsive spasm from the first finger to the little finger, and back from the little finger to the first finger, while he articulated with effort, 'to be sure... there ought to... in some sort of a way.'
Uvar Ivanovitch was sitting in an easy chair by the window, breathing heavily; Nikolai Artemyevitch was pacing with long strides up and down the room, his hands thrust into his pockets; his face expressed dissatisfaction.
He stood still at last and shook his head. 'Yes;' he began, 'in our day young men were brought up differently. Young men did not permit themselves to be lacking in respect to their elders. And nowadays, I can only look on and wonder. Possibly, I am all wrong, and they are quite right; possibly. But still I have my own views of things; I was not born a fool. What do you think about it, Uvar Ivanovitch?'
Uvar Ivanovitch could only look at him and work his fingers.
'Elena Nikolaevna, for instance,' pursued Nikolai Artemyevitch, 'Elena Nikolaevna I don't pretend to understand. I am not elevated enough for her. Her heart is so large that it embraces all nature down to the least spider or frog, everything in fact except her own father. Well, that's all very well; I know it, and I don't trouble myself about it. For that's nerves and education and lofty aspirations, and all that is not in my line. But Mr. Shubin... admitting he's a wonderful artist—quite exceptional—that, I don't dispute; to show want of respect to his elder, a man to whom, at any rate, one may say he is under great obligation; that I confess, dans mon gros bon sens, I cannot pass over. I am not exacting by nature, no, but there is a limit to everything.'
Anna Vassilyevna rang the bell in a tremor. A little page came in.
'Why is it Pavel Yakovlitch does not come?' she said, 'what does it mean; I call him, and he doesn't come?'
Nikolai Artemyevitch shrugged his shoulders.
'And what is the object, may I ask, of your wanting to send for him? I don't expect that at all, I don't wish it even!'
'What's the object, Nikolai Artemyevitch? He has disturbed you; very likely he has checked the progress of your cure. I want to have an explanation with him. I want to know how he has dared to annoy you.'
'I tell you again, that I do not ask that. And what can induce you ... devant les domestiques!'
Anna Vassilyevna flushed a little. 'You need not say that, Nikolai Artemyevitch. I never... devant les domestiques... Fedushka, go and see you bring Pavel Yakovlitch here at once.'
The little page went off.
'And that's absolutely unnecessary,' muttered Nikolai Artemyevitch between his teeth, and he began again pacing up and down the room. 'I did not bring up the subject with that object.'
'Good Heavens, Paul must apologise to you.'
'Good Heavens, what are his apologies to me? And what do you mean by apologies? That's all words.'
'Why, he must be corrected.'
'Well, you can correct him yourself. He will listen to you sooner than to me. For my part I bear him no grudge.'
'No, Nikolai Artemyevitch, you've not been yourself ever since you arrived. You have even to my eyes grown thinner lately. I am afraid your treatment is doing you no good.'
'The treatment is quite indispensable,' observed Nikolai Artemyevitch, 'my liver is affected.'
At that instant Shubin came in. He looked tired. A slight almost ironical smile played on his lips.
'You asked for me, Anna Vassilyevna?' he observed.
'Yes, certainly I asked for you. Really, Paul, this is dreadful. I am very much displeased with you. How could you be wanting in respect to Nikolai Artemyevitch?'