A House of Gentlefolk/Chapter VI
Panshin, who was playing bass, struck the first chords of the sonata loudly and decisively, but Lisa did not begin her part. He stopped and looked at her. Lisa's eyes were fixed directly on him, and expressed displeasure. There was no smile on her lips, her whole face looked stern and even mournful.
"What's the matter?" he asked.
"Why did you not keep your word?" she said. "I showed you Christopher Fedoritch's cantata on the express condition that you said nothing about it to him?"
"I beg your pardon, Lisaveta Mihalovna, the words slipped out unawares."
"You have hurt his feelings and mine too. Now he will not trust even me."
"How could I help it, Lisaveta Mihalovna? Ever since I was a little boy I could never see a German without wanting to teaze him."
"How can you say that, Vladimir Nikolaitch? This German is poor, lonely, and broken-down--have you no pity for him? Can you wish to teaze him?"
Panshin was a little taken aback.
"You are right, Lisaveta Mihalovna," he declared. "It's my everlasting thoughtlessness that's to blame. No, don't contradict me; I know myself. So much harm has come to me from my want of thought. It's owing to that failing that I am thought to be an egoist."
Panshin paused. With whatever subject he began a conversation, he generally ended by talking of himself, and the subject was changed by him so easily, so smoothly and genially, that it seemed unconscious.
"In your own household, for instance," he went on, "your mother certainly wishes me well, she is so kind; you--well, I don't know your opinion of me; but on the other hand your aunt simply can't bear me. I must have offended her too by some thoughtless, stupid speech. You know I'm not a favourite of hers, am I?"
"No," Lisa admitted with some reluctance, "she doesn't like you."
Panshin ran his fingers quickly over the keys, and a scarcely perceptible smile glided over his lips.
"Well, and you?" he said, "do you too think me an egoist?"
"I know you very little," replied Lisa, "but I don't consider you an egoist; on the contrary, I can't help feeling grateful to you."
"I know, I know what you mean to say," Panshin interrupted, and again he ran his fingers over the keys: "for the music and the books I bring you, for the wretched sketches with which I adorn your album, and so forth. I might do all that--and be an egoist all the same. I venture to think that you don't find me a bore, and don't think me a bad fellow, but still you suppose that I--what's the saying?--would sacrifice friend or father for the sake of a witticism."
"You are careless and forgetful, like all men of the world," observed Lisa, "that is all."
Panshin frowned a little.
"Come," he said, "don't let us discuss me any more; let us play our sonata. There's only one thing I must beg of you," he added, smoothing out the leaves of the book on the music stand, "think what you like of me, call me an egoist even--so be it! but don't call me a man of the world; that name's insufferable to me.... Anch 'io sono pittore. I too am an artist, though a poor one--and that--I mean that I'm a poor artist, I shall show directly. Let us begin."
"Very well, let us begin," said Lisa.
The first adagio went fairly successfully though Panshin made more than one false note. His own compositions and what he had practised thoroughly he played very nicely, but he played at sight badly. So the second part of the sonata--a rather quick allegro--broke down completely; at the twentieth bar, Panshin, who was two bars behind, gave in, and pushed his chair back with a laugh.
"No!" he cried, "I can't play to-day; it's a good thing Lemm did not hear us; he would have had a fit."
Lisa got up, shut the piano, and turned round to Panshin.
"What are we going to do?" she asked.
"That's just like you, that question! You can never sit with your hands idle. Well, if you like let us sketch, since it's not quite dark. Perhaps the other muse, the muse of painting--what was her name? I have forgotten... will be more propitious to me. Where's your album? I remember, my landscape there is not finished."
Lisa went into the other room to fetch the album, and Panshin, left alone, drew a cambric handkerchief out of his pocket, and rubbed his nails and looked as it were critically at his hands. He had beautiful white hands; on the second finger of his left hand he wore a spiral gold ring. Lisa came back; Panshin sat down at the window, and opened the album.
"Ah!" he exclaimed: "I see that you have begun to copy my landscape--and capitally too. Excellent! only just here--give me a pencil--the shadows are not put in strongly enough. Look."
And Panshin with a flourish added a few long strokes. He was for ever drawing the same landscape: in the foreground large disheveled trees, a stretch of meadow in the background, and jagged mountains on the horizon. Lisa looked over his shoulders at his work.
"In drawing, just as in life generally," observed Panshin, holding his head to right and to left, "lightness and boldness--are the great things."
At that instant Lemm came into the room, and with a stiff bow was about to leave it; but Panshin, throwing aside album and pencils, placed himself in his way.
"Where are you doing, dear Christopher Fedoritch? Aren't you going to stay and have tea with us?"
"I go home," answered Lemm in a surly voice; "my head aches."
"Oh, what nonsense!--do stop. We'll have an argument about Shakespeare."
"My head aches," repeated the old man.
"We set to work on the sonata of Beethoven without you," continued Panshin, taking hold of him affectionately and smiling brightly, "but we couldn't get on at all. Fancy, I couldn't play two notes together correctly."
"You'd better have sung your song again," replied Lemm, removing Panshin's hands, and he walked away.
Lisa ran after him. She overtook him on the stairs.
"Christopher Fedoritch, I want to tell you," she said to him in German, accompanying him over the short green grass of the yard to the gate, "I did wrong--forgive me."
Lemm made no answer.
"I showed Vladimir Nikolaitch your cantata; I felt sure he would appreciate it,--and he did like it very much really."
"It's no matter," he said in Russian, and then added in his own language, "but he cannot understand anything; how is it you don't see that? He's a dilettante--and that's all!"
"You are unjust to him," replied Lisa, "he understands everything, and he can do almost everything himself."
"Yes, everything second-rate, cheap, scamped work. That pleases, and he pleases, and he is glad it is so--and so much the better. I'm not angry; the cantata and I--we are a pair of old fools; I'm a little ashamed, but it's no matter."
"Forgive me, Christopher Fedoritch," Lisa said again.
"It's no matter," he repeated in Russian, "you're a good girl . . . but here is some one coming to see you. Goodbye. You are a very good girl."
And Lemm moved with hastened steps towards the gate, through which had entered some gentleman unknown to him in a grey coat and a wide straw hat. Bowing politely to him (he always saluted all new faces in the town of O-----; from acquaintances he always turned aside in the street--that was the rule he had laid down for himself), Lemm passed by and disappeared behind the fence. The stranger looked after him in amazement, and after gazing attentively at Lisa, went straight up to her.