On the Eve/XX
'Come to my room for a minute,' Shubin said to Bersenyev, directly the latter had taken leave of Anna Vassilyevna: 'I have something to show you.'
Bersenyev followed him to his attic. He was surprised to see a number of studies, statuettes, and busts, covered with damp cloths, set about in all the corners of the room.
'Well I see you have been at work in earnest,' he observed to Shubin.
'One must do something,' he answered. 'If one thing doesn't do, one must try another. However, like a true Corsican, I am more concerned with revenge than with pure art. Trema, Bisanzia!'
'I don't understand you,' said Bersenyev.
'Well, wait a minute. Deign to look this way, gracious friend and benefactor, my vengeance number one.'
Shubin uncovered one figure, and Bersenyev saw a capital bust of Insarov, an excellent likeness. The features of the face had been correctly caught by Shubin to the minutest detail, and he had given him a fine expression, honest, generous, and bold.
Bersenyev went into raptures over it.
'That's simply exquisite!' he cried. 'I congratulate you. You must send it to the exhibition! Why do you call that magnificent work your vengeance?'
'Because, sir, I intended to offer this magnificent work as you call it to Elena Nikolaevna on her name day. Do you see the allegory? We are not blind, we see what goes on about us, but we are gentlemen, my dear sir, and we take our revenge like gentlemen. . . . But here,' added Shubin, uncovering another figure, 'as the artist according to modern aesthetic principles enjoys the enviable privilege of embodying in himself every sort of baseness which he can turn into a gem of creative art, we in the production of this gem, number two, have taken vengeance not as gentlemen, but simply en canaille'
He deftly drew off the cloth, and displayed to Bersenyev's eyes a statuette in Dantan's style, also of Insarov. Anything cleverer and more spiteful could not be imagined. The young Bulgarian was represented as a ram standing on his hind-legs, butting forward with his horns. Dull solemnity and aggressiveness, obstinacy, clumsiness and narrowness were simply printed on the visage of the 'sire of the woolly flock,' and yet the likeness to Insarov was so striking that Bersenyev could not help laughing.
'Eh? is it amusing?' said Shubin. 'Do you recognise the hero? Do you advise me to send it too to the exhibition? That, my dear fellow, I intend as a present for myself on my own name day. . . . Your honour will permit me to play the fool.'
And Shubin gave three little leaps, kicking himself behind with his heels.
Bersenyev picked up the cloth off the floor—and threw it over the statuette.
'Ah, you, magnanimous'—began Shubin. 'Who the devil was it in history was so particularly magnanimous? Well, never mind! And now,' he continued, with melancholy triumph, uncovering a third rather large mass of clay, 'you shall behold something which will show you the humility and discernment of your friend. You will realise that he, like a true artist again, feels the need and the use of self-castigation. Behold!'
The cloth was lifted and Bersenyev saw two heads, modelled side by side and close as though growing together. . . . He did not at once know what was the subject, but looking closer, he recognised in one of them Annushka, in the other Shubin himself. They were, however, rather caricatures than portraits. Annushka was represented as a handsome fat girl with a low forehead, eyes lost in layers of fat, and a saucily turned-up nose. Her thick lips had an insolent curve; her whole face expressed sensuality, carelessness, and boldness, not without goodnature. Himself Shubin had modelled as a lean emaciated rake, with sunken cheeks, his thin hair hanging in weak wisps about his face, a meaningless expression in his dim eyes, and his nose sharp and thin as a dead man's.
Bersenyev turned away with disgust. 'A nice pair, aren't they, my dear fellow?' said Shubin; 'won't you graciously compose a suitable title? For the first two I have already thought of titles. On the bust shall be inscribed: "A hero resolving to liberate his country." On the statuette: "Look out, sausage-eating Germans!" And for this work what do you think of "The future of the artist Pavel Yakovlitch Shubin?" Will that do?'
'Leave off,' replied Bersenyev. 'Was it worth while to waste your time on such a ——' He could not at once fix on a suitable word.
'Disgusting thing, you mean? No, my dear fellow, excuse me, if anything ought to go to the exhibition, it's that group.'
'It's simply disgusting,' repeated Bersenyev. 'And besides, it's nonsense. You have absolutely no such degrading tendencies to which, unhappily, our artists have such a frequent bent. You have simply libelled yourself.'
'Do you think so?' said Shubin gloomily. 'I have none of them, and if they come upon me, the fault is all one person's. Do you know,' he added, tragically knitting his brows, 'that I have been trying drinking?'
'Yes, I have, by God,' rejoined Shubin; and suddenly grinning and brightening,—'but I didn't like it, my dear boy, the stuff sticks in my throat, and my head afterwards is a perfect drum. The great Lushtchihin himself—Harlampy Lushtchihin—the greatest drunkard in Moscow, and a Great Russian drunkard too, declared there was nothing to be made of me. In his words, the bottle does not speak to me.'
Bersenyev was just going to knock the group over but Shubin stopped him.
'That'll do, my dear boy, don't smash it; it will serve as a lesson, a scare-crow.'
'If that's what it is, I will spare your scarecrow then,' he said. And now, 'Long live eternal true art!'
'Long live true art!' put in Shubin. 'By art the good is better and the bad is not all loss!'
The friends shook hands warmly and parted.