A House of Gentlefolk/Epilogue
Eight years had passed by. Once more the spring had come . . . . But we will say a few words first of the fate of Mihalevitch, Panshin, and Madame Laverestky--and then take leave of them. Mihalevitch, after long wanderings, has at last fallen in with exactly the right work for him; he has received the position of senior superintendent of a government school. He is very well content with his lot; his pupils adore him, though they mimick him too. Panshin has gained great advancement in rank, and already has a directorship in view; he walks with a slight stoop, caused doubtless by the weight round his neck of the Vladimir cross which has been conferred on him. The official in him has finally gained the ascendency over the artist; his still youngish face has grown yellow, and his hair scanty; he now neither sings nor sketches, but applies himself in secret to literature; he has written a comedy, in the style of a "proverb," and as nowadays all writers have to draw a portrait of some one or something, he has drawn in it the portrait of a coquette, and he reads it privately to two or three ladies who look kindly upon him. He has, however, not entered upon matrimony, though many excellent opportunities of doing so have presented themselves. For this Varvara Pavlovna was responsible. As for her, she lives constantly at Paris, as in former days. Fedor Ivanitch has given her a promissory note for a large sum, and has so secured immunity from the possibility of her making a second sudden descent upon him. She has grown older and stouter, but is still charming and elegant. Every one has his ideal. Varvara Pavlovna found hers in the dramatic works of M. Dumas Fils. She diligently frequents the theatres, when consumptive and sentimental "dames aux camelias" are brought on the stage; to be Madame Doche seems to her the height of human bliss; she once declared that she did not desire a better fate for her own daughter. It is to be hoped that fate will spare Mademoiselle Ada from such happiness; from a rosy-cheeked, chubby child she has turned into a weak-chested, pale girl; her nerves are already deranged. The number of Varvara Pavlovna adorers has diminished, but she still has some; a few she will probably retain to the end of her days. The most ardent of them in these later days is a certain Zakurdalo-Skubrinikov, a retired guardsman, a full-bearded man of thirty-eight, of exceptionally vigorous physique. The French habitues of Madame Lavretsky's salon call him "le gros taureau de l'Ukraine;" Varvara Pavlovna never invites him to her fashionable evening reunions, but he is in the fullest enjoyment of her favours.
And so--eight years have passed by. Once more the breezes of spring breathed brightness and rejoicing from the heavens; once more spring was smiling upon the earth and upon men; once more under her caresses everything was turning to blossom, to love, to song. The town of O----- had undergone little change in the course of these eight years; but Marya Dmitrievna's house seemed to have grown younger; its freshly-painted walls gave a bright welcome, and the panes of its open windows were crimson, shining in the setting sun; from these windows the light merry sound of ringing young voices and continual laughter floated into the street; the whole house seemed astir with life and brimming over with gaiety. The lady of the house herself had long been in her tomb; Marya Dmitrievna had died two years after Lisa took the veil, and Mafa Timofyevna had not long survived her niece; they lay side by side in the cemetery of the town. Nastasya Karpovna too was no more; for several years! the faithful old woman had gone every week to say a prayer over her friend's ashes. . . . . Her time had come, and now her bones too lay in the damp earth. But Marya Dmitreivna's house had not passed into stranger's hands, it had not gone out of her family, the home had not been broken upon. Lenotchka, transformed into a slim, beautiful young girl, and her betrothed lover--a fair-haired officer of hussars; Marya Dmitrievna's son, who had just been married in Petersburg and had come with his young wife for the spring to O-----; his wife's sister, a school-girl of sixteen, with glowing cheeks and bright eyes; Shurotchka, grown up and also pretty, made up the youthful household, whose laughter and talk set the walls of the Kalitins' house resounding. Everything in the house was changed, everything was in keeping with its new inhabitants. Beardless servant lads, grinning and full of fun, had replaced the sober old servants of former days. Two setter dogs dashed wildly about and gambolled over the sofas, where the fat Roska had at one time waddled in solemn dignity. The stables were filled with slender racers, spirited carriage horses, fiery out-riders with plaited manes, and riding horses from the Don. The breakfast, dinner, and supper-hours were all in confusion and disorder; in the words of the neighbours, "unheard-of arrangements" were made.
On the evening of which we are speaking, the inhabitants of the Kalitins' house (the eldest of them, Lenotchka's betrothed, was only twenty-four) were engaged in a game, which, though not of a very complicated nature, was, to judge from their merry laughter, exceedingly entertaining to them; they were running about the rooms, chasing one another; the dogs, too, were running and barking, and the canaries, hanging in cages above the windows, were straining their throats in rivalry and adding to the general uproar by the shrill trilling of their piercing notes. At the very height of this deafening merry-making a mud-bespattered carriage stopped at the gate, and a man of five-and forty, in a travelling dress, stepped out of it and stood still in amazement. He stood a little time without stirring, watching the house with attentive eyes; then went through the little gate in the courtyard, and slowly mounted the steps. In the hall he met no one; but the door of a room was suddenly! flung open, and out of it rushed Shurotchka, flushed and hot, and instantly, with a ringing shout, all the young party in pursuit of her. They stopped short at once and were quiet at the sight of a stranger; but their clear eyes fixed on him wore the same friendly expression, and their fresh faces were still smiling as Marya Dmitreivna's son went up to the visitor and asked him cordially what he could do for him.
"I am Lavretsky," replied the visitor.
He was answered by a shout in chorus--and not because these young people were greatly delighted at the arrival of a distant, almost forgotten relation, but simply because they were ready to be delighted and make noise at every opportunity. They surrounded Lavretsky at once; Lenotchka, as an old acquaintance, was the first to mention her own name, and assured him that in a little while she would have certainly recognised him. She presented him to the rest of the party, calling each, even her betrothed, by their pet names. They all trooped through the dining-room into the drawing-room. The walls of both rooms had been repapered; but the furniture remained the same. Lavretsky recognised the piano; even the embroidery-frame in the window was just the same, and in the same position, and it seemed with the same unfinished embroidery on it, as eight years ago. They made him sit down in a comfortable arm-chair; all sat down politely in a circle round him. Questions, exclamations, and anecdotes followed.
"It's a long time since we have seen you, observed Lenotchka simply, "and Varvara Pavlovna we have seen nothing of either."
"Well, no wonder!" her brother hastened to interpose. "I carried you off to Petersburg, and Fedor Ivanitch has been living all the time in the country."
"Yes, and mamma died soon after then."
"And Marfa Timofyevna," observed Shurotchka.
"And Nastasya Karpovna," added Lenotchka, "and Monsier Lemm."
"What? is Lemm dead?" inquired Lavretsky.
"Yes," replied young Kalitin, "he left here for Odessa; they say some one enticed him there; and there he died."
"You don't happen to know, . . . did he leave any music?"
"I don't know; not very likely."
All were silent and looked about them. A slight cloud of melancholy flitted over all the young faces.
"But Matross is alive," said Lenotchka suddenly.
"And Gedeonovsky," added her brother.
At Gedeonovsky's name a merry laugh broke out at once.
"Yes, he is alive, and as great a liar as ever," Marya Dmitrievna's son continued; "and only fancy, yesterday this madcap"--pointing to the school-girl, his wife's sister--"put some pepper in his snuff-box."
"How he did sneeze!" cried Lenotchka, and again there was a burst of unrestrained laughter.
"We have had news of Lisa lately," observed young Kalitin, and again a hush fell upon all; "there was good news of her; she is recovering her health a little now."
"She is still in the same convent?" Lavretsky asked, not without some effort.
"Yes, still in the same."
"Does she write to you?"
"No, never; but we get news through other people."
A sudden and profound silence followed. "A good angel is passing over," all were thinking.
"Wouldn't you like to go into the garden?" said Kalitin, turning to Lavretsky; "it is very nice now, though we have let it run wild a little."
Lavretsky went out into the garden, and the first thing that met his eyes was the very garden seat on which he had once spent with Lisa those few blissful moments, never repeated; it had grown black and warped; but he recognised it, and his soul was filled with that emotion, unequalled for sweetness and for bitterness--the emotion of keen sorrow for vanished youth, for the happiness which has once been possessed.
He walked along the avenues with the young people; the lime-trees looked hardly older or taller in the eight years, but their shade was thicker; on the other hand, all the bushes had sprung up, the raspberry bushes had grown strong, the hazels were tangled thicket, and from all sides rose the fresh scent of the trees and grass and lilac.
"This would be a nice place for Puss-in-the-Corner," cried Lenotchka suddenly, as they came upon a small green lawn, surrounded by lime-trees, "and we are just five, too."
"Have you forgotten Fedor Ivanitch?" replied her brother, . . . "or didn't you count yourself?"
Lenotchka blushed slightly.
"But would Fedor Ivanitch, at his age-----" she began.
"Please, play your games," Lavretsky hastened to interpose; "don't pay attention to me. I shall be happier myself, when I am sure I am not in your way. And there's no need for you to entertain me; we old fellows have an occupation which you know nothing of yet, and which no amusement can replace--our memories."
The young people listened to Lavretsky with polite but rather ironical respect--as though a teacher were giving them a lesson--and suddenly they all dispersed, and ran to the lawn; four stood near trees, one in the middle, and the game began.
And Lavretsky went back into the house, went into the dining-room, drew near the piano and touched one of the keys; it gave out a faint but clear sound; on that note had begun the inspired melody with which long ago on that same happy night Lemm, the dead Lemm, had thrown him into such transports. Then Lavretsky went into the drawing-room, and for a long time he did not leave it; in that room where he had so often seen Lisa, her image rose most vividly before him; he seemed to feel the traces of her presence round him; but his grief for her was crushing, not easy to bear; it had none of the peace which comes with death. Lisa still lived somewhere, hidden and afar; he thought of her as of the living, but he did not recognize the girl he had once loved in that dim pale shadow, cloaked in a nun's dress and encircled in misty clouds of incense. Lavretsky would not have recognized himself, could he have looked at himself, as mentally he looked at Lisa. In the course of these eight years he had passed that turning-point in life, which many never pass, but without which no one can be a good man to the end; he had really ceased to think of his own happiness, of his personal aims. He had grown calm, and--why hide the truth?--he had grown old not only in face and in body, he had grown old in heart; to keep a young heart up to old age, as some say, is not only difficult, but almost ridiculous; he may well be content who has not lost his belief in goodness, his steadfast will, and his zeal for work. Lavretsky had good reason to be content; he had become actually an excellent farmer, he had really learnt to cultivate the land, and his labours were not only for himself; he had, to the best of his powers, secured on a firm basis the welfare of his peasants.
Lavretsky went out of the house into the garden, and sat down on the familiar garden seat. And on this loved spot, facing the house where for the last time he had vainly stretched out his hand for the enchanted cup which frothed and sparkled with the golden wine of delight, he, a solitary homeless wanderer, looked back upon his life, while the joyous shouts of the younger generation who were already filling his place floated across the garden to him. His heart was sad, but not weighed down, nor bitter; much there was to regret, nothing to be ashamed of.
"Play away, be gay, grow strong, vigorous youth!" he thought, and there was no bitterness in his meditations; "your life is before you, and for you life will be easier; you have not, as we had, to find out a path for yourselves, to struggle, to fall, and to rise again in the dark; we had enough to do to last out--and how many of us did not last out?--but you need only do your duty, work away, and the blessing of an old man be with you. For me, after to-day, after these emotions, there remains to take my leave at last,--and though sadly, without envy, without any dark feelings, to say, in sight of the end, in sight of God who awaits me: 'Welcome, lonely old age! burn out, useless life!'"
Lavretsky quietly rose and quietly went away; no one noticed him, no one detained him; the joyous cries sounded more loudly in the garden behind the thick green wall of high lime-trees. He took his seat in the carriage and bade the coachman drive home and not hurry the horses.
"And the end?" perhaps the dissatisfied reader will inquire. "What became of Lavretsky afterwards, and of Lisa?" But what is there to tell of people who, though still alive, have withdrawn from the battlefield of life? They say, Lavretsky visited that remote convent where Lisa had hidden herself--that he saw her. Crossing over from choir to choir, she walked close past him, moving with the even, hurried, but meek walk of a nun; and she did not glance at him; only the eyelashes on the side towards him quivered a little, only she bent her emaciated face lower, and the fingers of her clasped hands, entwined with her rosary, were pressed still closer to one another. What were they both thinking, what were they feeling? Who can know? who can say? There are such moments in life, there are such feelings . . . One can but point to them--and pass them by.