Litvinov fell asleep very late, and did not sleep long; the sun had only just risen when he got out of bed. The summits of dark mountains visible from his windows stood out in misty purple against the clear sky. ‘How cool it must be there under the trees!’ he thought; and he dressed in haste, and looked with indifference at the bouquet which had opened more luxuriantly after the night; he took a stick and set off towards the ‘Old Castle’ on the famous ‘Cliffs.’ Invigorating and soothing was the caressing contact of the fresh morning about him. He drew long breaths, and stepped out boldly; the vigorous health of youth was throbbing in every vein; the very earth seemed springy under his light feet. With every step he grew more light-hearted, more happy; he walked in the dewy shade in the thick sand of the little paths, beside the fir-trees that were fringed with the vivid green of the spring shoots at the end of every twig. ‘How jolly it is!’ he-96- kept repeating to himself. Suddenly he heard the sound of familiar voices; he looked ahead and saw Voroshilov and Bambaev coming to meet him. The sight of them jarred upon him; he rushed away like a school-boy avoiding his teacher, and hid himself behind a bush.... ‘My Creator!’ he prayed, ‘mercifully remove my countrymen!’ He felt that he would not have grudged any money at the moment if only they did not see him.... And they actually did not see him: the Creator was merciful to him. Voroshilov, in his self-confident military voice, was holding forth to Bambaev on the various phases of Gothic architecture, and Bambaev only grunted approvingly; it was obvious that Voroshilov had been dinning his phrases into him a long while, and the good-natured enthusiast was beginning to be bored. Compressing his lips and craning his neck, Litvinov listened a long while to their retreating footsteps; for a long time the accents of instructive discourse—now guttural, now nasal—reached his ears; at last, all was still again. Litvinov breathed freely, came out of his ambush, and walked on.
For three hours he wandered about the mountains. Sometimes he left the path, and jumped from rock to rock, slipping now and then on the smooth moss; then he would sit-97- down on a fragment of the cliff under an oak or a beech, and muse on pleasant fancies to the never-ceasing gurgle of the little rills over-grown with ferns, the soothing rustle of the leaves, and the shrill notes of a solitary blackbird. A light and equally pleasant drowsiness began to steal over him, it seemed to approach him caressingly, and he dropped asleep ... but suddenly he smiled and looked round; the gold and green of the forest, and the moving foliage beat down softly on his eyes—and again he smiled and again closed them. He began to want breakfast, and he made his way towards the old castle where for a few kreutzers he could get a glass of good milk and coffee. But he had hardly had time to establish himself at one of the little white-painted tables set on the platform before the castle, when the heavy tramping of horses was heard, and three open carriages drove up, out of which stepped a rather numerous company of ladies and gentlemen.... Litvinov at once recognised them as Russians, though they were all talking French ... just because they were all talking French. The ladies’ dresses were marked by a studied elegance; the gentlemen wore close-fitting coats with waists—which is not altogether usual nowadays—grey trousers of fancy material, and very glossy town hats. A narrow black cravat closely-98- fettered the neck of each of these gentlemen, and something military was apparent in their whole deportment. They were, in fact, military men; Litvinov had chanced upon a picnic party of young generals—persons of the highest society, of weight and importance. Their importance was clearly expressed in everything: in their discreet nonchalance, in their amiably condescending smiles, in the intense indifference of their expression, the effeminate little movements of their shoulders, the swing of the figure, and the crook of the knees; it was expressed, too, in the sound of their voices, which seemed to be affably and fastidiously thanking a subservient multitude. All these officers were superlatively washed and shaved, and thoroughly saturated with that genuine aroma of nobility and the Guards, compounded of the best cigar smoke, and the most marvellous patchouli. They all had the hands too of noblemen—white and large, with nails firm as ivory; their moustaches seemed positively polished, their teeth shone, and their skin—rosy on their cheeks, bluish on their chins—was most delicate and fine. Some of the young generals were frivolous, others were serious; but the stamp of the best breeding was on all of them. Each of them seemed to be deeply conscious of his own dignity, and the importance of his-99- own future part in the government, and conducted himself with severity and ease, with a faint shade of that carelessness, that ‘deuce-take-it’ air, which comes out so naturally during foreign travel. The party seated themselves with much noise and ostentation, and called the obsequious waiters. Litvinov made haste to drink off his glass of milk, paid for it, and putting his hat on, was just making off past the party of generals....
‘Grigory Mihalitch,’ he heard a woman’s voice. ‘Don’t you recognise me?’
He stopped involuntarily. That voice ... that voice had too often set his heart beating in the past.... He turned round and saw Irina.
She was sitting at a table, her arms folded on the back of a chair drawn up near; with her head bent on one side and a smile on her face, she was looking at him cordially, almost with delight.
Litvinov knew her at once, though she had changed since he saw her that last time ten years ago, though she had been transformed from a girl into a woman. Her slim figure had developed and reached its perfection, the lines of her once narrow shoulders now recalled the goddesses that stand out on the ceilings of ancient Italian palaces. But her eyes remained the same, and it seemed to Litvinov that they-100- were looking at him just as in those days in the little house in Moscow.
‘Irina Pavlovna,’ he uttered irresolutely.
‘You know me? How glad I am! how glad——’
She stopped short, slightly blushing, and drew herself up.
‘This is a very pleasant meeting,’ she continued now in French. ‘Let me introduce you to my husband. Valérien, Monsieur Litvinov, un ami d’enfance; Valerian Vladimirovitch Ratmirov, my husband.’
One of the young generals, almost the most elegant of all, got up from his seat, and with excessive courtesy bowed to Litvinov, while the rest of his companions faintly knitted their brows, or rather each of them withdrew for an instant into himself, as though protesting betimes against any contact with an extraneous civilian, and the other ladies taking part in the picnic thought fit to screw up their eyes a little and simper, and even to assume an air of perplexity.
‘Have you—er—been long in Baden?’ asked General Ratmirov, with a dandified air utterly un-Russian. He obviously did not know what to talk about with the friend of his wife’s childhood.
‘No, not long!’ replied Litvinov.
‘And do you intend to stay long?’ pursued the polite general.
‘I have not made up my mind yet.’
‘Ah! that is very delightful ... very.’
The general paused. Litvinov, too, was speechless. Both held their hats in their hands and bending forward with a grin, gazed at the top of each other’s heads.
‘Deux gendarmes un beau dimanche,’ began humming—out of tune of course, we have never come across a Russian nobleman who did not sing out of tune—a dull-eyed and yellow-faced general, with an expression of constant irritability on his face, as though he could not forgive himself for his own appearance. Among all his companions he alone had not the complexion of a rose.
‘But why don’t you sit down, Grigory Mihalitch,’ observed Irina at last.
Litvinov obeyed and sat down.
‘I say, Valérien, give me some fire,’ remarked in English another general, also young, but already stout, with fixed eyes which seemed staring into the air, and thick silky whiskers, into which he slowly plunged his snow-white fingers. Ratmirov gave him a silver matchbox.
‘Avez vous des papiros?’ asked one of the ladies, with a lisp.
‘De vrais papelitos, comtesse.’
‘Deux gendarmes un beau dimanche,’ the dull-eyed general hummed again, with intense exasperation.
‘You must be sure to come and see us,’ Irina was saying to Litvinov meantime; ‘we are staying at the Hôtel de l’Europe. From four to six I am always at home. We have not seen each other for such a long time.’
Litvinov looked at Irina; she did not drop her eyes.
‘Yes, Irina Pavlovna, it is a long time—ever since we were at Moscow.’
‘At Moscow, yes, at Moscow,’ she repeated abruptly. ‘Come and see me, we will talk and recall old times. Do you know, Grigory Mihalitch, you have not changed much.’
‘Really? But you have changed, Irina Pavlovna.’
‘I have grown older.’
‘No, I did not mean that.’
‘Irène?’ said a lady in a yellow hat and with yellow hair in an interrogative voice after some preliminary whispering and giggling with the officer sitting near her. ‘Irène?’
‘I am older,’ pursued Irina, without answering the lady, ‘but I am not changed. No, no, I am changed in nothing.’
‘Deux gendarmes un beau dimanche!’ was-103- heard again. The irritable general only remembered the first line of the well-known ditty.
‘It still pricks a little, your excellency,’ observed the stout general with the whiskers, with a loud and broad intonation, apparently quoting from some amusing story, well-known to the whole beau monde, and, with a short wooden laugh he again fell to staring into the air. All the rest of the party laughed too.
‘What a sad dog you are, Boris!’ observed Ratmirov in an undertone. He spoke in English and pronounced even the name ‘Boris’ as if it were English.
‘Irène?’ the lady in the yellow hat said inquiringly for the third time. Irina turned sharply round to her.
‘Eh bien? quoi? que me voulez-vous?’
‘Je vous dirai plus tard,’ replied the lady, mincing. With a very unattractive exterior, she was for ever mincing and grimacing. Some wit said of her that she ‘minaudait dans le vide,’ ‘grimaced upon the desert air.’
Irina frowned and shrugged her shoulders impatiently. ‘Mais que fait donc Monsieur Verdier? Pourquoi ne vient-il pas?’ cried one lady with that prolonged drawl which is the peculiarity of the Great Russian accent, and is so insupportable to French ears.
‘Ah, voo, ah, voo, mossoo Verdew, mossoo Verdew,’ sighed another lady, whose birthplace was Arzamass.
‘Tranquillisez-vous, mesdames,’ interposed Ratmirov. ‘Monsieur Verdier m’a promis de venir se mettre à vos pieds.’
‘He, he, he!’—The ladies fluttered their fans.
The waiter brought some glasses of beer.
‘Baierisch-Bier?’ inquired the general with whiskers, assuming a bass voice, and affecting astonishment—‘Guten Morgen.’
‘Well? Is Count Pavel still there?’ one young general inquired coldly and listlessly of another.
‘Yes,’ replied the other equally coldly, ‘Mais c’est provisoire. Serge, they say, will be put in his place.’
‘Aha!’ filtered the first through his teeth.
‘Ah, yes,’ filtered the second.
‘I can’t understand,’ began the general who had hummed the song, ‘I can’t understand what induced Paul to defend himself—to bring forward all sorts of reasons. Certainly, he crushed the merchant pretty well, il lui a fait rendre gorge ... well, and what of it? He may have had his own motives.’
‘He was afraid ... of being shown up in the newspapers,’ muttered some one.
The irritable general grew hot.
‘Well, it is too much! Newspapers! Shown up! If it depended on me, I would not let anything be printed in those papers but the taxes on meat or bread, and announcements of sales of boots or furs.’
‘And gentlemen’s properties up for auction,’ put in Ratmirov.
‘Possibly under present circumstances.... What a conversation, though, in Baden au Vieux-Château.’
‘Mais pas du tout! pas du tout!’ replied the lady in the yellow hat, ‘j’adore les questions politiques.’
‘Madame a raison,’ interposed another general with an exceedingly pleasant and girlish-looking face. ‘Why should we avoid those questions ... even in Baden?’
As he said these words he looked urbanely at Litvinov and smiled condescendingly. ‘A man of honour ought never under any circumstances to disown his convictions. Don’t you think so?’
‘Of course,’ rejoined the irritable general, darting a look at Litvinov, and as it were indirectly attacking him, ‘but I don’t see the necessity....’
‘No, no,’ the condescending general interposed with the same mildness, ‘your friend,-106- Valerian Vladimirovitch, just referred to the sale of gentlemen’s estates. Well? Is not that a fact?’
‘But it’s impossible to sell them nowadays; nobody wants them!’ cried the irritable general.
‘Perhaps ... perhaps. For that very reason we ought to proclaim that fact ... that sad fact at every step. We are ruined ... very good; we are beggared ... there’s no disputing about that; but we, the great owners, we still represent a principle ... un principe. To preserve that principle is our duty. Pardon, madame, I think you dropped your handkerchief. When some, so to say, darkness has come over even the highest minds, we ought submissively to point out (the general held out his finger) with the finger of a citizen the abyss to which everything is tending. We ought to warn, we ought to say with respectful firmness, ‘turn back, turn back.... That is what we ought to say.’
‘There’s no turning back altogether, though,’ observed Ratmirov moodily.
The condescending general only grinned.
‘Yes, altogether, altogether, mon très cher. The further back the better.’
The general again looked courteously at Litvinov. The latter could not stand it.
‘Are we to return as far as the Seven Boyars, your excellency?’
‘Why not? I express my opinion without hesitation; we must undo ... yes ... undo all that has been done.’
‘And the emancipation of the serfs.’
‘And the emancipation ... as far as that is possible. On est patriote ou on ne l’est pas. “And freedom?” they say to me. Do you suppose that freedom is prized by the people? Ask them——’
‘Just try,’ broke in Litvinov, ‘taking that freedom away again.’
‘Comment nommez-vous ce monsieur?’ whispered the general to Ratmirov.
‘What are you discussing here?’ began the stout general suddenly. He obviously played the part of the spoilt child of the party. ‘Is it all about the newspapers? About penny-a-liners? Let me tell you a little anecdote of what happened to me with a scribbling fellow—such a lovely thing. I was told he had written a libel on me. Well, of course, I at once had him brought before me. They brought me the penny-a-liner.
‘“How was it,” said I, “my dear chap, you came to write this libel? Was your patriotism too much for you?” “Yes, it was too much,” says he. “Well,” says I, “and do you like money?” “Yes,” says he. Then, gentlemen, I gave him the knob of my cane to sniff at. “And do you like that, my angel?” “No,” says he, “I don-108-’t like that.” “But sniff it as you ought,” says I, “my hands are clean.” “I don’t like it,” says he, “and that’s all.” “But I like it very much, my angel,” says I, “though not for myself. Do you understand that allegory, my treasure?” “Yes,” says he. “Then mind and be a good boy for the future, and now here’s a rouble sterling for you; go away and be grateful to me night and day,” and so the scribbling chap went off.’
The general burst out laughing and again every one followed his example—every one except Irina, who did not even smile and looked darkly at the speaker.
The condescending general slapped Boris on the shoulder.
‘That’s all your invention, O friend of my bosom.... You threatening any one with a stick.... You haven’t got a stick. C’est pour faire rire ces dames. For the sake of a good story. But that’s not the point. I said just now that we must turn back completely. Understand me. I am not hostile to so-called progress, but all these universities and seminaries, and popular schools, these students, priests’ sons, and commoners, all these small fry, tout ce fond du sac, la petite propriété, pire que le prolétariat (the general uttered this in a languishing, almost faint voice) voilà ce qui m’effraie ... that’s where one ought to draw-109- the line, and make other people draw it too.’ (Again he gave Litvinov a genial glance.) ‘Yes, one must draw the line. Don’t forget that among us no one makes any demand, no one is asking for anything. Local government, for instance—who asks for that? Do you ask for it? or you, or you? or you, mesdames? You rule not only yourselves but all of us, you know.’ (The general’s handsome face was lighted up by a smile of amusement.) ‘My dear friends, why should we curry favour with the multitude. You like democracy, it flatters you, and serves your ends ... but you know it’s a double weapon. It is better in the old way, as before ... far more secure. Don’t deign to reason with the herd, trust in the aristocracy, in that alone is power.... Indeed it will be better. And progress ... I certainly have nothing against progress. Only don’t give us lawyers and sworn juries and elective officials ... only don’t touch discipline, discipline before all things—you may build bridges, and quays, and hospitals, and why not light the streets with gas?’
‘Petersburg has been set on fire from one end to the other, so there you have your progress!’ hissed the irritable general.
‘Yes, you’re a mischievous fellow, I can see,’ said the stout general, shaking his head lazily; ‘you would do for a chief-prosecutor, but in my-110- opinion avec Orphée aux enfers le progrès a dit son dernier mot.’
‘Vous dites toujours des bêtises,’ giggled the lady from Arzamass.
The general looked dignified.
‘Je ne suis jamais plus sérieux, madame, que quand je dis des bêtises.’
‘Monsieur Verdier has uttered that very phrase several times already,’ observed Irina in a low voice.
‘De la poigne et des formes,’ cried the stout general, ‘de la poigne surtout. And to translate into Russian: be civil but don’t spare your fists.’
‘Ah, you’re a rascal, an incorrigible rascal,’ interposed the condescending general. ‘Mesdames, don’t listen to him, please. A barking dog does not bite. He cares for nothing but flirtation.’
‘That’s not right, though, Boris,’ began Ratmirov, after exchanging a glance with his wife, ‘it’s all very well to be mischievous, but that’s going too far. Progress is a phenomenon of social life, and this is what we must not forget; it’s a symptom. It’s what we must watch.’
‘All right, I say,’ observed the stout general, wrinkling up his nose; ‘we all know you are aiming at the ministry.’
‘Not at all ... the ministry indeed! But really one can’t refuse to recognise things.’
Boris plunged his fingers again into his whiskers, and stared into the air.
‘Social life is very important, because in the development of the people, in the destinies, so to speak, of the country——’
‘Valérien,’ interrupted Boris reprovingly, ‘il y a des dames ici. I did not expect this of you, or do you want to get on to a committee?’
‘But they are all closed now, thank God,’ put in the irritable general, and he began humming again ‘Deux gendarmes un beau dimanche.’
Ratmirov raised a cambric handkerchief to his nose and gracefully retired from the discussion; the condescending general repeated ‘Rascal! rascal!’ but Boris turned to the lady who ‘grimaced upon the desert air’ and without lowering his voice, or a change in the expression of his face, began to ply her with questions as to when ‘she would reward his devotion,’ as though he were desperately in love with her and suffering tortures on her account.
At every moment during this conversation Litvinov felt more and more ill at ease. His pride, his clean plebeian pride, was fairly in revolt.
What had he, the son of a petty official, in common with these military aristocrats of Petersburg? He loved everything they hated;-112- he hated everything they loved; he was only too vividly conscious of it, he felt it in every part of his being. Their jokes he thought dull, their tone intolerable, every gesture false; in the very smoothness of their speeches he detected a note of revolting contemptuousness—and yet he was, as it were, abashed before them, before these creatures, these enemies. ‘Ugh! how disgusting! I am in their way, I am ridiculous to them,’ was the thought that kept revolving in his head. ‘Why am I stopping? Let me escape at once, at once.’ Irina’s presence could not retain him; she, too, aroused melancholy emotions in him. He got up from his seat and began to take leave.
‘You are going already?’ said Irina, but after a moment’s reflection she did not press him to stay, and only extracted a promise from him that he would not fail to come and see her. General Ratmirov took leave of him with the same refined courtesy, shook hands with him and accompanied him to the end of the platform.... But Litvinov had scarcely had time to turn round the first bend in the road when he heard a general roar of laughter behind him. This laughter had no reference to him, but was occasioned by the long-expected Monsieur Verdier, who suddenly made his appearance on the platform, in a Tyrolese hat, and blue blouse,-113- riding a donkey, but the blood fairly rushed into Litvinov’s cheeks, and he felt intense bitterness: his tightly compressed lips seemed as though drawn by wormwood. ‘Despicable, vulgar creatures,’ he muttered, without reflecting that the few minutes he had spent in their company had not given him sufficient ground for such severe criticism. And this was the world into which Irina had fallen, Irina, once his Irina! In this world she moved, and lived, and reigned; for it, she had sacrificed her personal dignity, the noblest feelings of her heart.... It was clearly as it should be; it was clear that she had deserved no better fate! How glad he was that she had not thought of questioning him about his intentions! He might have opened his heart before ‘them’ in ‘their’ presence.... ‘For nothing in the world! never!’ murmured Litvinov, inhaling deep draughts of the fresh air and descending the road towards Baden almost at a run. He thought of his betrothed, his sweet, good, sacred Tatyana, and how pure, how noble, how true she seemed to him. With what unmixed tenderness he recalled her features, her words, her very gestures ... with what impatience he looked forward to her return.
The rapid exercise soothed his nerves. Returning home he sat down at the table and-114- took up a book; suddenly he let it fall, even with a shudder.... What had happened to him? Nothing had happened, but Irina ... Irina.... All at once his meeting with her seemed something marvellous, strange, extraordinary. Was it possible? he had met, he had talked with the same Irina.... And why was there no trace in her of that hateful worldliness which was so sharply stamped upon all these others. Why did he fancy that she seemed, as it were, weary, or sad, or sick of her position? She was in their camp, but she was not an enemy. And what could have impelled her to receive him joyfully, to invite him to see her?
Litvinov started. ‘O Tanya, Tanya!’ he cried passionately, ‘you are my guardian angel, you only, my good genius. I love you only and will love you for ever. And I will not go to see her. Forget her altogether! Let her amuse herself with her generals.’ Litvinov set to his book again.