Fathers and Sons/Chapter 14

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TWO DAYS LATER THE GOVERNOR'S BALL TOOK PLACE. MATVEI Ilyich was the real hero of the occasion. The marshal of nobility announced to all and sundry that he had come only out of respect for him, while the governor, even at the ball, and even while he was standing still, continued to "make arrangements." The amiability of Matvei Ilyich's manner was equaled only by his dignity. He behaved graciously to everyone, to some with a shade of disgust, to others with a shade of respect, he was gallant, "en vrai chevalier français," to all the ladies, and was continually bursting into hearty resounding laughter, in which no one else joined, as befits a high official. He slapped Arkady on the back and called him "nephew" loudly, bestowed on Bazarov--who was dressed in a shabby frock coat--an absent-minded but indulgent sidelong glance, and an indistinct but affable grunt in which the words "I" and "very" were vaguely distinguishable; held out a finger to Sitnikov and smiled at him though his head had already turned round to greet someone else; even to Madame Kukshina, who appeared at the ball without a crinoline, wearing dirty gloves and a bird of paradise in her hair, he said "enchanté." There were crowds of people and plenty of men dancers; most of the civilians stood in rows along the walls, but the officers danced assiduously, especially one who had spent six weeks in Paris, where he had mastered several daring exclamations such as--zut, Ah fichtre, pst, pst, mon bibi, and so on. He pronounced them perfectly with real genuine Parisian chic, and at the same time he said "si j'aurais" instead of "si j'avais," and "absolument" in the sense of "absolutely," expressed himself in fact in that great Russo-French jargon which the French laugh at when they have no reason to assure us that we speak French like angels--"comme des anges."

Arkady danced badly, as we already know, and Bazarov did not dance at all. They both took up their position in a corner, where Sitnikov joined them. With an expression of contemptuous mockery on his face, he uttered one spiteful remark after another, looked insolently around him, and appeared to be thoroughly enjoying himself. Suddenly his face changed, and turning to Arkady he said in a rather embarrassed tone, "Odintsova has arrived."

Arkady looked round and saw a tall woman in a black dress standing near the door. He was struck by her dignified bearing. Her bare arms lay gracefully across her slim waist; light sprays of fuchsia hung from her shining hair over her sloping shoulders; her clear eyes looked out from under a prominent white forehead; their expression was calm and intelligent--calm but not pensive--and her lips showed a scarcely perceptible smile. A sort of affectionate and gentle strength emanated from her face.

"Do you know her?" Arkady asked Sitnikov.

"Very well. Would you like me to introduce you?"

"Please . . . after this quadrille."

Bazarov also noticed Madame Odintsov.

"What a striking figure," he said. "She's not like the other females."

When the quadrille was over, Sitnikov led Arkady over to Madame Odintsov. But he hardly seemed to know her at all, and stumbled over his words, while she looked at him in some surprise. But she looked pleased when she heard Arkady's family name, and she asked him whether he was not the son of Nikolai Petrovich.


"I have seen your father twice and heard a lot about him," she went on. "I am very glad to meet you."

At this moment some adjutant rushed up to her and asked her for a quadrille. She accepted.

"Do you dance then?" asked Arkady respectfully.

"Yes, and why should you suppose I don't dance? Do you think I'm too old?"

"Please, how could I possibly . . . but in that case may I ask you for a mazurka?"

Madame Odintsov smiled graciously. "Certainly," she said, and looked at Arkady, not exactly patronizingly but in the way married sisters look at very young brothers. She was in fact not much older than Arkady--she was twenty-nine--but in her presence he felt like a schoolboy, so that the difference in their ages seemed to matter much more. Matvei Ilyich came up to her in a majestic manner and started to pay her compliments. Arkady moved aside, but he still watched her; he could not take his eyes off her even during the quadrille. She talked to her partner as easily as she had to the grand official, slightly turning her head and eyes, and once or twice she laughed softly. Her nose--like most Russian noses--was rather thick, and her complexion was not translucently clear; nevertheless Arkady decided that he had never before met such a fascinating woman. The sound of her voice clung to his ears, the very folds of her dress seemed to fall differently--more gracefully and amply than on other women--and her movements were wonderfully flowing and at the same time natural.

Arkady was overcome by shyness when at the first sounds of the mazurka he took a seat beside his parther; he wanted to talk to her, but he only passed his hand through his hair and could not find a single word to say. But his shyness and agitation soon passed; Madame Odintsov's tranquillity communicated itself to him; within a quarter of an hour he was telling her freely about his father, his uncle, his life in Petersburg and in the country. Madame Odintsov listened to him with courteous sympathy, slowly opening and closing her fan. The conversation was broken off when her partners claimed her; Sitnikov, among others, asked her to dance twice. She came back, sat down again, took up her fan, and did not even breathe more rapidly, while Arkady started talking again, penetrated through and through by the happiness of being near her, talking to her, looking at her eyes, her lovely forehead and her whole charming, dignified and intelligent face. She said little, but her words showed an understanding of life; judging by some of her remarks Arkady came to the conclusion that this young woman had already experienced and thought a great deal . . .

"Who is that you were standing with," she asked him, "when Mr. Sitnikov brought you over to me?"

"So you noticed him?" asked Arkady in his turn. "He has a wonderful face, hasn't he? That's my friend Bazarov."

Arkady went on to discuss "his friend." He spoke of him in such detail and with so much enthusiasm that Madame Odintsov turned round and looked at him attentively. Meanwhile the mazurka was drawing to a close. Arkady was sorry to leave his partner, he had spent almost an hour with her so happily! Certainly he had felt the whole time as though she were showing indulgence to him, as though he ought to be grateful to her . . . but young hearts are not weighed down by that feeling.

The music stopped.

"Merci," murmured Madame Odintsov, rising.

"You promised to pay me a visit; bring your friend with you. I am very curious to meet a man who has the courage to believe in nothing."

The governor came up to Madame Odintsov, announced that supper was ready, and with a worried look offered her his arm. As she went out, she turned to smile once more at Arkady. He bowed low, followed her with his eyes (how graceful her figure seemed to him, how radiant in the sober luster of the black silk folds!) and he was conscious of some kind of refreshing humility of soul as he thought, "This very minute she has forgotten my existence."

"Well?" Bazarov asked Arkady as soon as he had returned to the corner. "Did you have a good time? A man has just told me that your lady is--oh never mind what--but the fellow is probably a fool. What do you think? Is she?"

"I don't understand what you mean," said Arkady.

"My goodness, what innocence!"

"In that case I don't understand the man you quote. Madame Odintsov is very charming, but she is so cold and reserved that . . ."

"Still waters run deep, you know," interposed Bazarov. "You say she is cold; that just adds to the flavor. You like ices, I expect."

"Perhaps," muttered Arkady. "I can't express any opinion about that. She wants to meet you and asked me to bring you over to visit her."

"I can imagine how you described me! Never mind, you did well. Take me along. Whoever she may be, whether she's just a provincial climber or an 'emancipated' woman like Kukshina--anyhow she's got a pair of shoulders the like of which I haven't seen for a long time."

Arkady was hurt by Bazarov's cynicism, but--as often happens--he did not blame his friend for those particular things which he disliked in him . . .

"Why do you disagree with free thought for women?" he asked in a low voice.

"Because, my lad, as far as I can see, free-thinking women are all monsters."

The conversation was cut short at this point. Both young men left immediately after supper. They were pursued by a nervously angry but fainthearted laugh from Madame Kukshina, whose vanity had been deeply wounded by the fact that neither of them had paid the slightest attention to her. She stayed later than anyone else at the ball, and at four o'clock in the morning she was dancing a polka-mazurka in Parisian style with Sitnikov. The governor's ball culminated in this edifying spectacle.