A House of Gentlefolk/Chapter XXXVII

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


For more than two hours Lavretsky wandered about the streets of town. The night he had spent in the outskirts of Paris returned to his mind. His heart was bursting and his head, dull and stunned, was filled again with the same dark senseless angry thoughts, constantly recurring. "She is alive, she is here," he muttered with ever fresh amazement. He felt that he had lost Lisa. His wrath choked him; this blow had fallen too suddenly upon him. How could he so readily have believed in the nonsensical gossip of a journal, a wretched scrap of paper? "Well, if I had not believed it," he thought, "what difference would it have made? I should not have known that Lisa loved me; she would not have known it herself." He could not rid himself of the image, the voice, the eyes of his wife . . . and he cursed himself, he cursed everything in the world.

Wearied out he went towards morning to Lemm's. For a long while he could make no one hear; at last at a window the old man's head appeared in a nightcap, sour, wrinkled, and utterly unlike the inspired austere visage which twenty-four hours ago had looked down imperiously upon Lavretsky in all the dignity of artistic grandeur.

"What do you want?" queried Lemm. "I can't play to you every night, I have taken a decoction for a cold." But Lavretsky's face, apparently, struck him as strange; the old man made a shade for his eyes with his hand, took a look at his elated visitor, and let him in.

Lavretsky went into the room and sank into a chair. The old man stood still before him, wrapping the skirts of his shabby striped dressing-gown around him, shrinking together and gnawing his lips.

"My wife is here," Lavretsky brought out. He raised his head and suddenly broke into involuntary laughter.

Lemm's face expressed bewilderment, but he did not even smile, only wrapped himself closer in his dressing-gown.

"Of course, you don't know," Lavretsky went on, "I had imagined . . . I read in a paper that she was dead."

"O--oh, did you read that lately?" asked Lemm.

"Yes, lately."

"O--oh," repeated the old man, raising his eyebrows. "And she is here?"

"Yes. She is at my house now; and I . . . I am an unlucky fellow."

And he laughed again.

"You are an unlucky fellow," Lemm repeated slowly.

"Christopher Fedoritch," began Lavretsky, "would you undertake to carry a note for me?"

"H'm. May I know to whom?"

"Lisavet--"

"Ah . . . yes, yes, I understand. Very good. And when must the letter be received?"

"To-morrow, as early as possible."

"H'm. I can send Katrine, my cook. No, I will go myself."

"And you will bring me an answer?"

"Yes, I will bring you an answer."

Lemm sighed.

"Yes, my poor young friend; you are certainly an unlucky young man."

Lavretsky wrote a few words to Lisa. He told her of his wife's arrival, begged her to appoint a meeting with him,--then he flung himself on the narrow sofa, with his face to the wall; and the old man lay down on the bed, and kept muttering a long while, coughing and drinking off his decoction by gulps.

The morning came; they both got up. With strange eyes they looked at one another. At that moment Lavretsky longed to kill himself. The cook, Katrine, brought them some villainous coffee. It struck eight. Lemm put on his hat, and saying that he was going to give a lesson at the Kalitins' at ten, but he could find a suitable pretext for going there now, he set off. Lavretsky flung himself again on the little sofa, and once more the same bitter laugh stirred in the depth of his soul. He thought of how his wife had driven him out of his house; he imagined Lisa's position, covered his eyes and clasped his hands behind his head. At last Lemm came back and brought him a scrap of paper, on which Lisa had scribbled in pencil the following words: "We cannot meet to-day; perhaps, to-morrow evening. Good-bye." Lavretsky thanked Lemm briefly and indifferently, and went home.

He found his wife at breakfast; Ada, in curl-papers, in a little white frock with blue ribbons, was eating her mutton cutlet. Varvara Pavlovna rose at once directly Lavretsky entered the room, and went to meet him with humility in her face. He asked her to follow him into the study, shut the door after them, and began to walk up and down; she sat down, modestly laying one hand over the other, and began to follow his movements with her eyes, which were still beautiful, though they were pencilled lightly under their lids.

For some time Lavretsky could not speak; he felt that he could not master himself, he saw clearly that Varvara Pavlovna was not in the least afraid of him, but was assuming an appearance of being ready to faint away in another instant.

"Listen, madam," he began at last, breathing with difficulty and at moments setting his teeth: "it is useless for us to make pretense with one another; I don't believe in your penitence; and even if it were sincere, to be with you again, to live with you, would be impossible for me."

Varvara Pavlovna bit her lips and half-closed her eyes. "It is aversion," she thought; "all is over; in his eyes I am not even a woman."

"Impossible," repeated Lavretsky, fastening the top buttons of his coat. "I don't know what induced you to come here; I suppose you have come to the end of your money."

"Ah! you hurt me!" whispered Varvara Pavlovna.

"However that may be--you are, any way, my wife, unhappily. I cannot drive you away . . . and this is the proposal I make you. You may to-day, if you like, set off to Lavriky, and live there; there is, as you know, a good house there; you will have everything you need in addition to your allowance . . . Do you agree?"--Varvara Pavlovna raised an embroidered handkerchief to her face.

"I have told you already," she said, her lips twitching nervously, "that I will consent to whatever you think fit to do with me; at present it only remains for me to beg of you--will you allow me at least to thank you for your magnanimity?"

"No thanks, I beg--it is better without that," Lavretsky said hurriedly. "So then," he pursued, approaching the door, "I may reckon on--"

"To-morrow I will be at Lavriky," Varvara Pavlovna declared, rising respectfully from her place. "But Fedor Ivanitch--" (She no longer called him "Theodore.")

"What do you want?"

"I know, I have not yet gained any right to forgiveness; may I hope at least that with time--"

"Ah, Varvara Pavlovna," Lavretsky broke in, "you are a clever woman, but I too am not a fool; I know that you don't want forgiveness in the least. And I have forgiven you long ago; but there was always a great gulf between us."

"I know how to submit," rejoined Varvara Pavlovna, bowing her head. "I have not forgotten my sin; I should not have been surprised if I had learnt that you even rejoiced at the news of my death," she added softly, slightly pointing with her hand to the copy of the journal which was lying forgotten by Lavretsky on the table.

Fedor Ivanitch started; the paper had been marked in pencil. Varvara Pavlovna gazed at him with still greater humility. She was superb at that moment. Her grey Parisian gown clung gracefully round her supple, almost girlish figure; her slender, soft neck, encircled by a white collar, her bosom gently stirred by her even breathing, her hands innocent of bracelets and rings--her whole figure, from her shining hair to the tip of her just visible little shoe, was so artistic . . .

Lavretsky took her in with a glance of hatred; scarcely could he refrain from crying: "Bravo!" scarcely could he refrain from felling her with a blow of his fist on her shapely head--and he turned on his heel. An hour later he had started for Vassilyevskoe, and two hours later Varvara Pavlovna had bespoken the best carriage in the town, had put on a simple straw hat with a black veil, and a modest mantle, given Ada into the charge of Justine, and set off to the Kalitins'. From the inquiries she had made among the servants, she had learnt that her husband went to see them every day.