Fathers and Sons/Chapter 13

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

THE SMALL DETACHED HOUSE IN MOSCOW STYLE INHABITED BY Avdotya Nikitishna--or Evdoksya Kukshina, stood in one of those streets of X. which had been lately burnt down (it is well known that our Russian provincial towns are burnt down once every five years). At the door, above a visiting card nailed on at a slant, hung a bell handle, and in the hall the visitors were met by someone in a cap, not quite a servant nor quite a companion--unmistakable signs of the progressive aspirations of the lady of the house. Sitnikov asked if Avdotya Nikitishna was at home.

"Is that you, Viktor?" sounded a shrill voice from the other room. "Come in!"

The woman in the cap disappeared at once.

"I'm not alone," said Sitnikov, casting a sharp look at Arkady and Bazarov as he briskly pulled off his cloak, beneath which appeared something like a leather jacket.

"No matter," answered the voice. "Entrez."

The young men went in. The room which they entered was more like a working study than a drawing room. Papers, letters, fat issues of Russian journals, for the most part uncut, lay thrown about on dusty tables; white cigarette ends were scattered all over the place. A lady, still young, was half lying on a leather-covered sofa; her blonde hair was disheveled and she was wearing a crumpled silk dress, with heavy bracelets on her short arms and a lace kerchief over her head. She rose from the sofa, and carelessly drawing over her shoulders a velvet cape trimmed with faded ermine, she murmured languidly, "Good morning, Viktor," and held out her hand to Sitnikov.

"Bazarov, Kirsanov," he announced abruptly, successfully imitating Bazarov's manner.

"So glad to meet you," answered Madame Kukshina, fixing on Bazarov her round eyes, between which appeared a forlorn little turned-up red nose, "I know you," she added, and pressed his hand.

Bazarov frowned. There was nothing definitely ugly in the small plain figure of the emancipated woman; but her facial expression produced an uncomfortable effect on the spectator. One felt impelled to ask her, "What's the matter, are you hungry? Or bored? Or shy? Why are you fidgeting?" Both she and Sitnikov had the same nervous manner. Her movements and speech were very unconstrained and at the same time awkward; she evidently regarded herself as a good-natured simple creature, yet all the time, whatever she did, it always struck one that it was not exactly what she wanted to do; everything with her seemed, as children say, done on purpose, that is, not spontaneously or simply.

"Yes, yes, I know you, Bazarov," she repeated. (She had the habit--peculiar to many provincial and Moscow ladies--of calling men by their bare surnames from the moment she first met them.) "Would you like a cigar?"

"A cigar is all very well," interjected Sitnikov, who was already lolling in an armchair with his legs in the air, "but give us some lunch. We're frightfully hungry; and tell them to bring us up a little bottle of champagne."

"You sybarite," cried Evdoksya with a laugh. (When she laughed the gums showed over her upper teeth.) "Isn't it true, Bazarov, he's a sybarite?"

"I like comfort in life," pronounced Sitnikov gravely. "But that doesn't prevent me from being a liberal."

"It does, though, it does!" exclaimed Evdoksya, and nevertheless gave instructions to her maid both about the lunch and about the champagne. "What do you think about that?" she added, turning to Bazarov. "I'm sure you share my opinion."

"Well, no," retorted Bazarov; "a piece of meat is better than a piece of bread even from the point of view of chemistry."

"You are studying chemistry? That's my passion. I've invented a new sort of paste."

"A paste? You?"

"Yes. And do you know what it's for? To make dolls' heads, so that they can't break. I'm practical also, you see. But it's not quite ready yet. I've still got to read Liebig. By the way, have you read Kislyakov's article on female labor in the Moscow News? Please read it. Of course you're interested in the woman's question--and in the schools, too? What does your friend do? What is his name?"

Madame Kukshina poured out her questions one after another, with affected negligence, without waiting for the answers; spoilt children talk like that to their nurses.

"My name is Arkady Nikolaich Kirsanov, and I do nothing." Evdoksya giggled. "Oh, how charming! What, don't you smoke? Viktor, you know I'm very angry with you."

"What for?"

"They tell me you've begun praising George Sand. A backward woman and nothing else! How can people compare her with Emerson? She hasn't a single idea about education or physiology or anything. I'm sure she's never even heard of embryology and in these days what can be done without that? (Evdoksya actually threw up her hands.) Oh, what a wonderful article Elisyevich has written about it! He's a gentleman of genius. (Evdoksya constantly used the word "gentleman" instead of the word "man.") Bazarov, sit by me on the sofa. You don't know, perhaps, but I'm awfully afraid of you."

"And why, may I ask?"

"You're a dangerous gentleman, you're such a critic. My God, how absurd! I'm talking like some provincial landowner--but I really am one. I manage my property myself, and just imagine, my bailiff Yerofay--he's a wonderful type, just like Fenimore Cooper's Pathfinder--there's something so spontaneous about him! I've come to settle down here; it's an intolerable town, isn't it? But what is one to do?"

"The town's like any other town," remarked Bazarov coolly.

"All its interests are so petty, that's what is so dreadful! I used to spend the winters in Moscow . . . but now my lawful husband Monsieur Kukshin lives there. And besides, Moscow nowadays--I don't know, it's not what it was. I'm thinking of going abroad--I almost went last year."

"To Paris, I suppose," said Bazarov.

"To Paris and to Heidelberg."

"Why to Heidelberg?"

"How can you ask! Bunsen lives there!"

Bazarov could find no reply to that one.

"Pierre Sapozhnikov . . . do you know him?"

"No, I don't."

"Not know Pierre Sapozhnikov . . . he's always at Lydia Khostatov's."

"I don't know her either."

"Well, he undertook to escort me. Thank God I'm independent--I've no children . . . what did I say? Thank God! Never mind though!"

Evdoksya rolled a cigarette between her fingers, brown with tobacco stains, put it across her tongue, licked it and started to smoke. The maid came in with a tray.

"Ah, here's lunch! Will you have an apéritif first? Viktor, open the bottle; that's in your line."

"Yes, it's in my line," mumbled Sitnikov, and again uttered a piercing convulsive laugh.

"Are there any pretty women here?" asked Bazarov, as he drank down a third glass.

"Yes, there are," answered Evdoksya, "but they're all so empty-headed. For instance, my friend Odintsova is nice looking. It's a pity she's got such a reputation . . . Of course that wouldn't matter, but she has no independent views, no breadth of outlook, nothing . . . of that kind. The whole system of education wants changing. I've thought a lot about it; our women are so badly educated."

"There's nothing to be done with them," interposed Sitnikov; "one ought to despise them and I do despise them utterly and completely." (The possibility of feeling and expressing contempt was the most agreeable sensation to Sitnikov; he attacked women in particular, never suspecting that it would be his fate a few months later to cringe to his wife merely because she had been born a princess Durdoleosov.) "Not one of them would be capable of understanding our conversation; not one of them deserves to be spoken about by serious men like us."

"But there's no need whatsoever for them to understand our conversation," remarked Bazarov.

"Whom do you mean?" sad Evdoksya.

"Pretty women."

"What? Do you then share the ideas of Proudhon?"

Bazarov drew himself up haughtily.

"I share no one's ideas; I have my own."

"Damn all authorities!" shouted Sitnikov, delighted to have an opportunity of expressing himself boldly in front of the man he slavishly admired.

"But even Macaulay . . . ," Madame Kukshina was trying to say.

"Damn Macaulay!" thundered Sitnikov. "Are you going to stand up for those silly females?"

"Not for silly females, no, but for the rights of women which I have sworn to defend to the last drop of my blood."

"Damn . . . ," but here Sitnikov stopped. "But I don't deny you that," he said.

"No, I see you're a Slavophil!"

"No, I'm not a Slavophil, though, of course . . . ."

"No, no, no! You are a Slavophil. You're a supporter of patriarchal despotism. You want to have the whip in your hand!"

"A whip is a good thing," said Bazarov, "but we've got to the last drop . . ."

"Of what?" interrupted Evdoksya.

"Of champagne, most honored Avdotya Nikitishna, of champagne--not of your blood."

"I can never listen calmly when women are attacked," went on Evdoksya. "It's awful, awful. Instead of attacking them you should read Michelet's book De l'Amour! That's something exquisite! Gentlemen, let us talk about love," added Evdoksya, letting her arm rest on the crumpled sofa cushion.

A sudden silence followed.

"No, why should we talk of love?" said Bazarov. "But you mentioned just now a Madame Odintsov . . . That was the name, I think--who is the lady?"

"She's charming, delightful," squeaked Sitnikov. "I'll introduce you. Clever, rich, a widow. It's a pity she's not yet advanced enough; she ought to see more of our Evdoksya. I drink to your health, Eudoxie, clink glasses! Et toc et toc et tin-tin-tin! Et toc, et toc, et tin-tin-tin!"

"Viktor, you're a rascal!"

The lunch was prolonged. The first bottle of champagne was followed by another, by a third, and even by a fourth . . . Evdoksya chattered away without drawing breath; Sitnikov seconded her. They talked a lot about whether marriage was a prejudice or a crime, whether men were born equal or not, and precisely what constitutes individuality. Finally things went so far that Evdoksya, flushed from the wine she had drunk, began tapping with her flat finger tips on a discordant piano, and singing in a husky voice, first gipsy songs, then Seymour Schiff's song Granada lies slumbering, while Sitnikov tied a scarf round his head and represented the dying lover at the words

"And thy lips to mine In burning kiss entwine. . ."

Arkady could stand no more. "Gentlemen, this is approaching bedlam," he remarked aloud.

Bazarov, who at rare intervals had thrown a sarcastic word or two into the conversation--he paid more attention to the champagne--yawned loudly, rose to his feet and without taking leave of their hostess, he walked off with Arkady. Sitnikov jumped up and followed them.

"Well, what do you think of her?" he asked, hopping obsequiously from one side to another. "As I told you, a remarkable personality! If only we had more women like that! She is, in her own way, a highly moral phenomenon."

"And is that establishment of your father's also a moral phenomenon?" muttered Bazarov, pointing to a vodka shop which they were passing at that moment.

Sitnikov again gave vent to his shrill laugh. He was much ashamed of his origin, and hardly knew whether to feel flattered or offended by Bazarov's unexpected familiarity.