Fathers and Sons/Chapter 12

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

THE TOWN OF X. TO WHICH OUR FRIENDS SET OFF WAS UNDER THE jurisdiction of a governor, who was still a young man, and who was at once progressive and despotic, as so often happens with Russians. Before the end of the first year of his governorship, he had managed to quarrel not only with the marshal of nobility, a retired guards-officer, who kept open house and a stud of horses, but even with his own subordinates. The resulting feuds at length grew to such proportions that the ministry in Petersburg found it necessary to send a trusted official with a commission to investigate everything on the spot. The choice of the authorities fell on Matvei Ilyich Kolyazin, the son of that Kolyazin under whose protection the brothers Kirsanov had been when they were students in Petersburg. He was also a "young man," that is to say, he was only just over forty, but he was well on the way to becoming a statesman and already wore two stars on his breast--admittedly, one of them was a foreign star and not of the first magnitude. Like the governor, upon whom he had come to pass judgment, he was considered a "progressive," and though he was already a bigwig he was not altogether like the majority of bigwigs. Of himself he had the highest opinion, his vanity knew no bounds, but his manners were simple, he had a friendly face, he listened indulgently and laughed so good-naturedly that on first acquaintance he might even have been taken for "a jolly good fellow." On important occasions, however, he knew, so to speak, how to make his authority felt. "Energy is essential," he used to say then; "l'energie est la première qualité d'un homme d'état" yet in spite of all that, he was habitually cheated, and any thoroughly experienced official could twist him round his finger. Matvei Ilyich used to speak with great respect about Guizot, and tried to impress everyone with the idea that he did not belong to the class of routine officials and old-fashioned bureaucrats, that not a single phenomenon of social life escaped his attention . . . He was quite at home with phrases of the latter kind. He even followed (with a certain casual condescension, it is true) the development of contemporary literature--as a grown-up man who meets a crowd of street urchins will sometimes join them out of curiosity. In reality, Matvei Ilyich had not got much further than those politicians of the time of Alexander I, who used to prepare for an evening party at Madame Svyechin's by reading a page of Condillac; only his methods were different and more modern. He was a skillful courtier, and extremely cunning hypocrite, and little more; he had no aptitude for handling public affairs, and his intellect was scanty, but he knew how to manage his own affairs successfully; no one could get the better of him there, and of course, that is a most important thing.

Matvei Ilyich received Arkady with the amiability, or should we say playfulness, characteristic of the enlightened higher official. He was astonished, however, when he heard that both the cousins he had invited had stayed at home in the country. "Your father was always a queer fellow," he remarked, playing with the tassels of his magnificent velvet dressing gown, and turning suddenly to a young official in a faultlessly buttoned-up uniform, he shouted with an air of concern, "What?" The young man, whose lips were almost glued together from prolonged silence, came forward and looked in perplexity at his chief . . . But having embarrassed his subordinate, Matvei Ilyich paid him no further attention. Our higher officials are fond of upsetting their subordinates, and they resort to quite varied means of achieving that end. The following method, among others, is often used, "is quite a favorite," as the English say: a high official suddenly ceases to understand the simplest words and pretends to be deaf; he asks, for instance, what day of the week it is.

He is respectfully informed, "Today's Friday, your Excellency."

"Eh? What? What's that? What do you say?" the great man repeats with strained attention.

"Today's Friday, your Excellency."

"Eh? What? What's Friday? What Friday?"

"Friday, your Excellency, the day of the week."

"What, are you presuming to teach me something?"

Matvei Ilyich remained a higher official, though he considered himself a liberal.

"I advise you, my dear boy, to go and call on the governor," he said to Arkady. "You understand I don't advise you to do so on account of any old-fashioned ideas about the necessity of paying respect to the authorities, but simply because the governor is a decent fellow; besides, you probably want to get to know the society here . . . You're not a bear, I hope? And he's giving a large ball the day after tomorrow."

"Will you be at the ball?" inquired Arkady.

"He gives it in my honor," answered Matvei Ilyich, almost pityingly. "Do you dance?"

"Yes, I dance, but not well."

"That's a pity! There are pretty women here, and it's a shame for a young man not to dance. Of course I don't say that because of any old conventions; I would never suggest that a man's wit lies in his feet, but Byronism has become ridiculous-- il a fait son temps."

"But, uncle, it's not because of Byronism that I don't . . ."

"I'll introduce you to some of the local ladies and take you under my wing," interrupted Matvei Ilyich, and he laughed a self-satisfied laugh. "You'll find it warm, eh?"

A servant entered and announced the arrival of the superintendent of government institutions, an old man with tender eyes and deep lines round his mouth, who was extremely fond of nature, especially on summer days, when, to use his words, every little busy bee takes a little bribe from every little flower." Arkady withdrew.

He found Bazarov at the inn where they were staying, and took a long time to persuade him to accompany him to the governor's.

"Well, it can't be helped," said Bazarov at last. "It's no good doing things by halves. We came to look at the landowners, so let us look at them!"

The governor received the young men affably, but he did not ask them to sit down, nor did he sit down himself. He was perpetually fussing and hurrying; every morning he put on a tight uniform and an extremely stiff cravat; he never ate or drank enough; he could never stop making arrangements. He invited Kirsanov and Bazarov to his ball, and within a few minutes he invited them a second time, taking them for brothers and calling them Kisarov.

They were on their way back from the governor's, when suddenly a short man in Slav national dress jumped out of a passing carriage and crying "Evgeny Vassilich," rushed up to Bazarov.

"Ah, it's you, Herr Sitnikov," remarked Bazarov, still walking along the pavement. "What chance brought you here?"

"Just fancy, quite by accident," the man replied, and returning to the carriage, he waved his arms several times and shouted, "Follow, follow us! My father had business here," he went on, jumping across the gutter, "and so he asked me to come . . . I heard today you had arrived and have already been to visit you." (In fact on returning home the friends did find there a card with the corners turned down, bearing the name Sitnikov, in French on one side, and in Slavonic characters on the other.) "I hope you are not coming from the governor's."

"It's no use hoping. We've come straight from him."

"Ah, in that case I will call on him, too . . . Evgeny Vassilich, introduce me to your . . . to the. . . ."

"Sitnikov, Kirsanov," mumbled Bazarov, without stopping.

"I am much honored," began Sitnikov, stepping sideways, smirking and pulling off his overelegant gloves. "I have heard so much . . . I am an old acquaintance of Evgeny Vassilich and I may say--his disciple. I owe to him my regeneration..."

Arkady looked at Bazarov's disciple. There was an expression of excited stupidity in the small but agreeable features of his well-groomed face; his little eyes, which looked permanently surprised, had a staring uneasy look, his laugh, too, was uneasy--an abrupt wooden laugh.

"Would you believe it," he continued, "when Evgeny Vassilich for the first time said before me that we should acknowledge no authorities, I felt such enthusiasm . . . my eyes were opened! By the way, Evgeny Vassilich, you simply must get to know a lady here who is really capable of understanding you and for whom your visit would be a real treat; you may have heard of her?"

"Who is it?" grunted Bazarov unwillingly.

"Kukshina, Eudoxie, Evdoksya Kukshina. She's a remarkable nature, émancipeé in the true sense of the word, an advanced woman. Do you know what? Let us all go and visit her now. She lives only two steps from here . . . We will have lunch there. I suppose you have not lunched yet?"

"No, not yet."

"Well, that's splendid. She has separated, you understand, from her husband; she is not dependent on anyone."

"Is she pretty?" Bazarov broke in.

"N--no, one couldn't say that."

"Then what the devil are you asking us to see her for?"

"Ha! You must have your joke . . . she will give us a bottle of champagne."

"So that's it. The practical man shows himself at once. By the way, is your father still in the vodka business?"

"Yes," said Sitnikov hurriedly and burst into a shrill laugh. "Well, shall we go?"

"You wanted to meet people, go along," said Arkady in an undertone.

"And what do you say about it, Mr. Kirsanov?" interposed Sitnikov. "You must come too--we can't go without you."

"But how can we burst in upon her all at once?"

"Never mind about that. Kukshina is a good sort!"

"Will there be a bottle of champagne?" asked Bazarov.

"Three!" cried Sitnikov, "I'll answer for that."

"What with?"

"My own head."

"Better with your father's purse. However, we'll come along."