A House of Gentlefolk/Chapter XXVIII
|←Chapter XXVII||A House of Gentlefolk by , translated by Constance Garnett
The next morning, over their tea, Lemm asked Lavretsky to let him have the horses to return to town. "It's time for me to set to work, that is, to my lessons," observed the old man. "Besides, I am only wasting time here." Lavretsky did not reply at once; he seemed abstracted. "Very good," he said at last; "I will come with you myself." Unaided by the servants, Lemm, groaning and wrathful, packed his small box and tore up and burnt a few sheets of music-paper. The horses were harnessed. As he came out of his own room, Lavretsky put the paper he had read last night in his pocket. During the whole course of the journey both Lemm and Lavretsky spoke little to one another; each was occupied with his own thoughts, and each was glad not to be disturbed by the other; and they parted rather coolly; which is often the way, however, with friends in Russia. Lavretsky conducted the old man to his little house; the latter got out, took his trunk and without holding out his hand to his friend (he was holding his trunk in both arms before his breast), without even looking at him, he said to him in Russian, "good-bye!" "Good-bye," repeated Lavretsky, and bade the coachman drive to his lodging. He had taken rooms in the town of O----- . . . After writing a few letters and hastily dining, Lavretsky went to the Kalitins'. In their drawing-room he found only Panshin, who informed him that Marya Dmitrievna would be in directly, and at once, with charming cordiality, entered into conversation with him. Until that day, Panshin had always treated Lavretsky, not exactly haughtily, but at least condescendingly; but Lisa, in describing her expedition of the previous day to Panshin, had spoken of Lavretsky as an excellent and clever man, that was enough; he felt bound to make a conquest of an "excellent man." Panshin began with compliments to Lavretsky, with a description of the rapture in which, according to him, the whole family of Marya Dmitrievna! spoke of Vassilyevskoe; and then, according to his custom, passing neatly to himself, began to talk about his pursuits, and his views on life, the world and government service; uttered a sentence or two upon the future of Russia, and the duty of rulers to keep a strict hand over the country; and at this point laughed light-heartedly at his own expense, and added that among other things he had been intrusted in Petersburg with the duty de poplariser l'idee du cadastre. He spoke somewhat at length, passing over all difficulties with careless self-confidence, and playing with the weightiest administrative and political questions, as a juggler plays with balls. The expressions: "That's what I would do if I were in the government;" "you as a man of intelligence, will agree with me at once," were constantly on his lips. Lavretsky listened coldly to Panshin's chatter; he did not like this handsome, clever, easily-elegant young man, with his bright smile, affable voice, and inquisitive eyes. Panshin, with the quick insight into the feelings of others, which was peculiar to him, soon guessed that he was not giving his companion any special satisfaction, and made a plausible excuse to go away, inwardly deciding that Lavretsky might be an "excellent man," but he was unattractive, aigri, and, en somme, rather absurd. Marya Dmitrievna made her appearance escorted by Gedeonovsky, then Marfa Timofyevna and Lisa came in; and after them the other members of the household; and then the musical amateur, Madame Byelenitsin, arrived, a little thinnish lady, with a languid, pretty, almost childish little face, wearing a rusting dress, a striped fan, and heavy gold bracelets. Her husband was with her, a fat red-faced man, with large hands and feet, white eye-lashes, and an immovable smile on his thick lips; his wife never spoke to him in company, but at home, in moments of tenderness, she used to call him her little sucking-pig. Panshin returned; the rooms were very full of people and noise. Such a crowd was not to Lavretsky's taste; and he was particularly irritated by Madame Byelenitsin, who kept staring at him through her eye-glasses. He would have gone away at once but for Lisa; he wanted to say a few words to her alone, but for a long time he could not get a favourable opportunity, and had to content himself with following her in secret delight with his eyes; never had her face seemed sweeter and more noble to him. She gained much from being near Madame Byelenitsin. The latter was for ever fidgeting in her chair, shrugging her narrow shoulders, giving little girlish giggles, and screwing up her eyes and then opening them wide; Lisa sat quietly, looked directly at every one and did not laugh at all. Madame Kalitin sat down to a game of cards with Marfa Timofyevna, Madame Byelenitsin, and Gedeonovsky, who played very slowly, and constantly made mistakes, frowning and wiping his face with his handkerchief. Panshin assumed a melancholy air, and expressed himself in brief, pregnant, and gloomy phrases, played the part, in fact, of the unappreciated genius, but in spite of the entreaties of Madame Byelenitsin, who was very coquettish with him, he would not consent to sing his son; he felt Lavretsky's presence a constraint. Fedor Ivanitch also spoke little the peculiar expression of his face struck Lisa directly he came into the room; she felt at once that he had something to tell her, and though she could not herself have said why, she was afraid to question him. At last, as she was going into the next room to pour out tea, she involuntarily turned her head in his direction. He at once went after her.
"What is the matter?" she said, setting the teapot on the samovar.
"Why, have you noticed anything?" he asked.
"You are not the same to-day as I have always seen you before."
Lavretsky bent over the table.
"I wanted," he began, "to tell you a piece of news, but now it is impossible. However, you can read what is marked with pencil in that article," he added, handing her the paper he had brought with him. "Let me ask you to keep it a secret; I will come to-morrow morning."
Lisa was greatly bewildered. Panshin appeared in the doorway. She put the newspaper in her pocket.
"Have you read Obermann, Lisaveta Mihalovna?" Panshin asked her pensively.
Lisa made him a reply in passing, and went out of the room and up-stairs. Lavretsky went back to the drawing-room and drew near the card-table. Marfa Timofyevna, flinging back the ribbons of her cap and flushing with annoyance, began to complain of her partner, Gedeonovsky, who in her words, could not play a bit.
"Car-playing, you see," she said, "is not so easy as talking scandal."
The latter continued to blink and wipe his face. Lisa came into the drawing-room and sat down in a corner; Lavretsky looked at her, she looked at him, and both the felt the position insufferable. He read perplexity and a kind of secret reproachfulness in her face. He could not talk to her as he would have liked to do; to remain in the same room with her, a guest among other guests, was too painful; he decided to go away. As he took leave of her, he managed to repeat that he would come to-morrow, and added that he trusted in her friendship.
"Come," she answered with the same perplexity on her face.
Panshin brightened up at Lavretsky's departure: he began to give advice to Gedeonovsky, paid ironical attentions to Madame Byelenitsin, and at last sang his song. But with Lisa he still spoke and looked as before, impressively and rather mournfully.
Again Lavretsky did not sleep all night. He was not sad, he was not agitated, he was quite clam; but he could not sleep. He did not even remember the past; he simply looked at his life; his heart beat slowly and evenly; the hours glided by; he did not even think of sleep. Only at times the thought flashed through his brain: "But it is not true, it is all nonsense," and he stood still, bowed his head and again began to ponder on the life before him.