Fathers and Sons/Chapter 15
"WE'LL SOON SEE TO WHAT SPECIES OF MAMMAL THIS SPECIMEN belongs," Bazarov said to Arkady the following day as they mounted the staircase of the hotel where Madame Odintsov was staying. "I can smell something wrong here."
"I'm surprised at you," cried Arkady. "What? You, of all people, Bazarov, clinging to that narrow morality which . . ."
"What a funny fellow you are!" said Bazarov carelessly, cutting him short. "Don't you know that in my dialect and for my purpose 'something wrong' means 'something right'? That's just my advantage. Didn't you tell me yourself this morning that she made a strange marriage, though, to my mind to marry a rich old man is far from a strange thing to do--but on the contrary, sensible enough. I don't believe the gossip of the town, but I should like to think, as our enlightened governor says, that it's just."
Arkady made no answer, and knocked at the door of the apartment. A young servant in livery ushered the two friends into a large room, furnished in bad taste like all Russian hotel rooms, but filled with flowers. Madame Odintsov soon appeared in a simple morning dress. In the light of the spring sunshine she looked even younger than before. Arkady introduced Bazarov, and noticed with concealed astonishment that he seemed embarrassed, while Madame Odintsov remained perfectly calm, as she had been on the previous day. Bazarov was himself conscious of feeling embarrassed and was annoyed about it. "What an idea! Frightened of a female," he thought, and lolling in an armchair, quite like Sitnikov, he began to talk in an exaggeratedly casual manner, while Madame Odintsov kept her clear eyes fixed on him.
Anna Sergeyevna Odintsova was the daughter of Sergei Nikolayevich Loktev, notorious for his personal beauty, speculations and gambling, who after fifteen years of a stormy and sensational life in Petersburg and Moscow, ended by ruining himself completely at cards and was obliged to retire to the country, where soon afterwards he died, leaving a very small property to his two daughters--Anna, a girl of twenty at that time, and Katya, a child of twelve. Their mother, who belonged to an impoverished princely family, had died in Petersburg while her husband was still in his heyday. Anna's position after her father's death was a very difficult one. The brilliant education which she had received in Petersburg had not fitted her for the cares of domestic and household economy--nor for an obscure life buried in the country. She knew no one in the whole neighborhood, and there was no one she could consult. Her father had tried to avoid all contact with his neighbors; he despised them in his way and they despised him in theirs. However, she did not lose her head, and promptly sent for a sister of her mother's, Princess Avdotya Stepanovna X.--a spiteful, arrogant old lady who, on installing herself in her niece's house, appropriated the best rooms for herself, grumbled and scolded from morning till night and refused to walk a step, even in the garden, without being attended by her one and only serf, a surly footman in a threadbare pea-green livery with light-blue trimming and a three-cornered hat. Anna patiently put up with all her aunt's caprices, gradually set to work on her sister's education and, it seemed, was already reconciled to the idea of fading away in the wilderness . . . But fate had decreed otherwise. She happened to be seen by a certain Odintsov, a wealthy man of forty-six, an eccentric hypochondriac, swollen, heavy and sour, but not stupid and quite good-natured; he fell in love with her and proposed marriage. She agreed to become his wife, and they lived together for six years; then he died, leaving her all his property. For nearly a year after his death Anna Sergeyevna remained in the country; then she went abroad with her sister, but stayed only in Germany; she soon grew tired of it and came back to live at her beloved Nikolskoe, nearly thirty miles from the town of X. Her house was magnificent, luxuriously furnished and had a beautiful garden with conservatories; her late husband had spared no expense to gratify his wishes. Anna Sergeyevna rarely visited the town, and as a rule only on business; even then she did not stay long. She was not popular in the province; there had been a fearful outcry when she married Odintsov; all sorts of slanderous stories were invented about her; it was asserted that she had helped her father in his gambling escapades and even that she had gone abroad for a special reason to conceal some unfortunate consequences . . . "You understand?" the indignant gossips would conclude. "She has been through fire and water," they said of her, to which a noted provincial wit added "And through the brass instruments." All this talk reached her, but she turned a deaf ear to it; she had an independent and sufficiently determined character.
Madame Odintsov sat leaning back in her armchair, her hands folded, and listened to Bazarov. Contrary to his habit, he was talking a lot and was obviously trying to interest her--which also surprised Arkady. He could not be sure whether Bazarov had achieved his object, for it was difficult to learn from Anna Sergeyevna's face what impression was being made on her; it retained the same gracious refined look; her bright eyes shone with attention, but it was an unruffled attention. During the first minutes of the visit, Bazarov's awkward manners had impressed her disagreeably, like a bad smell, or a discordant sound; but she saw at once that he was nervous and that flattered her. Only the commonplace was repulsive to her, and no one would have accused Bazarov of being commonplace. Arkady had several surprises in store for him that day. He had expected that Bazarov would talk to an intelligent woman like Madame Odintsov about his convictions and views; she herself had expressed a desire to hear the man "who dares to believe in nothing," but instead of that Bazarov talked about medicine, about homeopathy and about botany. It turned out that Madame Odintsov had not wasted her time in solitude; she had read a number of good books and herself spoke an excellent Russian. She turned the conversation to music, but, observing that Bazarov had no appreciation of art, quietly turned it back to botany, although Arkady was just launching out on a discourse about the significance of national melodies. Madame Odintsov continued to treat him as though he were a younger brother; she seemed to appreciate his good nature and youthful simplicity--and that was all. A lively conversation went on for over three hours, ranging freely over a variety of subjects.
At last the friends got up and began to take their leave. Anna Sergeyevna looked at them kindly, held out her beautiful white hand to each in turn, and after a moment's thought, said with a diffident but delightful smile, "If you are not afraid of being bored, gentlemen, come and see me at Nikolskoe."
"Oh, Anna Sergeyevna," cried Arkady, "that will be the greatest happiness for me."
"And you, Monsieur Bazarov?"
Bazarov only bowed--and Arkady had yet another surprise; he noticed that his friend was blushing.
"Well," he said to him in the street, "do you still think she's . . ."
"Who can tell! Just see how frozen she is!" answered Bazarov; then after a short pause he added, "She's a real Grand Duchess, a commanding sort of person; she only needs a train behind her, and a crown on her head."
"Our Grand Duchesses can't talk Russian like that," observed Arkady.
"She has known ups and downs, my lad; she's been hard up."
"Anyhow, she's delightful," said Arkady.
"What a magnificent body," went on Bazarov. "How I should like to see it on the dissecting table."
"Stop, for heaven's sake, Evgeny! You go too far!"
"Well, don't get angry, you baby! I meant it's first-rate. We must go to stay with her."
"Well, why not the day after tomorrow. What is there to do here? Drink champagne with Kukshina? Listen to your cousin, the liberal statesman? . . . Let's be off the day after tomorrow. By the way--my father's little place is not far from there. This Nikolskoe is on the X. road, isn't it?"
"Excellent. Why hesitate? Leave that to fools--and intellectuals. I say--what a splendid body!"
Three days later the two friends were driving along the road to Nikolskoe. The day was bright and not too hot, and the plump post horses trotted smartly along, flicking their tied and plaited tails. Arkady looked at the road, and, without knowing why, he smiled.
"Congratulate me," exclaimed Bazarov suddenly. "Today's the 22nd of June, my saint's day. Let us see how he will watch over me. They expect me home today," he added, dropping his voice . . . "Well, they can wait--what does it matter!"