He drove rather slowly by cross tracks, without any special adventures; only once the tire of a hind wheel broke; a blacksmith hammered and welded it, swearing both at the tire and at himself, and positively flung up the job; luckily it turned out that among us one can travel capitally even with a tire broken, especially on the ‘soft,’ that’s to say on the mud. On the other hand, Litvinov did come upon some rather curious chance-meetings. At one place he found a Board of Mediators sitting, and at the head of it Pishtchalkin, who made on him the impression of a Solon or a Solomon, such lofty wisdom characterised his remarks, and such boundless respect was shown him both by landowners and peasants.... In exterior, too, he had begun to resemble a sage of antiquity; his hair had fallen off the crown of his head, and his full face had completely set in a sort of solemn jelly of positively blatant virtue. He expressed his pleasure at-305- Litvinov’s arrival in—‘if I may make bold to use so ambitious an expression, my own district,’ and altogether seemed fairly overcome by an excess of excellent intentions. One piece of news he did, however, succeed in communicating, and that was about Voroshilov; the hero of the Golden Board had re-entered military service, and had already had time to deliver a lecture to the officers of his regiment on Buddhism or Dynamism, or something of the sort—Pishtchalkin could not quite remember. At the next station it was a long while before the horses were in readiness for Litvinov; it was early dawn, and he was dozing as he sat in his coach. A voice, that struck him as familiar, waked him up; he opened his eyes.... Heavens! wasn’t it Gubaryov in a grey pea-jacket and full flapping pyjamas standing on the steps of the posting hut, swearing?... No, it wasn’t Mr. Gubaryov.... But what a striking resemblance!... Only this worthy had a mouth even wider, teeth even bigger, the expression of his dull eyes was more savage and his nose coarser, and his beard thicker, and the whole countenance heavier and more repulsive.
‘Scou-oundrels, scou-oundrels!’ he vociferated slowly and viciously, his wolfish mouth gaping wide. ‘Filthy louts.... Here you-306- have ... vaunted freedom indeed ... and can’t get horses ... scou-oundrels!’
‘Scou-oundrels, scou-oundrels!’ thereupon came the sound of another voice from within, and at the same moment there appeared on the steps—also in a grey smoking pea-jacket and pyjamas—actually, unmistakably, the real Gubaryov himself, Stepan Nikolaevitch Gubaryov. ‘Filthy louts!’ he went on in imitation of his brother (it turned out that the first gentleman was his elder brother, the man of the old school, famous for his fists, who had managed his estate). ‘Flogging’s what they want, that’s it; a tap or two on the snout, that’s the sort of freedom for them.... Self-government indeed.... I’d let them know it.... But where is that M’sieu Roston?... What is he thinking about?... It’s his business, the lazy scamp ... to see we’re not put to inconvenience.’
‘Well, I told you, brother,’ began the elder Gubaryov, ‘that he was a lazy scamp, no good in fact! But there, for the sake of old times, you ... M’sieu Roston, M’sieu Roston!... Where have you got to?’
‘Roston! Roston!’ bawled the younger, the great Gubaryov. ‘Give a good call for him, do brother Dorimedont Nikolaitch!’
‘Well, I am shouting for him, Stepan Nikolaitch! M’sieu Roston!’
‘Here I am, here I am, here I am!’ was heard a hurried voice, and round the corner of the hut skipped Bambaev.
Litvinov fairly gasped. On the unlucky enthusiast a shabby braided coat, with holes in the elbows, dangled ruefully; his features had not exactly changed, but they looked pinched and drawn together; his over-anxious little eyes expressed a cringing timorousness and hungry servility; but his dyed whiskers stood out as of old above his swollen lips. The Gubaryov brothers with one accord promptly set to scolding him from the top of the steps; he stopped, facing them below, in the mud, and with his spine curved deprecatingly, he tried to propitiate them with a little nervous smile, kneading his cap in his red fingers, shifting from one foot to the other, and muttering that the horses would be here directly.... But the brothers did not cease, till the younger at last cast his eyes upon Litvinov. Whether he recognised Litvinov, or whether he felt ashamed before a stranger, anyway he turned abruptly on his heels like a bear, and gnawing his beard, went into the station hut; his brother held his tongue at once, and he too, turning like a bear, followed him in. The great Gubaryov, evidently, had not lost his influence even in his own country.
Bambaev was slowly moving after the brothers.... Litvinov called him by his name. He looked round, lifted up his head, and recognising Litvinov, positively flew at him with outstretched arms; but when he had run up to the carriage, he clutched at the carriage door, leaned over it, and began sobbing violently.
‘There, there, Bambaev,’ protested Litvinov, bending over him and patting him on the shoulder.
But he went on sobbing. ‘You see ... you see ... to what....’ he muttered brokenly.
‘Bambaev!’ thundered the brothers from the hut.
Bambaev raised his head and hurriedly wiped his tears.
‘Welcome, dear heart,’ he whispered, ‘welcome and farewell!... You hear, they are calling me.’
‘But what chance brought you here?’ inquired Litvinov, ‘and what does it all mean? I thought they were calling a Frenchman....’
‘I am their ... house-steward, butler,’ answered Bambaev, and he pointed in the direction of the hut. ‘And I’m turned Frenchman for a joke. What could I do, brother? You see, I’d nothing to eat, I’d lost my last farthing, and so one’s forced to put one’s head under the yoke. One can’t afford to be proud.’
‘But has he been long in Russia? and how did he part from his comrades?’
‘Ah, my boy, that’s all on the shelf now.... The wind’s changed, you see.... Madame Suhantchikov, Matrona Semyonovna, he simply kicked out. She went to Portugal in her grief.’
‘To Portugal? How absurd!’
‘Yes, brother, to Portugal, with two Matronovtsys.’
‘The Matronovtsys; that’s what the members of her party are called.’
‘Matrona Semyonovna has a party of her own? And is it a numerous one?’
‘Well, it consists of precisely those two. And he will soon have been back here six months. Others have got into difficulties, but he was all right. He lives in the country with his brother, and you should just hear him now....’
‘Coming, Stepan Nikolaitch, coming. And you, dear old chap, are flourishing, enjoying yourself! Well, thank God for that! Where are you off to now?... There, I never thought, I never guessed.... You remember Baden? Ah, that was a place to live in! By the way, you remember Bindasov too? Only fancy, he’s dead. He turned exciseman, and was in a row in a public-house; he got his head-310- broken with a billiard-cue. Yes, yes, hard times have come now! But still I say, Russia ... ah, our Russia! Only look at those two geese; why, in the whole of Europe there’s nothing like them! The genuine Arzamass breed!’
And with this last tribute to his irrepressible desire for enthusiasm, Bambaev ran off to the station hut, where again, seasoned with opprobrious epithets, his name was shouted.
Towards the close of the same day, Litvinov was nearly reaching Tatyana’s village. The little house where his former betrothed lived stood on the slope of a hill, above a small river, in the midst of a garden recently planted. The house, too, was new, lately built, and could be seen a long way off across the river and the open country. Litvinov caught sight of it more than a mile and a half off, with its sharp gable, and its row of little windows, gleaming red in the evening sun. At starting from the last station he was conscious of a secret agitation; now he was in a tremor simply—a happy tremor, not unmixed with dread. ‘How will they meet me?’ he thought, ‘how shall I present myself?’... To turn off his thoughts with something, he began talking with his driver, a steady peasant with a grey beard, who charged him, however, for twenty-five miles, when the-311- distance was not twenty. He asked him, did he know the Shestov ladies?
‘The Shestov ladies? To be sure! Kind-hearted ladies, and no doubt about it! They doctor us too. It’s the truth I’m telling you. Doctors they are! People go to them from all about. Yes, indeed. They fairly crawl to them. If any one, take an example, falls sick, or cuts himself or anything, he goes straight to them and they’ll give him a lotion directly, or powders, or a plaster, and it’ll be all right, it’ll do good. But one can’t show one’s gratitude, we won’t consent to that, they say; it’s not for money. They’ve set up a school too.... Not but what that’s a foolish business!’
While the driver talked, Litvinov never took his eyes off the house.... Out came a woman in white on to the balcony, stood a little, stood and then disappeared.... ‘Wasn’t it she?’ His heart was fairly bounding within him. ‘Quicker, quicker!’ he shouted to the driver; the latter urged on the horses. A few instants more ... and the carriage rolled in through the opened gates.... And on the steps Kapitolina Markovna was already standing, and beside herself with joy, was clapping her hands crying, ‘I heard him, I knew him first! It’s he! it’s he!... I knew him!’
Litvinov jumped out of the carriage, without-312- giving the page who ran up time to open the door, and hurriedly embracing Kapitolina Markovna, dashed into the house, through the hall, into the dining-room.... Before him, all shamefaced, stood Tatyana. She glanced at him with her kind caressing eyes (she was a little thinner, but it suited her), and gave him her hand. But he did not take her hand, he fell on his knees before her. She had not at all expected this and did not know what to say, what to do.... The tears started into her eyes. She was frightened, but her whole face beamed with delight.... ‘Grigory Mihalitch, what is this, Grigory Mihalitch?’ she said ... while he still kissed the hem of her dress ... and with a thrill of tenderness he recalled that at Baden he had been in the same way on his knees before her.... But then—and now!
‘Tanya!’ he repeated, ‘Tanya! you have forgiven me, Tanya!’
‘Aunt, aunt, what is this?’ cried Tatyana turning to Kapitolina Markovna as she came in.
‘Don’t hinder him, Tanya,’ answered the kind old lady. ‘You see the sinner has repented.’
But it is time to make an end; and indeed there is nothing to add; the reader can guess the rest by himself.... But what of Irina?
She is still as charming, in spite of her-313- thirty years; young men out of number fall in love with her, and would fall in love with her even more, if ... if....
Reader, would you care to pass with us for a few instants to Petersburg into one of the first houses there? Look; before you is a spacious apartment, we will not say richly—that is too low an expression—but grandly, imposingly, inspiringly decorated. Are you conscious of a certain flutter of servility? Know that you have entered a temple, a temple consecrated to the highest propriety, to the loftiest philanthropy, in a word, to things unearthly.... A kind of mystic, truly mystic, hush enfolds you. The velvet hangings on the doors, the velvet curtains on the window, the bloated, spongy rug on the floor, everything as it were destined and fitted beforehand for subduing, for softening all coarse sounds and violent sensations. The carefully hung lamps inspire well-regulated emotions; a discreet fragrance is diffused in the close air; even the samovar on the table hisses in a restrained and modest manner. The lady of the house, an important personage in the Petersburg world, speaks hardly audibly; she always speaks as though there were some one dangerously ill, almost dying in the room; the other ladies, following her example, faintly whisper; while her sister, pouring out tea, moves her lips so-314- absolutely without sound that a young man sitting before her, who has been thrown by chance into the temple of decorum, is positively at a loss to know what she wants of him, while she for the sixth time breathes to him, ‘Voulez-vous une tasse de thé?’ In the corners are to be seen young, good-looking men; their glances are brightly, gently ingratiating; unruffled gentleness, tinged with obsequiousness, is apparent in their faces; a number of the stars and crosses of distinction gleam softly on their breasts. The conversation is always gentle; it turns on religious and patriotic topics, the Mystic Drop, F. N. Glinka, the missions in the East, the monasteries and brotherhoods in White Russia. At times, with muffled tread over the soft carpets, move footmen in livery; their huge calves, cased in tight silk stockings, shake noiselessly at every step; the respectful motion of the solid muscles only augments the general impression of decorum, of solemnity, of sanctity.
It is a temple, a temple!
‘Have you seen Madame Ratmirov to-day?’ one great lady queries softly.
‘I met her to-day at Lise’s,’ the hostess answers with her Æolian note. ‘I feel so sorry for her.... She has a satirical intellect ... elle n’a pas la foi.’
‘Yes, yes,’ repeats the great lady ... ‘that-315- I remember, Piotr Ivanitch said about her, and very true it is, qu’elle a ... qu’elle a an ironical intellect.’
‘Elle n’a pas la foi,’ the hostess’s voice exhaled like the smoke of incense,—‘C’est une âme égarée. She has an ironical mind.’
And that is why the young men are not all without exception in love with Irina.... They are afraid of her ... afraid of her ‘ironical intellect.’ That is the current phrase about her; in it, as in every phrase, there is a grain of truth. And not only the young men are afraid of her; she is feared by grown men too, and by men in high places, and even by the grandest personages. No one can so truly and artfully scent out the ridiculous or petty side of a character, no one else has the gift of stamping it mercilessly with the never-forgotten word.... And the sting of that word is all the sharper that it comes from lovely, sweetly fragrant lips.... It’s hard to say what passes in that soul; but in the crowd of her adorers rumour does not recognise in any one the position of a favoured suitor.
Irina’s husband is moving rapidly along the path which among the French is called the path of distinction. The stout general has shot past him; the condescending one is left behind.-316- And in the same town in which Irina lives, lives also our friend Sozont Potugin; he rarely sees her, and she has no special necessity to keep up any connection with him.... The little girl who was committed to his care died not long ago.