A House of Gentlefolk/Chapter XXXVI

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


On the following day at twelve o'clock, Lavretsky set off to the Kalitins. On the way he met Panshin, who galloped past him on horseback, his hat pulled down to his very eyebrows. At the Kalitins', Lavretsky was not admitted for the first time since he had been acquainted with them. Marya Dmitrievna was "resting," so the footman informed him; her excellency had a headache. Marfa Timofyevna and Lisaveta Mihalovna were not at home. Lavretsky walked round the garden in the faint hope of meeting Lisa, but he saw no one. He came back two hours later and received the same answer, accompanied by a rather dubious look from the footman. Lavretsky thought it would be unseemly to call for a third time the same day, and he decided to drive over to Vassilyevskoe, where he had business moreover. On the road he made various plans for the future, each better than the last; but he was overtaken by a melancholy mood when he reached his aunt's little village. He fell into conversation! with Anton; the old man, as if purposely, seemed full of cheerless fancies. He told Lavretsky how, at her death, Glafira Petrovna had bitten her own arm, and after a brief pause, added with a sigh: "Every man, dear master, is destined to devour himself." It was late when Lavretsky set off on the way back. He was haunted by the music of the day before, and Lisa's image returned to him in all its sweet distinctness; he mused with melting tenderness over the thought that she loved him, and reached his little house in the town, soothed and happy.

The first thing that struck him as he went into the entrance hall was a scent of patchouli, always distasteful to him; there were some high travelling-trunks standing there. The face of his groom, who ran out to meet him, seemed strange to him. Not stopping to analyse his impressions, he crossed the threshold of the drawing room.... On his entrance there rose from the sofa a lady in a black silk dress with flounces, who, raising a cambric handkerchief to her pale face, made a few paces forward, bent her carefully dressed, perfumed head, and fell at his feet.... Then, only, he recognised her: this lady was his wife!

He caught his breath.... He leaned against the wall.

"Theodore, do not repulse me!" she said in French, and her voice cut to his heart like a knife.

He looked at her senselessly, and yet he noticed involuntarily at once that she had grown both whiter and fatter.

"Theodore!" she went on, from time to time lifting her eyes and discreetly wringing her marvellously-beautiful fingers with their rosy, polished nails. "Theodore, I have wronged you, deeply wronged you; I will say more, I have sinned: but hear me; I am tortured by remorse, I have grown hateful to myself, I could endure my position no longer; how many times have I thought of turning to you, but I feared your anger; I resolved to break every tie with the past . . . . Puis j'ai ete si malade . . . . I have been so ill," she added, and passed her hand over her brow and cheek. I took advantage of the widely-spread rumour of my death, I gave up everything; without resting day or night I hastened hither; I hesitated long to appear before you, my judge . . . paraitre devant vous, mon juge; but I resolved at last, remembering your constant goodness, to come to you; I found your address at Moscow. Believe me," she went on, slowly getting up from the floor and sitting on the very! edge of an arm-chair, "I have often thought of death, and I should have found courage enough to take my life . . . ah! life is a burden unbearable for me now! . . . but the thought of my daughter, my little Ada, stopped me. She is here, she is asleep in the next room, the poor child! She is tired--you shall see her; she at least has done you no wrong, and I am so unhappy, so unhappy!" cried Madame Lavretsky, and she melted into tears.

Lavretsky came to himself at last; he moved away from the wall and turned towards the door.

"You are going?" cried his wife in a voice of despair. "Oh, this is cruel! Without uttering one word to me, not even a reproach. This contempt will kill me, it is terrible!"

Lavretsky stood still.

"What do you want to hear from me?" he articulated in an expressionless voice.

"Nothing, nothing," she rejoined quickly, "I know I have no right to expect anything; I am not mad, believe me; I do not hope, I do not dare to hope for your forgiveness; I only venture to entreat you to command me what I am to do, where I am to live. Like a slave I will fulfil your commands whatever they may be."

"I have no commands to give you," replied Lavretsky in the same colourless voice; "you know, all is over between us . . . and now more than ever; you can live where you like; and if your allowance is too little--"

"Ah, don't say such dreadful things," Varvara Pavlovna interrupted him, "spare me, if only . . . if only for the sake of this angel." And as she uttered these words, Varvara Pavlovna ran impulsively into the next room, and returned at once with a small and very elegantly dressed little girl in her arms.

Thick flaxen curls fell over her pretty rosy little face, and on to her large sleepy black eyes; she smiled and blinked her eyes at the light and laid a chubby little hand on her mother's neck.

"Ada, vois, c'est ton pere," said Varvara Pavlovna, pushing the curls back from her eyes and kissing her vigorously, "pre le avec moi."

"C'est ca, papa?" stammered the little girl lisping.

"Oui, mon enfant, n'est-ce pas que tu l'aimes?"

But this was more than Lavretsky could stand.

"In such a melodrama must there really be a scene like this?" he muttered, and went out of the room.

Varvara Pavlovna stood still for some time in the same place, slightly shrugged her shoulders, carried the little girl off into the next room, undressed her and put her to bed. Then she took up a book and sat down near the lamp, and after staying up for an hour she went to bed herself.

"Eh bien, madame?" queried her maid, a Frenchwoman whom she had brought from Paris, as she unlaced her corset.

"Eh bien, Justine," se replied, "he is a good deal older, but I fancy he is just the same good-natured fellow. Give me my gloves for the night, and get out my grey high-necked dress for to-morrow, and don't forget the mutton cutlets for Ada . . . . I daresay it will be difficult to get them here; but we must try."

"A la guerre comme a la guerre," replied Justine as she put out the candle.