During the next two weeks life at Marino pursued its normal course. Arkady took things easily, and Bazarov worked. In passing, it may be said that, for all his careless manner and abrupt, laconic speech, the latter had become an accepted phenomenon in the house. In particular had Thenichka so completely lost her shyness of him that one night she sent to awake him because Mitia had been seized with convulsions; whereupon Bazarov arrived, and, half-joking, half-yawning, according to his usual manner, helped her for two hours in the task of attending to the baby. Only Paul Petrovitch disliked the man with the whole strength of his soul, for he accounted him a proud, cynical, conceited plebeian, and suspected him not only of failing to respect, but even of holding in contempt, the personality of Paul Petrovitch Kirsanov. Also, Nikolai Petrovitch stood in slight awe of the young Nihilist, since he doubted the likelihood of any good accruing from Bazarov's influence over Arkady. Yet always he would listen with pleasure to Bazarov's discourses, and gladly attend the chemical or physical experiments with which the young doctor (who had brought a microscope with him) would occupy himself for hours at a stretch. On the other hand, in spite of Bazarov's domineering manner, all the servants had become attached to him, for they felt him to be less a barin than their brother; and in particular did Duniasha readily joke and talk with him, and throw him many meaning glances as she sped past in quail-like fashion, while Peter himself, though a man full of conceit and stupidity, with a forehead perpetually puckered, and a dignity which consisted of a deferential demeanour, a practice of reading journals syllable by syllable, and a habit of constantly brushing his coat; even Peter, I say, would brighten and strike an attitude when he was noticed by Bazarov. In fact, the only servant to disapprove of Bazarov was old Prokofitch, the butler, who looked sour whenever he handed the young doctor a dish, and called him a "sharper" and a "flaunter," and declared that, for all his whiskers, Bazarov was no better than "a dressed-up pig," whereas he, Prokofitch, was practically as good an aristocrat as Paul Petrovitch himself.
In the early days of June, the best season of the year, the weather became beautiful. True, from afar there came threatenings of cholera, but to the local inhabitants such visitations had become a commonplace. Each day Bazarov rose early to set forth upon a tramp of some two or three versts; nor were those tramps undertaken merely for the sake of the exercise (he could not abide aimless expeditions), but, rather, for the sake of collecting herbs and insects. Sometimes, too, he would succeed in inducing Arkady to accompany him; and whenever this was the case the pair would, on the way back, engage in some dispute which always left Arkady vanquished in spite of his superior profusion of argument.
One morning the pair lingered considerably by the way, and Nikolai Petrovitch set out across the garden to meet them. Just as he reached the arbour, he heard their voices and brisk footsteps approaching, though he himself was invisible to the returning friends.
"You do not understand my father," Arkady was saying.
Nikolai Petrovitch halted instead of revealing himself.
"Oh, he is a good fellow enough," replied Bazarov. "But also he is a man on the shelf, a man whose song has been sung."
Though Nikolai Petrovitch strained his ears, he failed to catch Arkady's reply. So the "man on the shelf" lingered for a minute or two—then walked slowly back to the house.
"For the past three days I have noted him reading Pushkin," continued Bazarov. "You ought to explain to him that no good can come of that, for he is no longer a boy, and ought to have shaken himself free of such fiddlesticks. Who would desire to be a Romanticist? Give him something practical."
"Let me consider. For a start, give him Büchner's Stoff und Kraft."
"Good!" Arkady's tone was approving. "Stoff und Kraft is at least written in a popular style."
The same day Nikolai Petrovitch was sitting with his brother. At length he said:
"I find that you and I are men on the shelf, that our songs have been sung. Eh? And perhaps Bazarov is right. Yet I confess that one thing hurts me: and that is that, though I had hoped to draw nearer to Arkady, I am being left in the rear, and he is for ever marching ahead. No longer do he and I understand one another."
"And why is he for ever marching ahead?" asked Paul Petrovitch indignantly. "How comes he to stand at such a distance from us? The reason is simply the ideas which that precious 'Nihilist' is putting into his head. For myself, I detest the fellow, and think him a charlatan. Also, I am certain that, in spite of his frogs, he is making no real progress in physics."
"We ought not to say that, brother. For my own part, I look upon him as a man of culture and ability."
"If so, a detestably conceited one."
"Perhaps he is conceited," Nikolai Petrovitch allowed. "But then it would appear that nothing can be done without something of the kind. What I cannot make out is the following. As you know, I have done everything possible to keep up with the times—I have organised my peasantry, I have set up such a farm that throughout the province I am known as 'Fine Kirsanov,' persistently I read and educate myself, in general I try to march abreast of the needs of the day. Yet, though I do all this, I am now given to understand that my day is past and gone! And, brother, I do not say that I am not partially inclined to accept that view."
"For what reason?"
"For the following. To-day, as I was reading Pushkin (I think it was 'The Gipsies' that I had lighted upon), there suddenly entered the room Arkady. Silently, and with an air of kindly regret, and as gently as a child, he withdrew the book from my hand, and laid before me another book—a German production of some kind. That done, he gave me another smile, and departed with my volume of Pushkin under his arm."
"Good gracious! And what might be the book which he has given you?"
Nikolai Petrovitch extracted from the tail pocket of his frock-coat a copy (ninth edition) of Büchner's well-known work.
Paul Petrovitch turned it over in his hands.
"H'm!" he grunted. "Arkady does indeed seem solicitous for your education! Have you tried reading the book?"
"And how do you like it?"
"Well, either I am a fool or the thing is rubbish. Of the two views, the former seems to me the most probable."
"It is not because you have forgotten your German, I suppose?"
"Oh no. I understand the language perfectly."
Again Paul Petrovitch turned over the book, and again he glanced at his brother from under his brows. A moment's silence ensued.
"By the way," continued Nikolai Petrovitch with an evident desire to change the conversation, "I have received a letter from Koliazin."
"From Matvei Ilyitch?"
"From the same. It seems that he has just arrived at ——, for the purpose of carrying out the Revision of the province, and he writes very civilly that, as our kinsman, he would be glad to see Arkady and you and myself."
"Do you intend to accept his invitation?" asked Paul Petrovitch.
"I do not. Do you?"
"No. We have no need to drag ourselves fifty versts to eat blanc-mange. The good Mathieu wants to show off a little—that is all. He can do without us. But what an honour to be a Privy Councillor! Had I continued in the Service, continued hauling at the old tow-rope, I myself might have been Adjutant-General! As it is, I, like yourself, am on the shelf."
"Yes, brother. Clearly it is time that we ordered our tombstones, and folded our hands upon our breasts."
A sigh concluded Nikolai Petrovitch's speech.
"But I do not intend to give in so soon," muttered his brother. "There is first going to be a skirmish between that chirurgeon of Arkady's and myself. That I can see beyond a doubt."
And, sure enough, the "skirmish" occurred the same evening. Ready for battle as soon he repaired to the drawing-room for tea, Paul Petrovitch entered angrily, but firmly, and sat waiting for an excuse to advance upon the foe. Yet for a while that excuse hung fire, since Bazarov never said much in the presence of "the old Kirsanovs," and to-night was feeling out of spirits, and drank his tea in absolute silence. However, Paul Petrovitch was so charged with impatience that his wish was bound to attain fulfilment.
It happened that the conversation became turned upon a neighbouring landowner.
"He is just a petty aristocrat," Bazarov drily remarked (it seemed that he and the landowner had met in St. Petersburg).
"Allow me," put in Paul Petrovitch, his lips quivering. "In your view, do the terms 'good-for-nothing' and 'aristocrat' connote the same thing?"
"I said 'petty aristocrat,'" replied Bazarov as he lazily sipped his tea.
"Quite so. Then I take it that you hold the same opinion of aristocrats as of 'petty aristocrats'? Well, I may remark that your opinion is not mine. And to that I would add that, while I myself possess a reputation for Liberal and progressive views, I possess that reputation for the very reason that I can respect real aristocrats. For instance, my dear sir" (the latter term was so heatedly uttered that Bazarov raised his eyebrows), "for instance, my dear sir, take the aristocracy of England. While yielding upon their rights not an iota, they yet know how to respect the rights of others. While demanding fulfilment of obligations due to themselves, they yet fulfil their own obligations. And for those reasons it is to her aristocratic caste that England stands indebted for her freedom. It is because the English aristocratic caste itself supports that freedom."
"A tale which we have heard many times before!" commented Bazarov. "But what are you seeking to prove?"
"I am seeking to prove this," replied Paul Petrovitch. "That without a certain sense of personal dignity, without a sense of self-respect (both of which senses are inborn in the true aristocrat), the social edifice, the bien public, cannot rest upon a durable basis. It is personality that matters, my dear sir: and the human personality requires to be as firm as a rock, in that there rests upon it the entire structure of society. For example, I know that you ridicule my customs, my dress, my fastidious tastes. Yet do those very things proceed from that sense of duty—yes, of duty, I repeat—to which I have just alluded. In other words, I may live in the depths of the country, yet I do not let myself go. For I respect in myself the man."
"Allow me, Paul Petrovitch," said Bazarov. "You say that you respect yourself. Very good. Yet you can sit there with your hands folded! How will that benefit the bien public, seeing that inaction would scarcely seem to argue self-respect?"
Paul Petrovitch blanched a little.
"That is another question altogether," he said. "However, I do not feel called upon to explain the reason why I sit with my hands folded (according to your own estimable term). It will suffice merely to remark that in the aristocratic idea there is contained a principle, and that nowadays men who live without principles are as destitute of morality as they are of moral substance. The same thing did I say to Arkady on the day after his arrival, and I say it now to you. You agree with me, Nikolai, do you not?"
Nikolai Petrovitch nodded assent, while Bazarov exclaimed:
"The aristocratic idea, forsooth! Liberalism, progress, principles! Why, have you ever considered the vanity of those terms? The Russian of to-day does not need them."
"Then what, in your opinion, does he need? To listen to you, one would suppose that we stood wholly divorced from humanity and humanity's laws; whereas, pardon me, the logic of history demands——"
"What has that logic to do with us? We can get on quite well without it."
"How can we do so?"
"Even as I have said. When you want to put a piece of bread into your mouth do you need logic for the purpose? What have these abstractions to do with ourselves?"
Paul Petrovitch waved his hand in disgust.
"I cannot understand you," he said. "You seem to me to be insulting the Russian people. How you or any one else can decline to recognise principles and precepts is a thing which passes my comprehension. For what other basis for action in life have we got?"
Arkady put in a word.
"Both I and Bazarov have told you," he said, "that we recognise no authority of any sort."
"Rather, that we recognise no basis for action save the useful," corrected Bazarov. "At present the course most useful is denial. Therefore we deny."
"What? Both poetry and art and—I find it hard to express it?——"
"I repeat, everything," said Bazarov with an ineffable expression of insouciance.
Paul Petrovitch stared. He had not quite expected this. For his part, Arkady reddened with pleasure.
"Allow me," interposed Nikolai Petrovitch. "You say that you deny everything—rather, that you would consign everything to destruction. But also you ought to construct."
"That is not our business," said Bazarov. "First must the site be cleared."
"Yes; for the present condition of the people demands it," affirmed Arkady. "And that demand we are bound to fulfil, seeing that no one has the right merely to devote himself to the satisfaction of his own personal egotism."
With this last Bazarov did not seem altogether pleased, since the phrase smacked too much of philosophy—rather, of "Romanticism," as Bazarov termed that science; but he did not trouble to confute his pupil.
"No, no!" Paul Petrovitch exclaimed with sudden heat. "I cannot believe that gentlemen of your type possess sufficient knowledge of the people to be rightful representatives of its demands and aspirations. For the Russian people is not what you think it to be. It holds traditions sacred, and is patriarchal, and cannot live without faith."
"I will not dispute that," observed Bazarov. "Nay, I will even agree that you are right."
"And, granting that I am right——"
"You have proved nothing."
"Yes, proved nothing," echoed Arkady with the assurance of a chess-player who, having foreseen a dangerous move on the part of his opponent, awaits the attack with expert composure.
"But how have I proved nothing?" muttered Paul Petrovitch, rather taken aback. "Do you mean to say that you are opposed to, not in favour of, the people?"
"Good gracious! Do not the common folk believe, when it thunders, that the Prophet Elijah is going up to Heaven in his chariot? You and I do not agree with that? The point is that the people is Russian, and that I am the same."
"Not after what you have just said! Henceforth must I decline to recognise you as any countryman of mine."
With a sort of indolent hauteur Bazarov replied:
"With his own hand did my grandfather guide the plough. Ask, therefore, of your favourite peasant which of us two—you or myself—he rates most truly as his countryman. Why, you do not know even how to speak to him!"
"And you, while speaking to him, despise him."
"Should he merit contempt, yes. Reprobate, therefore, my views as much as you like, but who told you that they have come to me fortuitously rather than been derived from the very national spirit of which you are so ardent an upholder?"
"Phaugh! We need you Nihilists, do we not?"
"Not ours is it to decide the need or otherwise, seeing that even a man like yourself considers that he has a use."
"Gentlemen, gentlemen!" interposed Nikolai Petrovitch as he rose to his feet. "I beg of you to indulge in no personalities!"
Paul Petrovitch smiled. Then, laying his hand upon his brother's shoulder, he forced him to resume his seat.
"Do not be alarmed," he said. "That very sense of dignity at which this gentleman pokes such bitter fun will keep me from forgetting myself."
And he turned to Bazarov again.
"Do you suppose your doctrine to be a new one?" he continued. "If so, you are wasting your time. More than once has the Materialism which you preach been mooted; and each time it has been proved bankrupt."
"Another foreign term!" muttered Bazarov. He was now beginning to lose his temper, and his face had turned a dull, copperish tint. "In the first place, we Nihilists preach nothing at all. For to preach is not our custom."
"What, then, is your custom?"
"To proclaim facts such as that our civil servants accept bribes, that we lack highways, commerce, and a single upright judge, and that——"
"Of course, of course! In other words, you and yours are to act as our 'censors' (I believe that to be the correct term?). Well, I agree with many of your censures, but——"
"Other tenets which we hold are that to chatter, and to do nothing but chatter, concerning our differences is not worth the trouble, seeing that it is a pursuit which merely leads to pettiness and doctrinairism; that beyond question are our so-called leaders and censors not worth their salt, seeing that they engage in sheer futilities, and waste their breath on discussions on art and still life and Parliamentarism and legal points and the devil only knows what, when all the time it is the bread of subsistence alone that matters, and we are being stifled with gross superstition, and all our commercial enterprises are failing for want of honest directors, and the freedom of which the Government is for ever prating is destined never to become a reality, for the reason that, so long as the Russian peasant is allowed to go and drink himself to death in a dram-shop, he is ready to submit to any sort of despoilment."
"You have decided, then, you feel conscious, that your true métier is to apply yourselves seriously to nothing?"
"Even so," came the sullen reply, for Bazarov had suddenly become vexed with himself for having exposed his mind with such completeness to this barin.
"You have decided merely to deny everything?"
"We have decided merely to deny everything."
"And that you call Nihilism?"
"That we call Nihilism." In Bazarov's repetition of Paul Petrovitch's words there echoed, this time, a note of pride.
Paul Petrovitch knit his brows.
"So, so!" he said in a voice that was curiously calm. "Nihilism is designed to combat our every ill, and you alone are to act as our saviours and our heroes! Well, well! But in what consider you yourselves and your censorious friends to excel the rest of us? For you chatter as much as does every one else."
"No, no!" muttered Bazarov. "At least we are not guilty of that, however we may err in other ways."
"You do things, then? At all events, you are preparing to do things?"
Bazarov did not reply, although, in his excitement, Paul Petrovitch had started up and then quickly recovered his self-command.
"H'm!" continued Paul Petrovitch. "With you to act is to demolish. But how is such demolition to benefit when you do not even know its purpose?"
"We demolish because we are a force," interposed Arkady.
Paul Petrovitch stared—then smiled.
"And a force need render account to no one," added Arkady with a self-conscious straightening of his form.
"Fool!" gasped Paul Petrovitch. Evidently he could contain himself no longer. "Have you ever considered what you are maintaining with your miserable creed? Even an angel would lose patience! 'A force,' forsooth! You might as well say that the wild Kalmuck, or the barbaric Mongol, represents a force. What boots such a force? Civilisation and its fruits are what we value. And do not tell me that those fruits are to be overlooked, seeing that even the meanest barbouilleur, the meanest piano-player who ever earned five kopecks a night, is of more use to society than you. For men of that kind at least stand for culture rather than for some rude, Mongolian propelling-power. Yes, you may look upon yourselves as 'the coming race,' yet you are fit but to sit in a Kalmuck shanty. 'A force,' forsooth! Good and 'forceful' sirs, I beg to tell you that you number but four men and a boy, whereas those others number millions, and are folk of the kind who will not permit such as you to trample upon their sacred beliefs, but will first trample upon your worthy selves."
"Let them trample upon us," retorted Bazarov. "We are more in number than you think."
"What? You really believe that you will succeed in inoculating the nation as a whole?"
"From a little candle," replied Bazarov, "there arose, as you know, the conflagration of Moscow."
"A pride almost Satanic in its nature, and then banter! And thus you would seek to attract our youth, thus you would attempt to win the inexperienced hearts of our boys! For sitting beside you is one of those very boys, and he is absolutely worshipping you!" (Upon this Arkady knit his brows, and averted his head a little.) "Yes, the canker has spread far already. For instance, they tell me that in Rome our artists decline to enter the Vatican, and look upon Raphael as next-door to a fool, just because he is an 'authority'! Yet those very artists are themselves so barren and impotent that their fancy cannot rise above 'Girls at Fountains,' and so forth, villainously executed! And such artists you account fine fellows, I presume?"
"Like those artists," said Bazarov, "I consider Raphael to be worth not a copper groat. And as for the artists themselves, I appraise them at about a similar sum."
"Bravo, bravo!" cried Paul Petrovitch. "Listen, O Arkady—listen to the way in which the young men of the present day ought to express themselves! Surely our youth will now rally to your side? For once upon a time they had to go to school, since they did not like to be taken for dunces, and therefore worked at their studies; but now they have but to say: 'Everything in the world is rubbish,' and, behold! the trick is done. They consider that delightful—and naturally! In other words, the blockheads of former days are become the Nihilists of the present."
"Your self-sufficiency—I mean, your self-respect—is carrying you away," Bazarov remarked nonchalantly (as for Arkady, his eyes had flashed, and his whole form was quivering with indignation). "But our dispute has gone far enough. Let us end it. Whenever you may feel that you can point out to me a single institution in our family or our public life which does not call for complete and unsparing rejection, I shall be pleased to accept your view."
"Of institutions of that kind I could cite you millions," exclaimed Paul Petrovitch. "For example, take the village commune."
Bazarov's lips twisted themselves into a contemptuous smile.
"The village commune," said he, "is a subject which you would do better to discuss with your brother, since he is learning by experience the meaning of that commune, and of its circular guarantee, and of its enforced sobriety and other contrivances."
"Take the family, then—yes, take the family, since at least among the peasantry it is still a surviving institution."
"And that question, too, I should imagine were best not dissected by you in detail. But see here, Paul Petrovitch. Allow yourself a minimum of two days to think over these things (you will need quite that amount of time to do so); and cite to yourself in succession our various social conditions, and give them your best attention. Meanwhile Arkady and myself will go and——"
"Go and make sport of everything, I presume?"
"No, go and dissect frogs. Come, Arkady! Au revoir, gentlemen."
And the two friends departed. Left alone, the brothers looked at one another.
"So," at last said Paul Petrovitch, "you see the young men of the day—you see our successors!"
"Our successors—yes," re-echoed Nikolai Petrovitch despondently. Throughout the conversation he had been sitting simply on pins and needles; throughout it he had dared do no more than throw an occasional pained glance at Arkady. "My brother, there came to me just now a curious reminiscence. It was of a quarrel which once I had with my mother. During the contest she raised a great outcry, and refused to listen to a single word I said; until at length I told her that for her to understand me was impossible, seeing that she and I came of different generations. Of course this angered her yet more, but I thought to myself: 'What else could I do? The pill must have been a bitter one, but it was necessary that she should swallow it.' And now our turn is come; now is it for us to be told by our heirs that we come of a different generation from theirs, and must kindly swallow the pill."
"You are too magnanimous and retiring," expostulated Paul Petrovitch. "For my part, I feel sure that we are more in the right than these two youngsters, even though we may express ourselves in old-fashioned terms, and lack their daring self-sufficiency. Indeed, what a puffed-up crowd is the youth of to-day! Should you ask one of them whether he will take white wine or red, he will reply, in a bass voice, and with a face as though the whole universe were looking at him: 'Red is my customary rule.'"
"Should you like some more tea?" interrupted Thenichka, who had been peeping through the doorway, but had not dared to enter during the progress of the dispute.
"No," was Nikolai Petrovitch's reply as he rose to meet her. "So you can order the samovar to be removed."
Meanwhile, with a brief "Bon soir," Paul Petrovitch betook himself to his study.