Fathers and Sons

by Ivan S. Turgenev

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Chapter XIV

A few days later the ball at the Governor's took place. Matvy Ilyitch was the real 'hero of the occasion.' The marshal of nobility declared to all and each that he had come simply out of respect for him; while the Governor, even at the ball, even while he remained perfectly motionless, was still 'making arrangements.' The affability of Matvy Ilyitch's demeanour could only be equalled by its dignity. He was gracious to all, to some with a shade of disgust, to others with a shade of respect; he was all bows and smiles 'en vrai chevalier français' before the ladies, and was continually giving vent to a hearty, sonorous, unshared laugh, such as befits a high official. He slapped Arkady on the back, and called him loudly 'nephew'; vouchsafed Bazarov—who was attired in a rather old evening coat—a sidelong glance in passing—absent but condescending—and an indistinct but affable grunt, in which nothing could be distinguished but 'I ...' and 'very much'; gave Sitnikov a finger and a smile, though with his head already averted; even to Madame Kukshin, who made her appearance at the ball with dirty gloves, no crinoline, and a bird of Paradise in her hair, he said 'enchanté.'. There were crowds of people, and no lack of dancing men; the civilians were for the most part standing close along the walls, but the officers danced assiduously, especially one of them who had spent six weeks in Paris, where he had mastered various daring interjections of the kind of—'zut,' 'Ah, fichtr-re,' 'pst, pst, mon bibi,' and such. He pronounced them to perfection with genuine Parisian chic, and at the same time he said 'si j'aurais' for 'si j'avais,' 'absolument' in the sense of 'absolutely,' expressed himself, in fact, in that Great Russo-French jargon which the French ridicule so when they have no reason for assuring us that we speak French like angels, 'comme des anges.'

Arkady, as we are aware, danced badly, while Bazarov did not dance at all; they both took up their position in a corner; Sitnikov joined himself on to them, with an expression of contemptuous scorn on his face, and giving vent to spiteful comments, he looked insolently about him, and seemed to be really enjoying himself. Suddenly his face changed, and turning to Arkady, he said, with some show of embarrassment it seemed, 'Odintsova is here!'

Arkady looked round, and saw a tall woman in a black dress standing at the door of the room. He was struck by the dignity of her carriage. Her bare arms lay gracefully beside her slender waist; gracefully some light sprays of fuchsia drooped from her shining hair on to her sloping shoulders; her clear eyes looked out from under a rather overhanging white brow, with a tranquil and intelligent expression—tranquil it was precisely, not pensive—and on her lips was a scarcely perceptible smile. There was a kind of gracious and gentle force about her face.

'Do you know her?' Arkady asked Sitnikov.

'Intimately. Would you like me to introduce you?'

'Please ... after this quadrille.'

Bazarov's attention, too, was directed to Madame Odintsov.

'That's a striking figure,' he remarked. 'Not like the other females.'

After waiting till the end of the quadrille, Sitnikov led Arkady up to Madame Odintsov; but he hardly seemed to be intimately acquainted with her; he was embarrassed in his sentences, while she looked at him in some surprise. But her face assumed an expression of pleasure when she heard Arkady's surname. She asked him whether he was not the son of Nikolai Petrovitch.


'I have seen your father twice, and have heard a great deal about him,' she went on; 'I am glad to make your acquaintance.'

At that instant some adjutant flew up to her and begged for a quadrille. She consented.

'Do you dance then?' asked Arkady respectfully.

'Yes, I dance. Why do you suppose I don't dance? Do you think I am too old?'

'Really, how could I possibly.... But in that case, let me ask you for a mazurka.'

Madame Odintsov smiled graciously. 'Certainly,' she said, and she looked at Arkady not exactly with an air of superiority, but as married sisters look at very young brothers. Madame Odintsov was a little older than Arkady—she was twenty-nine—but in her presence he felt himself a schoolboy, a little student, so that the difference in age between them seemed of more consequence. Matvy Ilyitch approached her with a majestic air and ingratiating speeches. Arkady moved away, but he still watched her; he could not take his eyes off her even during the quadrille. She talked with equal ease to her partner and to the grand official, softly turned her head and eyes, and twice laughed softly. Her nose—like almost all Russian noses—was a little thick; and her complexion was not perfectly clear; Arkady made up his mind, for all that, that he had never before met such an attractive woman. He could not get the sound of her voice out of his ears; the very folds of her dress seemed to hang upon her differently from all the rest—more gracefully and amply—and her movements were distinguished by a peculiar smoothness and naturalness.

Arkady felt some timidity in his heart when at the first sounds of the mazurka he began to sit it out beside his partner; he had prepared to enter into a conversation with her, but he only passed his hand through his hair, and could not find a single word to say. But his timidity and agitation did not last long; Madame Odintsov's tranquillity gained upon him too; before a quarter of an hour had passed 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, slightly opening and closing her fan; his talk was broken off when partners came for her; Sitnikov, among others, twice asked her. She came back, sat down again, took up her fan, and her bosom did not even heave more rapidly, while Arkady fell to chattering again, filled through and through by the happiness of being near her, talking to her, looking at her eyes, her lovely brow, all her sweet, dignified, clever face. She said little, but her words showed a knowledge of life; from some of her observations Arkady gathered that this young woman had already felt and thought much....

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

'Did you notice him?' Arkady asked in his turn. 'He has a splendid face, hasn't he? That's Bazarov, my friend.'

Arkady fell to discussing 'his friend.' He spoke of him in such detail, and with such enthusiasm, that Madame Odintsov turned towards him and looked attentively at him. Meanwhile, the mazurka was drawing to a close. Arkady felt sorry to part from his partner; he had spent nearly an hour so happily with her! He had, it is true, during the whole time continually felt as though she were condescending 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,' said Madame Odintsov, getting up. 'You promised to come and see me; bring your friend with you. I shall be very curious to see the man who has the courage to believe in nothing.'

The Governor came up to Madame Odintsov, announced that supper was ready, and, with a careworn face, offered her his arm. As she went away, she turned to give a last smile and bow to Arkady. He bowed low, looked after her (how graceful her figure seemed to him, draped in the greyish lustre of the black silk!), and thinking, 'This minute she has forgotten my existence,' was conscious of an exquisite humility in his soul.

'Well?' Bazarov questioned him, directly he had gone back to him in the corner. 'Did you have a good time? A gentleman has just been talking to me about that lady; he said, "She's—oh, fie! fie!" but I fancy the fellow was a fool. What do you think, what is she?—oh, fie! fie!'

'I don't quite understand that definition,' answered Arkady.

'Oh, my! What innocence!'

'In that case, I don't understand the gentleman you quote. Madame Odintsov is very sweet, no doubt, but she behaves so coldly and severely, that....'

'Still waters ... you know!' put in Bazarov. 'That's just what gives it piquancy. You like ices, I expect?'

'Perhaps,' muttered Arkady. 'I can't give an opinion about that. She wishes to make your acquaintance, and has asked me to bring you to see her.'

'I can imagine how you've described me! But you did very well. Take me. Whatever she may be—whether she's simply a provincial lioness, or "advanced" after Kukshina's fashion—any way she's got a pair of shoulders such as I've not set eyes on for a long while.'

Arkady was wounded by Bazarov's cynicism, but—as often happens—he reproached his friend not precisely for what he did not like in him ...

'Why are you unwilling to allow freethinking in women?' he said in a low voice.

'Because, my boy, as far as my observations go, the only freethinkers among women are frights.'

The conversation was cut short at this point. Both the young men went away immediately after supper. They were pursued by a nervously malicious, but somewhat faint-hearted laugh from Madame Kukshin; her vanity had been deeply wounded by neither of them having paid any attention to her. She stayed later than any one at the ball, and at four o'clock in the morning she was dancing a polka-mazurka with Sitnikov in the Parisian style. This edifying spectacle was the final event of the Governor's ball.


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