A House of Gentlefolk/Chapter XXXIX
|←Chapter XXXVIII||A House of Gentlefolk by , translated by Constance Garnett
Marya Dmitrievna was much agitated when she received the announcement of the arrival of Varvara Pavlovna Lavretsky, she did not even know whether to receive her; she was afraid of giving offence to Fedor Ivanitch. At last curiosity prevailed. "Why," she reflected, "she too is a relation," and, taking up her position in an arm-chair, she said to the footman, "Show her in." A few moments passed; the door opened, Varvara Pavlovna swiftly and with scarcely audible steps, approached Marya Dmitrievna, and not allowing her to rise from her chair, bent almost on her knees before her.
"I thank you, dear aunt," she began in a soft voice full of emotion, speaking Russian; "I thank you; I did not hope for such condescension on your part; you are an angel of goodness."
As she uttered these words Varvara Pavlovna quite unexpectedly took possession of one of Marya Dmitrievna's hands, and pressing it lightly in her pale lavender gloves, she raised it in a fawning way to her full rosy lips. Marya Dmitrievna quite lost her head, seeing such a handsome and charmingly dressed woman almost at her feet. She did not know where she was. And she tried to withdraw her hand, while, at the same time, she was inclined to make her sit down, and to say something affectionate to her. She ended by raising Varvara Pavlovna and kissing her on her smooth perfumed brow.
Varvara Pavlovna was completely overcome by this kiss.
"How do you do, bonjour," said Marya Dmitrievna. "Of course I did not expect . . . but, of course, I am glad to see you. You understand, my dear, it's not for me to judge between man and wife" . . .
"My husband is in the right in everything," Varvara Pavlovna interposed; "I alone am to blame."
"That is a very praiseworthy feeling" rejoined Marya Dmitrievna, "very. Have you been here long? Have you seen him? But sit down, please."
"I arrived yesterday," answered Varvara Pavlovna, sitting down meekly. "I have seen Fedor Ivanitch; I have talked with him."
"Ah! Well, and how was he?"
"I was afraid my sudden arrival would provoke his anger," continued Varvara Pavlovna, "but he did not refuse to see me."
"That is to say, he did not . . . Yes, yes, I understand," commented Marya Dmitrievna. "He is only a little rough on the surface, but his heart is soft."
Fedor Ivanitch has not forgiven me; he would not hear me. But he was so good as to assign me Lavriky as a place of residence."
"Ah! a splendid estate!"
"I am setting off there to-morrow in fulfilment of his wish; but I esteemed it a duty to visit you first."
"I am very, very much obliged to you, my dear. Relations ought never to forget one another. And do you know I am surprised how well you speak Russian. C'est etonnant."
Varvara Pavlovna sighed.
"I have been too long abroad, Marya Dmitrievna, I know that; but my heart has always been Russian, and I have not forgotten my country."
"Ah, ah; that is good. Fedor Ivanitch did not, however, expect you at all. Yes; you may trust my experience, la patri avant tout. Ah, show me, if you please-what a charming mantle you have."
"Do you like it?" Varvara Pavlovna slipped it quickly off her shoulders; "it is a very simple little thing from Madame Baudran."
"One can see it at once. From Madame Baudran? How sweet, and what taste! I am sure you have brought a number of fascinating things with you. If I could only see them."
"All my things are at your service, dearest auntie. If you permit, I can show some patterns to your maid. I have a woman with me from Paris--a wonderfully clever dressmaker."
"You are very good, my dear. But, really, I am ashamed" . . .
"Ashamed!" repeated Varvara Pavlovna reproachfully. "If you want to make me happy, dispose of me as if I were your property."
Marya Dmitrievna was completely melted.
"Vous etes charmante," she said. "But why don't you take off your hat and gloves?"
"What? you will allow me?" asked Varvara Pavlovna, and slightly, as though with emotion, clasped her hands.
"Of course, you will dine with us, I hope. I--I will introduce you to my daughter." Marya Dmitrievna was a little confused. "Well! we are in for it! here goes!" she thought. "She is not very well to-day."
"O ma tante, how good you are!" cried Varvara Pavlovna, and she raised her handkerchief to her eyes.
A page announced the arrival of Gedeonovsky. The old gossip came in bowing and smiling. Marya Dmitrievna presented him to her visitor. He was thrown into confusion for the first moment; but Varvara Pavlovna behaved with such coquettish respectfulness to him, that his ears began to tingle, and gossip, slander, and civility dropped like honey from his lips. Varvara Pavlovna listened to him with a restrained smile and began by degrees to talk herself. She spoke modestly of Paris, of her travels, of Baden; twice she made Marya Dmitrievna laugh, and each time she sighed a little afterwards, and seemed to be inwardly reproaching herself for misplaced levity. She obtained permission to bring Ada; taking off her gloves, with her smooth hands, redolent of soap a la guimauve, she showed how and where flounces were worn and ruches and lace and rosettes. She promised to bring a bottle of the new English scent, Victoria Essence; and was as happy as a child when Marya Dmitrievna consented to accept it as a gift. She was moved to tears over the recollection of the emotion she experienced, when, for the first time, she heard the Russian bells. "They went so deeply to my heart," she explained.
At that instant Lisa came in.
Ever since the morning, from the very instant when, chill with horror, she had read Lavretsky's note, Lisa had been preparing herself for the meeting with his wife. She had a presentiment that she would see her. She resolved not to avoid her, as a punishment of her, as she called them, sinful hopes. The sudden crisis in her destiny had shaken her to the foundations. In some two hours her face seemed to have grown thin. But she did not shed a single tear. "It's what I deserve!" she said to herself, repressing with difficulty and dismay some bitter impulses of hatred which frightened her in her soul. "Well, I must go down!" she thought directly she heard of Madame Lavretsky's arrival, and she went down . . . . She stood a long while at the drawing-room door before she could summon up courage to open it. With the thought, "I have done her wrong," she crossed the threshold and forced herself to look at her, forced herself to smile. Varvara Pavlovna went to meet her directly she caught sight of her, and bowed to her slightly, but still respectfully. "Allow me to introduce myself," she began in an insinuating voice, "your maman is so indulgent to me that I hope that you too will be . . . good to me." The expression of Varvara Pavlovna, when she uttered these last words, cold and at the same time soft, her hypocritical smile, the action of her hands, and her shoulders, her very dress, her whole being aroused such a feeling of repulsion in Lisa that she could make no reply to her, and only held out her hand with an effort. "This young lady disdains me," thought Varvara Pavlovna, warmly pressing Lisa's cold fingers, and turning to Marya Dmitrievna, she observed in an undertone, "mais elle est delicieuse!" Lisa faintly flushed; she heard ridicule, insult in this exclamation. But she resolved not to trust her impressions, and sat down by the window at her embroidery-frame. Even here Varvara Pavlovna did not leave her in peace. She began to admire her taste, her skill . . . . Lisa's heart beat violently and painfully. She could scarcely control herself, she could scarcely sit in her place. It seemed to her that Varvara Pavlovna knew all, and was mocking at her in secret triumph. To her relief, Gedeonovsky began to talk to Varvara Pavlovna, and drew off her attention. Lisa bent over her frame, and secretly watched her. "That woman," she thought, "was loved by him." But she at once drove away the very thought of Lavretsky; she was afraid of losing her control over herself, she felt that her head was going round. Marya Dmitrievna began to talk of music.
"I have heard, my dear," she began, "that you are a wonderful performer."
"It is long since I have played," replied Varvara Pavlovna, seating herself without delay at the piano, and running her fingers smartly over the keys. "Do you wish it?"
"If you will be so kind."
Varvara Pavlovna played a brilliant and difficult etude by Hertz very correctly. She had great power and execution.
"Sylphide!" cried Gedeonovsky.
"Marvellous!" Marya Dmitrievna chimed in. "Well, Varvara Pavlovna, I confess," she observed, for the first time calling her by her name, "you have astonished me; you might give concerts. We have a musician here, an old German, a queer fellow, but a very clever musician. he gives Lisa lessons. He will be simply crazy over you."
"Lisaveta Mihalovna is also musical?" asked Varvara Pavlovna, turning her head slightly towards her.
"Yes, she plays fairly, and is fond of music; but what is that beside you? But there is one young man here too--with whom we must make you acquainted. He is an artist in soul, and composes very charmingly. He alone will be able to appreciate you fully."
"A young man?" said Varvara Pavlovna: "Who is he? Some poor man?"
"Oh dear no, our chief beau, and not only among us--et a Petersbourg. A kammer-junker, and received in the best society. You must have heard of him: Panshin, Vladimir Nikolaitch. He is here on a government commission . . . future minister, I daresay!"
"And an artist?"
"An artist at heart, and so well-bred. You shall see him. He has been here very often of late: I invited him for this evening; I hope he will come," added Marya Dmitrievna with a gentle sigh, and an oblique smile of bitterness.
Lisa knew the meaning of this smile, but it was nothing to her now.
"And young?" repeated Varvara Pavlovna, lightly modulating from tone to tone.
"Twenty-eight, and of the most prepossessing appearance. Un jeune homme acompli, indeed."
"An exemplary young man, one may say," observed Gedeonovsky.
Varvara Pavlovna began suddenly playing a noisy waltz of Strauss, opening with such a loud and rapid trill that Gedeonovsky was quite startled. In the very middle of the waltz she suddenly passed into a pathetic motive, and finished up with an air from "Lucia" Fra poco . . . She reflected that lively music was not in keeping with her position. The air from "Lucia," with emphasis on the sentimental passages, moved Marya Dmitrievna greatly.
"What soul!" she observed in an undertone to Gedeonovsky.
"A sylphide!" repeated Gedeonovsky, raising his eyes towards heaven.
The dinner hour arrived. Marfa Timofyevna came down from up-stairs, when the soup was already on the table. She treated Varvara Pavlovna very drily, replied in half-sentences to her civilities, and did not look at her. Varvara Pavlovna soon realised that there was nothing to be got out of this old lady, and gave up trying to talk to her. To make up for this, Marya Dmitrievna became still more cordial to her guest; her aunt's discourtesy irritated her. Marfa Timofyevna, however, did not only avoid looking at Varvara Pavlovna; she did not look at Lisa either, though her eyes seemed literally blazing. She sat as though she were of stone, yellow and pale, her lips compressed, and ate nothing. Lisa seemed calm; and in reality, her heart was more at rest, a strange apathy, the apathy of the condemned had come upon her. At dinner Varvara Pavlovna spoke little; she seemed to have grown timid again, and her countenance was overspread with an expression of modest melancholy. Gedeonovsky alone enlivened the conversation with his tales, though he constantly looked timorously towards Marfa Timofyevna and coughed--he was always overtaken by a fit of coughing when he was going to tell a lie in her presence--but she did not hinder him by any interruption. After dinner it seemed that Varvara Pavlovna was quite devoted to preference; at this Marya Dmitrievna was so delighted that she felt quite overcome, and thought to herself, "Really, what a fool Fedor Ivanitch must be; not able to appreciate a woman like this!"
She sat down to play cards together with her and Gedeonovsky, and Marfa Timofyevna led Lisa away up-stairs with her, saying that she looked shocking, and that she must certainly have a headache.
"Yes, she has an awful headache," observed Marya Dmitrievna, turning to Varvara Pavlovna and rolling her eyes, "I myself have often just such sick headaches."
"Really!" rejoined Varvara Pavlovna.
Lisa went into her aunt's room, and sank powerless into a chair. Marfa Timofyevna gazed long at her in silence, slowly she knelt down before her--and began still in the same silence to kiss her hands alternately. Lisa bent forward, crimsoning--and began to weep, but she did not make Marfa Timofyevna get up, she did not take away her hands, she felt that she had not the right to take them away, that she had not the right to hinder the old lady from expressing her penitence, and her sympathy, from begging forgiveness for what had passed the day before. And Marfa Timofyevna could not kiss enough those poor, pale, powerless hands, and silent tears flowed from her eyes and from Lisa's; while the cat Matross purred in the wide arm-chair among the knitting wool, and the long flame of the little lamp faintly stirred and flickered before the holy picture. In the next room, behind the door, stood Nastasya Karpovna, and she too was furtively wiping her eyes with her check pocket-handkerchief rolled up in a ball.