A House of Gentlefolk/Chapter XXVI
Two days later, Marya Dmitrievna visited Vassilyevskoe according to her promise, with all her young people. The little girls ran at once into the garden, while Marya Dmitrievna languidly walked through the rooms and languidly admired everything. She regarded her visit to Lavretsky as a sign of great condescension, almost as a deed of charity. She smiled graciously when Anton and Apraxya kissed her hand in the old-fashioned house-servants' style; and in a weak voice, speaking through her nose, asked for some tea. To the great vexation of Anton, who had put on knitted white gloves for the purpose, tea was not handed to the grand lady visitor by him, but by Lavretsky's hired valet, who in the old man's words, had not a notion of what was proper. To make up for this, Anton resumed his rights at dinner: he took up a firm position behind Marya Dmitrievna's chair; and he would not surrender his post to any one. The appearance of guests after so long an interval at Vassilyevskoe fluttered and delighted the old man. It was a pleasure to him to see that his master was acquainted with such fine gentlefolk. He was not, however, the only one who was fluttered that day; Lemm, too, was in agitation. He had put on a rather short snuff-coloured coat with a swallow-tail, and tied his neck handkerchief stiffly, and he kept incessantly coughing and making way for people with a cordial and affable air. Lavretsky noticed with pleasure that his relations with Lisa were becoming more intimate; she had held out her hand to him affectionately directly she came in. After dinner Lemm drew out of his coat-tail pocket, into which he had continually been fumbling, a small roll of music-paper and compressing his lips he laid it without speaking on the pianoforte. It was a song composed by him the evening before, to some old-fashioned German words, in which mention was made of the stars. Lisa sat down at once to the piano and played at sight the song . . . . Alas! the music turned out to be complicated and painfully strained; it was clear that the composer had striven to express something passionate and deep, but nothing had come of it; the effort had remained an effort. Lavretsky and Lisa both felt this, and Lemm understood it. Without uttering a single word, he put his song back into his pocket, and in reply to Lisa's proposal to play it again, he only shook his head and said significantly: "Now--enough!" and shrinking into himself he turned away.
Towards evening the whole party went out to fish. In the pond behind the garden there were plenty of carp and groundlings. Marya Dmitrievna was put in an arm-chair near the banks, in the shade, with a rug under her feet and the best line was given to her. Anton as an old experienced angler offered her his services. He zealously put on the worms, and clapped his hand on them, spat on them and even threw in the line with a graceful forward swing of his whole body. Marya Dmitrievna spoke of him the same day to Fedor Ivanitch in the following phrase, in boarding-school French: "Il n'y a plus maintenant de ces gens comme ca, comme autrefois." Lemm with the two little girls went off further to the dam of the pond; Lavretsky took up his position near Lisa. The fish were continually biting, the carp were constantly flashing in the air with golden and silvery sides as they were drawn in; the cries of pleasure of the little girls were incessant, even Marya Dmitrievna uttered a little feminine shriek on two occasions. The fewest fish were caught by Lavretsky and Lisa; probably this was because they paid less attention than the others to the angling, and allowed their floats to swim back right up to the bank. The high reddish reeds rustled quietly around, the still water shone quietly before them, and quietly too they talked together. Lisa was standing on a small raft; Lavretsky sat on the inclined trunk of a willow; Lisa wore a white gown, tied round the waist with a broad ribbon, also white; her straw hat was hanging on one hand, and in the other with some effort she held up the crooked rod. Lavretsky gazed at her pure, somewhat severe profile, at her hair drawn back behind her ears, at her soft cheeks, which glowed like a little child's, and thought, "Oh, how sweet you are, bending over my pond!" Lisa did not turn to him, but looked at the water, half frowning, to keep the sun out of her eyes, half smiling. The shade of the lime-tree near fell upon both.
"Do you know," began Lavretsky, "I have been thinking over our last conversation a great deal, and have come to the conclusion that you are exceedingly good."
"That was not at all my intention in-----" Lisa was beginning to reply, and she was overcome with embarrassment.
"You are good," repeated Lavretsky. "I am a rough fellow, but I feel that every one must love you. There's Lemm for instance; he is simply in love with you."
Lisa's brows did not exactly frown, they contracted slightly; it always happened with her when she heard something disagreeable to her.
"I was very sorry for him to-day," Lavretsky added, "with his unsuccessful song. To be young and to fail is bearable; but to be old and not be successful is hard to bear. And how mortifying it is to feel that one's forces are deserting one! It is hard for an old man to bear such blows! . . . Be careful, you have a bite . . . . They say," added Lavretsky after a short pause, "that Vladimir Nikolaitch has written a very pretty song."
"Yes," replied Lisa, "it is only a trifle, but not bad."
"And what do you think," inquired Lavretsky; "is he a good musician?"
"I think he has great talent for music; but so far he has not worked at it, as he should."
"Ah! And is he a good sort of man?"
Lisa laughed and glanced quickly at Fedor Ivanitch.
"What a queer question!" she exclaimed, drawing up her line and throwing it in again further off.
"Why is it queer? I ask you about him, as one who has only lately come here, as a relation."
"Yes. I am, it seems, a sort of uncle of yours?"
"Vladimir Nikolaitch has a good heart," said Lisa, "and he is clever; maman likes him very much."
"And do you like him?"
"He is nice; why should I not like him?"
"Ah!" Lavretsky uttered and ceased speaking. A half-mournful, half-ironical expression passed over his face. His steadfast gaze embarrassed Lisa, but he went on smiling.--"Well, God grant them happiness!" he muttered at last, as though to himself, and turned away his head.
"You are mistaken, Fedor Ivanitch," she said: "you are wrong in thinking . . . . But don't you like Vladimir Nikolaitch?" she asked suddenly.
"No, I don't."
"I think he has no heart."
The smile left Lisa's face.
"It is your habit to judge people severely," she observed after a long silence.
"I don't think it is. What right have I to judge others severely, do you suppose, when I must ask for indulgency myself? Or have you forgotten that I am a laughing stock to everyone, who is not too indifferent even to scoff? . . . By the way," he added, "did you keep your promise?"
"Did you pray for me?"
"Yes, I prayed for you, and I pray for you every day. But please do not speak lightly of that."
Lavretsky began to assure Lisa that the idea of doing so had never entered his head, that he had the deepest reverence for every conviction; then he went off into a discourse upon religion, its significance in the history of mankind, the significance of Christianity.
"One must be a Christian," observed Lisa, not without some effort, "not so as to know the divine . . . and the . . . earthly, because every man has to die."
Lavretsky raised his eyes in involuntary astonishment upon Lisa and met her gaze.
"What a strange saying you have just uttered!" he said.
"It is not my saying," she replied.
"Not yours . . . . But what made you speak of death?"
"I don't know. I often think of it."
"One would not suppose so, looking at you now; you have such a bright, happy face, you are smiling."
"Yes, I am very happy just now," replied Lisa simply.
Lavretsky would have liked to seize both her hands, and press them warmly.
"Lisa, Lisa!" cried Marya Dmitrievna, "do come here, and look what a fine carp I have caught."
"In a minute, maman," replied Lisa, and went towards her, but Lavretsky remained sitting on his willow. "I talk to her just as if life were not over for me," he thought. As she went away, Lisa hung her hat on a twig; with strange, almost tender emotion, Lavretsky looked at the hat, and its long rather crumpled ribbons. Lisa soon came back to him, and again took her stand on the platform.
"What makes you think Vladimir Nikolaitch has no heart?" she asked a few minutes later.
"I have told you already that I may be mistaken; time will show, however."
Lisa grew thoughtful. Lavretsky began to tell her about his daily life at Vassilyevskoe, about Mihalevitch, and about Anton; he felt a need to talk to Lisa, to share with her everything that was passing in his heart; she listened so sweetly, so attentively; her few replies and observations seemed to him so simple and so intelligent. He even told her so.
Lisa was surprised.
"Really?" she said; "I thought that I was like my maid, Nastya; I had no words of my own. She said one day to her sweetheart: 'You must be dull with me; you always talk so finely to me, and I have no words of my own.'"
"And thank God for it!" thought Lavretsky.