|Translated by Constance Garnett, with an introduction by S. Stepniak. Published in London, 1895.|
About two years had passed. The first days of May had come. Alexandra Pavlovna, no longer Lipin but Lezhnyov, was sitting on the balcony of her house; she had been married to Mihailo Mihailitch for more than a year. She was as charming as ever, and had only grown a little stouter of late. In front of the balcony, from which there were steps leading into the garden, a nurse was walking about carrying a rosy-cheeked baby in her arms, in a white cloak, with a white cap on his head. Alexandra Pavlovna kept her eyes constantly on him. The baby did not cry, but sucked his thumb gravely and looked about him. He was already showing himself a worthy son of Mihailo Mihailitch.
On the balcony, near Alexandra Pavlovna, was sitting our old friend, Pigasov. He had grown noticeably greyer since we parted from him, and was bent and thin, and he lisped when he spoke; one of his front teeth had gone; and this lisp gave still greater asperity to his words. . . . His spitefulness had not decreased with years, but his sallies were less lively, and he more frequently repeated himself. Mihailo Mihailitch was not at home; they were expecting him in to tea. The sun had already set. Where it had gone down, a streak of pale gold and of lemon colour stretched across the distant horizon; on the opposite quarter of the sky was a stretch of dove-colour below and crimson lilac above. Light clouds seemed melting away overhead. There was every promise of prolonged fine weather.
Suddenly Pigasov burst out laughing.
‘What is it, African Semenitch?’ inquired Alexandra Pavlovna.
‘Oh, yesterday I heard a peasant say to his wife—she had been chattering away—“don’t squeak!” I liked that immensely. And after all, what can a woman talk about? I never, you know, speak of present company. Our ancestors were wiser than we. The beauty in their stories always sits at the window with a star on her brow and never utters a syllable. That’s how it ought to be. Think of it! the day before yesterday, our marshal’s wife—she might have sent a pistol-shot into my head!—says to me she doesn’t like my tendencies! Tendencies! Come, wouldn’t it be better for her and for every one if by some beneficent ordinance of nature she were suddenly deprived of the use of her tongue?’
‘Oh, you are always like that, African Semenitch; you are always attacking us poor . . . Do you know it’s a misfortune of a sort, really? I am sorry for you.’
‘A misfortune! Why do you say that? To begin with, in my opinion, there are only three misfortunes: to live in winter in cold lodgings, in summer to wear tight shoes, and to spend the night in a room where a baby cries whom you can’t get rid of with Persian powder; and secondly, I am now the most peaceable of men. Why, I’m a model! You know how properly I behave!’
‘Fine behaviour, indeed! Only yesterday Elena Antonovna complained to me of you,’
‘Well! And what did she tell you, if I may know?’
‘She told me that far one whole morning you would make no reply to all her questions but “what? what?” and always in the same squeaking voice.’
‘But that was a happy idea, you’ll allow, Alexandra Pavlovna, eh?’
‘Admirable, indeed! Can you really have behaved so rudely to a lady, African Semenitch?’
‘What! Do you regard Elena Antonovna as a lady?’
‘What do you regard her as?’
‘A drum, upon my word, an ordinary drum such as they beat with sticks.’
‘Oh,’ interrupted Alexandra Pavlovna, anxious to change the conversation, ‘they tell me one may congratulate you.’
‘The end of your lawsuit. The Glinovsky meadows are yours.’
‘Yes, they are mine,’ replied Pigasov gloomily.
‘You have been trying to gain this so many years, and now you seem discontented.’
‘I assure you, Alexandra Pavlovna,’ said Pigasov slowly, ‘nothing can be worse and more injurious than good-fortune that comes too late. It cannot give you pleasure in any way, and it deprives you of the right—the precious right—of complaining and cursing Providence. Yes, madam, it’s a cruel and insulting trick—belated fortune.’
Alexandra Pavlovna only shrugged her shoulders.
‘Nurse,’ she began, ‘I think it’s time to put Misha to bed. Give him to me.’
While Alexandra Pavlovna busied herself with her son, Pigasov walked off muttering to the other corner of the balcony.
Suddenly, not far off on the road that ran the length of the garden, Mihailo Mihailitch made his appearance driving his racing droshky. Two huge house-dogs ran before the horse, one yellow, the other grey, both only lately obtained. They incessantly quarrelled, and were inseparable companions. An old pug-dog came out of the gate to meet them. He opened his mouth as if he were going to bark, bat ended by yawning and turning back again with a friendly wag of the tail.
‘Look here, Sasha,’ cried Lezhnyov, from the distance, to his wife, ‘whom I am bringing you.’
Alexandra Pavlovna did not at once recognise the man who was sitting behind her husband’s back.
‘Ah! Mr. Bassistoff!’ she cried at last
‘It’s he,’ answered Lezhnyov; ‘and he has brought such glorious news. Wait a minute, you shall know directly.’
And he drove into the courtyard.
Some minutes later he came with Bassistoff into the balcony.
‘Hurrah!’ he cried, embracing his wife, ‘Serezha is going to be married.’
‘To whom?’ asked Alexandra Pavlovna, much agitated.
‘To Natalya, of course. Our friend has brought the news from Moscow, and there is a letter for you.’
‘Do you hear, Misha,’ he went on, snatching his son into his arms, ‘your uncle’s going to be married? What criminal indifference! he only blinks his eyes!’
‘He is sleepy,’ remarked the nurse.
‘Yes,’ said Bassistoff, going up to Alexandra Pavlovna, ‘I have come to-day from Moscow on business for Darya Mihailovna—to go over the accounts on the estate. And here is the letter.’
Alexandra Pavlovna opened her brother’s letter in haste. It consisted of a few lines only. In the first transport of joy he informed his sister that he had made Natalya an offer, and received her consent and Darya Mihailovna’s; and he promised to write more by the next post, and sent embraces and kisses to all. It was clear he was writing in a state of delirium.
Tea was served, Bassistoff sat down. Questions were showered upon him. Every one, even Pigasov, was delighted at the news he had brought.
‘Tell me, please,’ said Lezhnyov among the rest, ‘rumours reached us of a certain Mr. Kortchagin. That was all nonsense, I suppose?’
Kortchagin was a handsome young man, a society lion, excessively conceited and important; he behaved with extraordinary dignity, just as if he had not been a living man, but his own statue set up by public subscription.
‘Well, no, not altogether nonsense,’ replied Bassistoff with a smile; ‘Darya Mihailovna was very favourable to him; but Natalya Alexyevna would not even hear of him.’
‘I know him,’ put in Pigasov, ‘he’s a double dummy, a noisy dummy, if you like! If all people were like that, it would need a large sum of money to induce one to consent to live—upon my word!’
‘Very likely,’ answered Bassistoff; ‘but he plays a leading part in society.’
‘Well, never mind him!’ cried Alexandra Pavlovna. ‘Peace be with him! Ah! how glad I am for my brother I And Natalya, is she bright and happy?’
‘Yes. She is quiet, as she always is. You know her—but she seems contented.’
The evening was spent in friendly and lively talk. They sat down to supper.
‘Oh, by the way,’ inquired Lezhnyov of Bassistoff, as he poured him out some Lafitte, ‘do you know where Rudin is?’
‘I don’t know for certain now. He came last winter to Moscow for a short time, and then went with a family to Simbirsk. I corresponded with him for some time; in his last letter he informed me he was leaving Simbirsk—he did not say where he was going—and since then I have heard nothing of him.’
‘He is all right!’ put in Pigasov. ‘He is staying somewhere sermonising. That gentleman will always find two or three adherents everywhere, to listen to him open-mouthed and lend him money. You will see he will end by dying in some out-of-the-way corner in the arms of an old maid in a wig, who will believe he is the greatest genius in the world.’
‘You speak very harshly of him,’ remarked Bassistoff, in a displeased undertone.
‘Not a bit harshly,’ replied Pigasov; ‘but perfectly fairly. In my opinion, he is simply nothing else than a sponge. I forgot to tell you,’ he continued, turning to Lezhnyov, ‘that I have made the acquaintance of that Terlahov, with whom Rudin travelled abroad. Yes! Yes! What he told me of him, you cannot imagine—it’s simply screaming! It’s a remarkable fact that all Rudin’s friends and admirers become in time his enemies.’
‘I beg you to except me from the number of such friends!’ interposed Bassistoff warmly.
‘Oh, you—that’s a different thing! I was not speaking of you.’
‘But what did Terlahov tell you?’ asked Alexandra Pavlovna.
‘Oh, he told me a great deal; there’s no remembering it all. But the best of all was an anecdote of what happened to Rudin. As he was incessantly developing (these gentlemen always are developing; other people simply sleep and eat; but they manage their sleeping and eating in the intervals of development; isn’t that it, Mr. Bassistoff?’ Bassistoff made no reply.) ‘And so, as he was continually developing, Rudin arrived at the conclusion, by means of philosophy, that he ought to fall in love. He began to look about for a sweetheart worthy of such an astonishing conclusion. Fortune smiled upon him. He made the acquaintance of a very pretty French dressmaker. The whole incident occurred in a German town on the Rhine, observe. He began to go and see her, to take her various books, to talk to her of Nature and Hegel. Can you fancy the position of the dressmaker? She took him for an astronomer. However, you know he’s not a bad-looking fellow—and a foreigner, a Russian, of course—he took her fancy. Well, at last he invited her to a rendezvous, and a very poetical rendezvous, in a boat on the river. The Frenchwoman agreed; dressed herself in her best and went out with him in a boat. So they spent two hours. How do you think he was occupied all that time? He patted the Frenchwoman on the head, gazed thoughtfully at the sky, and frequently repeated that he felt for her the tenderness of a father. The Frenchwoman went back home in a fury, and she herself told the story to Terlahov afterwards! That’s the kind of fellow he is.’
And Pigasov broke into a loud laugh.
‘You old cynic!’ said Alexandra Pavlovna in a tone of annoyance, ‘but I am more and more convinced that even those who attack Rudin cannot find any harm to say of him.’
‘No harm? Upon my word! and his perpetual living at other people’s expense, his borrowing money. . . . Mihailo Mihailitch, he borrowed of you too, no doubt, didn’t he?’
‘Listen, African Semenitch!’ began Lezhnyov, and his face assumed a serious expression, ‘listen; you know, and my wife knows, that the last time I saw him I felt no special attachment for Rudin, and I even often blamed him. For all that (Lezhnyov filled up the glasses with champagne) this is what I suggest to you now; we have just drunk to the health of my dear brother and his future bride; I propose that you drink now to the health of Dmitri Rudin!’
Alexandra Pavlovna and Pigasov looked in astonishment at Lezhnyov, but Bassistoff sat wide-eyed, blushing and trembling all over with delight.
‘I know him well,’ continued Lezhnyov, ‘I am well aware of his faults. They are the more conspicuous because he himself is not on a small scale.’
‘Rudin has character, genius!’ cried Bassistoff.
‘Genius, very likely he has!’ replied Lezhnyov, ‘but as for character . . . That’s just his misfortune, that there’s no character in him. . . But that’s not the point. I want to speak of what is good, of what is rare in him. He has enthusiasm; and believe me, who am a phlegmatic person enough, that is the most precious quality in our times. We have all become insufferably reasonable, indifferent, and slothful; we are asleep and cold, and thanks to any one who will wake us up and warm us! It is high time! Do you remember, Sasha, once when I was talking to you about him, I blamed him for coldness? I was right, and wrong too, then. The coldness is in his blood—that is not his fault—and not in his head. He is not an actor, as I called him, nor a cheat, nor a scoundrel; he lives at other people’s expense, not like a swindler, but like a child. . . . Yes; no doubt he will die somewhere in poverty and want; but are we to throw stones at him for that? He never does anything himself precisely, he has no vital force, no blood; but who has the right to say that he has not been of use? that his words have not scattered good seeds in young hearts, to whom nature has not denied, as she has to him, powers for action, and the faculty of carrying out their own ideas? Indeed, I myself, to begin with, have gained all that from him. . . . Sasha knows what Rudin did for me in my youth. I also maintained, I recollect, that Rudin’s words could not produce an effect on men; but I was speaking then of men like myself, at my present age, of men who have already lived and been broken in by life. One false note in a man’s eloquence, and the whole harmony is spoiled for us; but a young man’s ear, happily, is not so over-fine, not so trained. If the substance of what he hears seems fine to him, what does he care about the intonation! The intonation he will supply for himself!’
‘Bravo, bravo!’ cried Bassistoff, ‘that is justly spoken! And as regards Rudin’s influence, I swear to you, that man not only knows how to move you, he lifts you up, he does not let you stand still, he stirs you to the depths and sets you on fire!’
‘You hear?’ continued Lezhnyov, turning to Pigasov; ‘what further proof do you want? You attack philosophy; speaking of it, you cannot find words contemptuous enough. I myself am not excessively devoted to it, and I know little enough about it; but our principal misfortunes do not come from philosophy! The Russian will never be infected with philosophical hair-splittings and nonsense; he has too much common-sense for that; but we must not let every sincere effort after truth and knowledge be attacked under the name of philosophy. Rudin’s misfortune is that he does not understand Russia, and that, certainly, is a great misfortune. Russia can do without every one of us, but not one of us can do without her. Woe to him who thinks he can, and woe twofold to him who actually does do without her! Cosmopolitanism is all twaddle, the cosmopolitan is a nonentity—worse than a nonentity; without nationality is no art, nor truth, nor life, nor anything. You cannot even have an ideal face without individual expression; only a vulgar face can be devoid of it. But I say again, that is not Rudin’s fault; it is his fate—a cruel and unhappy fate—for which we cannot blame him. It would take us too far if we tried to trace why Rudins spring up among us. But for what is fine in him, let us be grateful to him. That is pleasanter than being unfair to him, and we have been unfair to him. It’s not our business to punish him, and it’s not needed; he has punished himself far more cruelly than he deserved. And God grant that unhappiness may have blotted out all the harm there was in him, and left only what was fine! I drink to the health of Rudin! I drink to the comrade of my best years, I drink to youth, to its hopes, its endeavours, its faith, and its honesty, to all that our hearts beat for at twenty; we have known, and shall know, nothing better than that in life. . . . I drink to that golden time—to the health of Rudin!’
All clinked glasses with Lezhnyov. Bassistoff, in his enthusiasm, almost cracked his glass and drained it off at a draught. Alexandra Pavlovna pressed Lezhnyov’s hand.
‘Why, Mihailo Mihailitch, I did not suspect you were an orator,’ remarked Pigasov; ‘it was equal to Mr. Rudin himself; even I was moved by it.’
‘I am not at all an orator,’ replied Lezhnyov, not without annoyance, ‘but to move you, I fancy, would be difficult. But enough of Rudin; let us talk of something else. What of—what’s his name—Pandalevsky? is he still living at Darya Mihailovna’s?’ he concluded, turning to Bassistoff.
‘Oh yes, he is still there. She has managed to get him a very profitable place.’
‘That’s a man who won’t die in want, one can count upon that.’
Supper was over. The guests dispersed. When she was left alone with her husband, Alexandra Pavlovna looked smiling into his face.
‘How splendid you were this evening, Misha,’ she said, stroking his forehead, ‘how cleverly and nobly you spoke! But confess, you exaggerated a little in Rudin’s praise, as in old days you did in attacking him.’
‘I can’t let them hit a man when he’s down. And in those days I was afraid he was turning your head.’
‘No,’ replied Alexandra Pavlovna naively, ‘he always seemed too learned for me. I was afraid of him, and never knew what to say in his presence. But wasn’t Pigasov nasty in his ridicule of him to-day?’
‘Pigasov?’ responded Lezhnyov. ‘That was just why I stood up for Rudin so warmly, because Pigasov was here. He dare to call Rudin a sponge indeed! Why, I consider the part he plays—Pigasov I mean—is a hundred times worse! He has an independent property, and he sneers at every one, and yet see how he fawns upon wealthy or distinguished people! Do you know that that fellow, who abuses everything and every one with such scorn, and attacks philosophy and women, do you know that when he was in the service, he took bribes and that sort of thing! Ugh! That’s what he is!’
‘Is it possible?’ cried Alexandra Pavlovna, ‘I should never have expected that! Misha,’ she added, after a short pause, ‘I want to ask you——’
‘What do you think, will my brother be happy with Natalya?’
‘How can I tell you? . . . there’s every likelihood of it. She will take the lead . . . there’s no reason to hide the fact between us . . . she is cleverer than he is; but he’s a capital fellow, and loves her with all his soul. What more would you have? You see we love one another and are happy, aren’t we?’
Alexandra Pavlovna smiled and pressed his hand.
On the same day on which all that has been described took place in Alexandra Pavlovna’s house, in one of the remote districts of Russia, a wretched little covered cart, drawn by three village horses was crawling along the high road in the sultry heat. On the front seat was perched a grizzled peasant in a ragged cloak, with his legs hanging slanting on the shaft; he kept flicking with the reins, which were of cord, and shaking the whip. Inside the cart there was sitting on a shaky portmanteau a tall man in a cap and old dusty cloak. It was Rudin. He sat with bent head, the peak of his cap pulled over his eyes. The jolting of the cart threw him from side to side; but he seemed utterly unconscious, as though he were asleep. At last he drew himself up.
‘When are we coming to a station?’ he inquired of the peasant sitting in front.
‘Just over the hill, little father,’ said the peasant, with a still more violent shaking of the reins. ‘There’s a mile and a half farther to go, not more. . . . Come! there! look about you. . . . I’ll teach you,’ he added in a shrill voice, setting to work to whip the right-hand horse.
‘You seem to drive very badly,’ observed Rudin; ‘we have been crawling along since early morning, and we have not succeeded in getting there yet. You should have sung something.’
‘Well, what would you have, little father? The horses, you see yourself, are overdone . . . and then the heat; and I can’t sing. I’m not a coachman. . . . Hullo, you little sheep!’ cried the peasant, suddenly turning to a man coming along in a brown smock and bark shoes downtrodden at heel. ‘Get out of the way!’
‘You’re a nice driver!’ muttered the man after him, and stood still. ‘You wretched Muscovite,’ he added in a voice full of contempt, shook his head and limped away.
‘What are you up to?’ sang out the peasant at intervals, pulling at the shaft-horse. ‘Ah, you devil! Get on!’
The jaded horses dragged themselves at last up to the posting-station. Rudin crept out of the cart, paid the peasant (who did not bow to him, and kept shaking the coins in the palm of his hand a long while—evidently there was too little drink-money) and himself carried the portmanteau into the posting-station.
A friend of mine who has wandered a great deal about Russia in his time made the observation that if the pictures hanging on the walls of a posting-station represent scenes from ‘the Prisoner of the Caucasus,’ or Russian generals, you may get horses soon; but if the pictures depict the life of the well-known gambler George de Germany, the traveller need not hope to get off quickly; he will have time to admire to the full the hair a la cockatoo, the white open waistcoat, and the exceedingly short and narrow trousers of the gambler in his youth, and his exasperated physiognomy, when in his old age he kills his son, waving a chair above him, in a cottage with a narrow staircase. In the room into which Rudin walked precisely these pictures were hanging out of ‘Thirty Years, or the Life of a Gambler.’ In response to his call the superintendent appeared, who had just waked up (by the way, did any one ever see a superintendent who had not just been asleep?), and without even waiting for Rudin’s question, informed him in a sleepy voice that there were no horses.
‘How can you say there are no horses,’ said Rudin, ‘when you don’t even know where I am going? I came here with village horses.’
‘We have no horses for anywhere,’ answered the superintendent. ‘But where are you going?’
‘We have no horses,’ repeated the superintendent, and he went away.
Rudin, vexed, went up to the window and threw his cap on the table. He was not much changed, but had grown rather yellow in the last two years; silver threads shone here and there in his curls, and his eyes, still magnificent, seemed somehow dimmed, fine lines, the traces of bitter and disquieting emotions, lay about his lips and on his temples. His clothes were shabby and old, and he had no linen visible anywhere. His best days were clearly over: as the gardeners say, he had gone to seed.
He began reading the inscriptions on the walls—the ordinary distraction of weary travellers; suddenly the door creaked and the superintendent came in.
‘There are no horses for Sk——, and there won’t be any for a long time,’ he said, ‘but here are some ready to go to V——.’
‘To V——?’ said Rudin. ‘Why, that’s not on my road at all. I am going to Penza, and V—— lies, I think, in the direction of Tamboff.’
‘What of that? you can get there from Tamboff, and from V—— you won’t be at all out of your road.’
Rudin thought a moment.
‘Well, all right,’ he said at last, ‘tell them to put the horses to. It is the same to me; I will go to Tamboff.’
The horses were soon ready. Rudin carried his own portmanteau, climbed into the cart, and took his seat, his head hanging as before. There was something helpless and pathetically submissive in his bent figure . . . . And the three horses went off at a slow trot.