Fathers and Sons/Chapter 28

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SIX MONTHS PASSED. WHITE WINTER HAD SET IN WITH THE CRUEL stillness of cloudless frosts, with its thick crunching snow, rosy hoarfrost on the trees, pale emerald sky, wreaths of smoke curling above the chimneys, steam emerging from momentarily opened doors, with those fresh faces which look bitten by cold, and the hurried trot of shivering horses. A January day was drawing to its close; the evening cold pierced keenly through the motionless air, and a brilliant sunset was rapidly dying away. Lights were burning in the windows of the house at Maryino; Prokovich in a black tail coat and white gloves, with an air of unusual solemnity, was laying the table for seven. A week earlier in the small parish church, two weddings had taken place quietly, almost without witnesses--Arkady's marriage to Katya and that of Nikolai Petrovich to Fenichka; and on this day Nikolai Petrovich was giving a farewell dinner for his brother, who was going away to Moscow on some business. Anna Sergeyevna had also gone there directly the wedding was over, after making generous presents to the young couple.

Punctually at three o'clock the whole company assembled at the table. Mitya was brought along too and with him appeared a nurse in an embroidered peasant headdress. Pavel Petrovich sat between Katya and Fenichka; the husbands sat next to their wives. Our friends had somewhat changed lately; they all seemed to have grown better looking and stronger; only Pavel Petrovich had become thinner, which, incidentally, still further enhanced the elegant and "grand seigneur" quality of his expressive features . . . Fenichka, too, was different. In a fresh-colored silk dress with a wide velvet headdress on her hair, and a gold chain round her neck, she sat respectfully motionless, respectful towards herself and everyone around her, and smiled, as if she wanted to say: "Excuse me, I'm not to blame." And not only she--the others also all smiled and seemed to excuse themselves; they all felt a little awkward, a little sad, but fundamentally happy. They all helped each other with an amusing attentiveness, as if they had agreed in advance to act some good-natured comedy. Katya was quieter than any of the others; she looked confidently around her, and it was already noticeable that Nikolai Petrovich had managed to become quite devoted to her. Just before the dinner was over he stood up and, holding his glass in his hand, turned to Pavel Petrovich.

"You are leaving us . . . you are leaving us, dear brother," he began, "not for long, of course; but still I can't help telling you what I . . . what we . . . how much I . . . how much we . . . That's the worst of it, we don't know how to make speeches. Arkady, you speak."

"No, daddy, I'm not prepared for it."

"And I'm so well prepared! Well, brother, I simply say, allow us to embrace you, to wish you all the best, and come back to us soon!"

Pavel Petrovich exchanged kisses with everyone, not excluding Mitya, of course; moreover, he kissed Fenichka's hand, which she had not yet learned to offer properly, and drinking off his refilled glass, he said with a deep sigh: "Be happy, my friends! Farewell!" This English ending passed unnoticed; but everyone was deeply touched.

"To Bazarov's memory," whispered Katya in her husband's ear as she clinked glasses with him. Arkady pressed her hand warmly in response, but he did not venture to propose that toast aloud.

This would seem to be the end; but perhaps some of our readers would care to know what each of the characters we have introduced is doing now, at the present moment. We are ready to satisfy that interest.

Anna Sergeyevna has recently married again, not for love but out of reasonable conviction, a man who may be one of the future leaders of Russia, a very clever lawyer with vigorous practical sense, a strong will and a remarkable gift of eloquence--still young, good-natured, and cold as ice. They live very harmoniously together and may live to the point of attaining happiness . . . perhaps even love. Princess X. is dead, forgotten on the day of her death. The Kirsanovs, father and son, live at Maryino. Their fortunes are beginning to mend. Arkady has become assiduous in the management of the estate, and the "farm" now yields a fairly substantial income. Nikolai Petrovich has become one of the arbitrators in the land reforms and works with all his energy; he is constantly driving about the district, delivers long speeches (he belongs to those who believe that the peasants must be "made to understand," meaning that by frequent repetition of the same words they should be brought into a state of quiescence); and yet, to tell the truth, he does not fully satisfy either the cultured landowners, talking with a hiss or with a sigh about the emancipation (pronouncing it like a French word) or the uncultured ones who without ceremony curse the "damned emancipation." He is too softhearted for either set. Katerina Sergeyevna has a son, Kolya, and Mitya already runs about fearlessly, and talks a lot. Fenichka, Fedosya Nikolaevna, after her husband and Mitya, adores no one so much as her daughter-in-law, and when Katerina plays the piano, she would gladly spend the whole day at her side. A passing word about Pyotr. He has grown quite rigid with stupidity and self-importance, and pronounces all his o's like u's, but he too is married, and received a respectable dowry with his wife, the daughter of a market gardener in the town, who had refused two excellent suitors, only because they had no watches; while Pyotr not only had a watch--he even had a pair of patent leather shoes.

In Dresden on the Brühl terrace, between two and four o'clock--the most fashionable time for walking--you may meet a man of about fifty, already quite grey and looking as though he suffered from gout, but still handsome, elegantly dressed and with that special style which comes only to those who have long been accustomed to move in the higher ranks of society. This man is Pavel Petrovich. From Moscow he went abroad for his health, and has settled down in Dresden, where he associates chiefly with English people and with Russian visitors. With the English he behaves simply, almost modestly, but with dignity; they find him a trifle boring but respect him for being, as they say, "a perfect gentleman." With Russians he is more free and easy, gives vent to his spleen, makes fun of them and of himself, but he does all this very agreeably, with an air of ease and civility. He holds Slavophil views; this is known to be regarded in the best society as très distingué. He reads nothing in Russian, but on his writing-desk there stands a silver ash tray in the shape of a peasant's plaited shoe. He is much sought after by our Russian tourists. Matvei Ilyich Kolyazin, happening to be "in temporary opposition," paid him a ceremonious visit on his way to a Bohemian watering place; and the local population, with whom, incidentally, he has little to do, treat him with an almost awestruck veneration. No one can so readily and quickly secure tickets for the court choir and the theater as the Herr Baron von Kirsanov. He does as much good as he can; he still causes some stir in the world, not for nothing was he once such a great social lion; but his life is a burden to him . . . a heavier burden than he himself suspects. One should look at him in the Russian church: when leaning against the wall on one side, he stands absorbed in thought without stirring for a long time, bitterly compressing his lips, then suddenly recollects himself and begins almost imperceptibly to cross himself . . .

Madame Kukshina also settled abroad. She is now in Heidelberg, and is no longer studying natural history but has turned to architecture, in which, according to her own account, she has discovered new laws. As before, she associates with students, especially with young Russians studying physics and chemistry with whom Heidelberg is crowded, and who at first astonish the naïve German professors by their sober outlook on things, but later on astound the same professors by their complete incapability and absolute laziness. In company with two or three such young chemistry students, who cannot distinguish oxygen from nitrogen, but are brimming over with destructive criticism and conceit, Sitnikov, together with the great Elisyevich, also prepares to become a great man; he roams about in Petersburg, convinced that he is carrying on the "task" of Bazarov. There is a story that someone recently gave him a beating, but that he secured his revenge: in an obscure little article, hidden away in some obscure little periodical, he hinted that the man who had beaten him was--a coward. He calls this irony. His father bullies him as before, while his wife regards him as a fool . . . and a literary man.

There is a small village graveyard in one of the remote corners of Russia. Like almost all our graveyards, it has a melancholy look; the ditches surrounding it have long been overgrown; grey wooden crosses have fallen askew and rotted under their once painted gables; the gravestones are all out of position, just as if someone had pushed them from below; two or three bare trees hardly provide some meager shade; the sheep wander unchecked among the tombs . . . But among them is one grave untouched by human beings and not trampled on by any animal; only the birds perch on it and sing at daybreak. An iron railing surrounds it and two young fir trees have been planted there, one at each end; Evgeny Bazarov is buried in this tomb. Often from the near-by village two frail old people come to visit it--a husband and wife. Supporting one another, they walk with heavy steps; they go up to the iron railing, fall on their knees and weep long and bitterly, and gaze intently at the silent stone under which their son lies buried; they exchange a few words, wipe away the dust from the stone or tidy up some branches of a fir tree, then start to pray again and cannot tear themselves away from that place where they seem to be nearer to their son, to their memories of him . . . Can it be that their prayers and their tears are fruitless? Can it be that love, sacred devoted love, is not all powerful? Oh, no! However passionate, sinful or rebellious the heart hidden in the tomb, the flowers growing over it peep at us serenely with their innocent eyes; they tell us not only of eternal peace, of that great peace of "indifferent" nature; they tell us also of eternal reconciliation and of life without end.