A House of Gentlefolk/Chapter XLI

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Lavretsky spent a day and a half at Vassilyevskoe, and employed almost all the time in wandering about the neighbourhood. He could not stop long in one place: he was devoured by anguish; he was torn unceasingly by impotent violent impulses. He remembered the feeling which had taken possession of him the day after his arrival in the country; he remembered his plans then and was intensely exasperated with himself. What had been able to tear him away from what he recognised as his duty--as the one task set before him in the future? The thirst for happiness--again the same thirst for happiness.

"It seems Mihalevitch was right," he thought; "you wanted a second time to taste happiness in life," he said to himself, "you forgot that it is a luxury, an undeserved bliss, if it even comes once to a man. It was not complete, it was not genuine, you say; but prove your right to full, genuine happiness Look round and see who is happy, who enjoys life about you? Look at that peasant going to the mowing; is he contented with his fate? . . . What! would you care to change places with him? Remember your mother; how infinitely little she asked of life, and what a life fell to her lot. You were only bragging it seems when you said to Panshin that you had come back to Russia to cultivate the soil; you have come back to dangle after young girls in your old age. Directly the news of your freedom came, you threw up everything, forgot everything; you ran like a boy after a butterfly." . . . .

The image of Lisa continually presented itself in the midst of his broodings. He drove it away with an effort together with another importunate figure, other serenely wily, beautiful, hated features. Old Anton noticed that the master was not himself: after sighing several times outside the door and several times in the doorway, he made up his mind to go up to him, and advised him to take a hot drink of something. Lavretsky swore at him; ordered him out; afterwards he begged his pardon, but that only made Anton still more sorrowful. Lavretsky could not stay in the drawing-room; it seemed to him that his great-grandfather Andrey, was looking contemptuously from the canvas at his feeble descendant. "Bah: you swim in shallow water," the distorted lips seemed to be saying. "Is it possible," he thought, "that I cannot master myself, that I am going to give in to this . . . nonsense?" (Those who are badly wounded in war always call their wounds "nonsense." If man did not deceive himself, he could not live on earth.) "Am I really a boy? Ah, well; I saw quite close, I almost held in my hands the possibility of happiness for my whole life; yes, in the lottery too--turn the wheel a little and the beggar perhaps would be a rich man. If it does not happen, then it does not--and it's all over. I will set to work, with my teeth clenched, and make myself be quiet; it's as well, it's not the first time I have had to hold myself in. And why have I run away, why am I stopping here sticking my head in a bush, like an ostrich? A fearful thing to face trouble . . . nonsense! Anton," he called aloud, "order the coach to be brought round at once. Yes," he thought again, "I must grin and bear it, I must keep myself well in hand."

With such reasonings Lavretsky tried to ease his pain; but it was deep and intense; and even Apraxya who had outlived all emotion as well as intelligence shook her head and followed him mournfully with her eyes, as he took his seat in the coach to drive to the town. The horses galloped away; he sat upright and motionless, and looked fixedly at the road before him.