A House of Gentlefolk/Chapter XLIII

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A House of Gentlefolk by Ivan Turgenev, translated by Constance Garnett
Chapter XLIII


Marya Dmitrievna was sitting alone in her boudoir in an easy-chair, sniffing eau de cologne; a glass of orange-flower-water was standing on a little table near her. She was agitated and seemed nervous.

Lavretsky came in.

"You wanted to see me," he said, bowing coldly.

"Yes," replied Marya Dmitrievna, and she sipped a little water: "I heard that you had gone straight up to my aunt; I gave orders that you should be asked to come in; I wanted to have a little talk with you. Sit down, please," Marya Dmitrievna took breath. "You know," she went on, "your wife has come."

"I was aware of that," remarked Lavretsky.

"Well, then, that is, I wanted to say, she came to me, and I received her; that is what I wanted to explain to you, Fedor Ivanitch. Thank God I have, I may say, gained universal respect, and for no consideration in the world would I do anything improper. Though I foresaw that it would be disagreeable to you, still I could not make up my mind to deny myself to her, Fedor Ivanitch; she is a relation of mine--through you; put yourself in my position, what right had I to shut my doors on her--you will agree with me?"

"You are exciting yourself needlessly, Mary Dmitrievna," replied Lavretsky; "you acted very well, I am not angry. I have not the least intention of depriving Varvara Pavlovna of the opportunity of seeing her friends; I did not come in to you to-day simply because I did not care to meet her--that was all."

"Ah, how glad I am to hear you say that, Fedor Ivanitch," cried Marya Dmitrievna, "but I always expected it of your noble sentiments. And as for my being excited--that's not to be wondered at; I am a woman and a mother. And your wife . . . of course I cannot judge between you and her--as I said to her herself; but she is such a delightful woman that she can produce nothing but a pleasant impression."

Lavretsky gave a laugh and played with his hat.

"And this is what I wanted to say to you besides, Fedor Ivanitch," continued Marya Dmitrievna, moving slightly nearer up to him, "if you had seen the modesty of her behaviour, how respectful she is! Really, it is quite touching. And if you had heard how she spoke of you! I have been to blame towards him, she said, altogether; I did not know how to appreciate him, she said; he is an angel, she said, and not a man. Really, that is what she said--an angel. Her penitence is such . . . Ah, upon my word, I have never seen such penitence!"

"Well, Marya Dmitrievna," observed Lavretsky, "if I may be inquisitive: I am told that Varvara Pavlovna has been singing in your drawing-room; did she sing during the time of her penitence, or how was it?"

"Ah, I wonder you are not ashamed to talk like that! She sang and played the piano only to do me a kindness, because I positively entreated, almost commanded her to do so. I saw that she was sad, so sad; I thought how to distract her mind--and I heard that she had such marvellous talent! I assure you, Fedor Ivanitch, she is utterly crushed, ask Sergei Petrovitch even; a heart-broken woman, tout a fait: what do you say?"

Lavretsky only shrugged his shoulders.

"And then what a little angel is that Adotchka of yours, what a darling! How sweet she is, what a clever little thing; how she speaks French; and understand Russian too--she called me 'auntie' in Russian. And you know that as for shyness--almost all children at her age are shy--there's not a trace of it. She's so like you, Fedor Ivanitch, it's amazing. The eyes, the forehead--well, it's you over again, precisely you. I am not particularly fond of little children, I must own; but I simply lost my heart to your little girl."

"Marya Dmitrievna," Lavretsky blurted out suddenly, "allow me to ask you what is your object in talking to me like this?"

"What object?" Marya Dmitrievna sniffed her eau de cologne again, and took a sip of water. "Why, I am speaking to you, Fedor Ivanitch, because--I am a relation of yours, you know, I take the warmest interest in you--I know your heart is of the best. Listen to me, mon cousin. I am at any rate a woman of experience, and I shall not talk at random: forgive her, forgive your wife." Marya Dmitrievna's eyes suddenly filled with tears. "Only think: her youth, her inexperience . . . and who knows, perhaps, bad example; she had not a mother who could bring her up in the right way. Forgive her, Fedor Ivanitch, she has been punished enough."

The tears were trickling down Marya Dmitrievna's cheeks: she did not wipe them away, she was fond of weeping. Lavretsky sat as if on thorns. "Good God," he thought, "what torture, what a day I have had to-day!"

"You make no reply," Marya Dmitrievna began again. "How am I to understand you? Can you really be so cruel? No, I will not believe it. I feel that my words have influenced you, Fedor Ivanitch. God reward you for your goodness, and now receive your wife from my hands."

Involuntarily Lavretsky jumped up from his chair; Marya Dmitrievna also rose and running quickly behind a screen, she led forth Varvara Pavlovna. Pale, almost lifeless, with downcast eyes, she seemed to have renounced all thought, all will of her own, and to have surrendered herself completely to Marya Dmitrievna.

Lavretsky stepped back a pace.

"You have been here all the time!" he cried.

"Do not blame her," explained Marya Dmitrievna; "she was most unwilling to stay, but I forced her to remain. I put her behind the screen. She assured me that this would only anger you more; I would not even listen to her; I know you better than she does. Take your wife back from my hands; come, Varya, do not fear, fall at your husband's feet (she gave a pull at her arm) and my blessing" . . .

"Stop a minute, Marya Dmitrievna," said Lavretsky in a low but startlingly impressive voice. "I dare say you are fond of affecting scenes" (Lavretsky was right, Marya Dmitrievna still retained her school-girl's passion for a little melodramatic effect), "they amuse you; but they may be anything but pleasant for other people. But I am not going to talk to you; in this scene you are not the principal character. What do you want to get out of me, madam?" he added, turning to his wife. "Haven't I done all I could for you? Don't tell me you did not contrive this interview; I shall not believe you--and you know that I cannot possibly believe you. What is it you want? You are clever--you do nothing without an object. You must realise, that as for living with, as I once lived with you, that I cannot do; not because I am angry with you, but because I have become a different man. I told you so the day after your return, and you yourself, at that moment, agreed with me in your! heart. But you want to reinstate yourself in public opinion; it is not enough for you to live in my house, you want to live with me under the same roof--isn't that it?"

"I want your forgiveness," pronounced Varvara Pavlovna, not raising her eyes.

"She wants your forgiveness," repeated Marya Dmitrievna.

"And not for my own sake, but for Ada's," murmured Varvara Pavlovna.

"And not for her own sake, but for your Ada's," repeated Marya Dmitrievna.

"Very good. Is that what you want?" Lavretsky uttered with an effort. "Certainly, I consent to that too."

Varvara Pavlovna darted a swift glance at him, but Marya Dmitrievna cried: "There, God be thanked!" and again drew Varvara Pavlvona forward by the arm. "Take her now from my arms--"

"Stop a minute, I tell you," Lavretsky interrupted her, "I agree to live with you, Varvara Pavlovna," he continued, "that is to say, I will conduct you to Lavriky, and I will live there with you, as long as I can endure it, and then I will go away--and will come back again. You see, I do not want to deceive you; but do not demand anything more. You would laugh yourself if I were to carry out the desire of our respected cousin, were to press you to my breast, and to fall to assuring you that . . . that the past had not been; and the felled tree can bud again. But I see, I must submit. You will not understand these words . . . but that's no matter. I repeat, I will live with you . . . or no, I cannot promise that . . . I will be reconciled with you, I will regard you as my wife again."

"Give her, at least your hand on it," observed Marya Dmitrievna, whose tears had long since dried up.

"I have never deceived Varvara Pavlovna hitherto," returned Lavretsky; "she will believe me without that. I will take her to Lavriky; and remember, Varvara Pavlovna, our treaty is to be reckoned as broken directly you go away from Lavriky. And now allow me to take leave."

He bowed to both the ladies, and hurriedly went away.

"Are you not going to take her with you!" Marya Dmitrievna cried after him . . . . "Leave him alone," Varvara Pavlovna whispered to her. And at once she embraced her, and began thanking her, kissing her hands and calling her saviour.

Marya Dmitrievna received her caresses indulgently; but at heart she was discontented with Lavretsky, with Varvara Pavlovna, and with the whole scene she had prepared. Very little sentimentality had come of it; Varvara Pavlovna, in her opinion, ought to have flung herself at her husband's feet.

"How was it you didn't understand me?" she commented: "I kept saying 'down.'"

"It is better as it was, dear auntie; do not be uneasy--it was all for the best," Varvara Pavlovna assured her.

"Well, any way, he's as cold as ice," observed Marya Dmitrievna. "You didn't weep, it is true, but I was in floods of tears before his eyes. He wants to shut you up at Lavriky. Why, won't you even be able to come and see me? All men are unfeeling," she concluded, with a significant shake of the head.

"But then women can appreciate goodness and noble-heartedness," said Varvara Pavlovna, and gently dropping on her knees before Marya Dmitrievna, she flung her arms about her round person, and pressed her face against it. That face wore a sly smile, but Marya Dmitrievna's tears began to flow again.

When Lavretsky returned home, he locked himself in his valet's room, and flung himself on a sofa; he lay like that till morning.