Chapter XII

The town of ——, whither our friends now proceeded, lay under the dominion of one of those young, progressive, despotic provincial governors who afflict Russia in an unending sequence. As early as the first year of his rule this particular potentate had succeeded in quarrelling, not only with the President of the Provincial Council (who was a retired staff officer, a horse breeder, and an agriculturist), but also with his whole gubernatorial staff of tchinovniks: with the result that at the time of our story the commotion therefrom had attained a pitch which had just necessitated the sending down of a commissary empowered to hold an investigation. The Government's choice for this purpose had fallen upon Matvei Ilyitch Koliazin, the son of the Koliazin who had once acted as guardian to the brothers Kirsanov, and a man of the younger school—that is to say, a man who, though a little over forty, still aimed at attaining the dignity of a statesman, and having a breast covered with stars (including at least one of a foreign minor order), and who, also like the Governor whom he had come to examine, was accounted a Progressive, and held a high opinion of himself. Yet never did Matvei allow his boundless vanity to prevent him from affecting a stereotyped air of simplicity and good humour, or from listening indulgently to anything that might be said to him, or from cultivating so pleasant a laugh that everywhere he contrived to pass for "not a bad sort of a fellow." True, he could on important occasions (if I may quote the trite saying) "make dust fly" ("Energy is indispensable for a State worker," was a frequent saw of his—"L'énergie est la première qualité d'un homme d'état"); yet almost invariably did he end by being set down as a fool, while tchinovniks of more experience rode roughshod over him. Amongst other things, he had a custom of expressing a great respect for Guizot, and also of striving to convince every one that he (Koliazin) was not one of "your men of routine, your retired bureaucrats," but, rather, a man who noted "every new and more important phenomenon of our social life." In fact, such phrases he had at his finger ends, and also he studied (though with a sort of careless pomposity only) the development of contemporary literature. Lastly, it not seldom befell that, on meeting a street procession of students, he would, though maturer of years than the majority of its members, add himself to its ranks. In short, only his circumstances and his epoch caused Matvei Ilyitch in any way to differ from those officials of the Alexandrine period who, before setting out to attend a reception at Madame Svietchin's (then resident in St. Petersburg), would read a few pages of Condillac's works. Yet, though an adroit courtier, Matvei was a mere glittering fraud, since, save that he knew how to hold his own against all comers (though, certainly, that is a great achievement in life), he was, in all matters of State, a complete stranger to common sense.

On the present occasion he welcomed Arkady with all the bonhomie, all the jocosity, of an "enlightened" bigwig. Nevertheless his face fell a little when he learned that the other relatives whom he had invited had preferred remaining in the country. "Your father always was a queer fish," he remarked as he parted the tails of a velvet "cutaway." And, having said this, he turned to a young tchinovnik in a tightly buttoned uniform, and asked him irritably what he wanted; at which onslaught the young tchinovnik (whose lips looked as though a confirmed habit of keeping their own counsel had gummed them permanently together) straightened himself with a sharp, apprehensive look at his superior. But, once Matvei had effected this "settling" of his subordinate, the great man paid the little one no further attention.

In passing, I may observe that to most of our bigwigs is this species of "settling" very dear, and that many are the expedients resorted to for its achievement. Particularly is the following method "quite a favourite," as the English say—in other words, much in request. Suddenly a given bigwig will cease to be able to grasp with his intelligence even the simplest sentence, and assume an air of abysmal density. For example, he will inquire what the day of the week may be, and be told (with great and stammering deference) that the day is, say, Friday.

"What?" will roar the bigwig with an air of being forced to strain his ears to the utmost. "Eh? what do you say?"

"I-It is F-Friday, your E-E-Excellency."

"Eh, what? Friday? What mean you by Friday?"

"Y-Your Excellency, F-Friday is, is—F-F-Friday is a day in the week."

"Come, come! You need not have taken so much time to tell me that."

Matvei Ilyitch was just such a bigwig, although he called himself a Liberal.

"My good fellow," he now continued to Arkady, "I should advise you to go and leave your card upon the Governor. Of course you understand that my reason for counselling you to adopt this procedure is, not that I in any way hold with any bygone ideas about kow-towing to authority, but, rather, because the Governor is a good fellow, and I know that you would like to see a little society. For you too are not a bear, I hope? No? Well, the Governor is giving a grand ball the day after to-morrow."

"And shall you be there?" asked Arkady.

"I shall, of course, receive tickets for it," replied Matvei Ilyitch with an assumed air of regret. "You dance, I presume?"

"I do—though very badly."

"Never mind, never mind. There exists here plenty of good society, and it would never do for a young fellow like yourself to be a non-dancer. Again I say this, not because I in any way revere antiquated notions, nor yet because I think that intellect ought to go kicking its heels about, but because Byronism has become absurd—il a fait son temps."

"But I belong to neither the Byronists nor——"

"Well, well! I will introduce you to some of our ladies—I myself will take you under my wing." And Matvei Ilyitch smiled in a self-satisfied way. "In fact, you shall have a gay time here."

At this point a servant entered to announce the President of the Provincial Treasury. The latter, a mild-eyed veteran with wrinkles around his lips and a great love for nature, was accustomed to remark on summer days that "of every little flower each little bee is now taking its toll." So Arkady seized the occasion to depart.

He found Bazarov at the hotel where the pair were putting up, and had great difficulty in persuading him to join in the projected call upon the Governor.

"Well, well!" eventually said Bazarov. "I have laid a hand upon the tow-rope, so it ill becomes me to complain of its weight. As we are here to inspect the local lions, let us inspect them."

To the young men the Governor accorded a civil enough welcome, but neither bade them be seated nor set the example himself. A man in a perpetual hurry and ferment, he, on rising in the morning, was accustomed to don a tight uniform and stiff collar, and then to give himself up to such an orgy of orders-giving that he never finished a single meal. As the result, he was known throughout the province as "Bardeloue"—in reference, be it said, not to the great French preacher, but to burda, fermented liquor. After inviting Arkady and Bazarov to the coming ball, the Governor, two minutes later, repeated the invitation as though he had never given it; while likewise he mistook the pair for brothers, and addressed them throughout as "the Messieurs Kaiserov."

Subsequently, as the pair were proceeding homewards, a man of small stature, and dressed in a "Slavophil" costume, leapt from a passing drozhki, and, with a cry of "Evgenii Vasilitch!" flung himself upon Bazarov.

"Is that you, Herr Sitnikov?" remarked Bazarov without even checking his stride. "What chance brings you hither?"

"A pure accident," was the other's reply as, turning to the drozhki, he signed to the coachman to follow at a foot's pace. "You see, I had business to do with my father, and he invited me to pay him a visit." Sitnikov hopped across a puddle. "Also, on learning of your arrival, I have been to call at your place." (True enough, on subsequently reaching the hotel, the two friends found awaiting them Sitnikov's visiting-card, with the corners turned down, and one side of it inscribed with his name in the French fashion, and the other with his name in Slavonic characters.)

"You are from the Governor's, I suppose?" continued the little man. "I sincerely hope not, however."

"Your hopes are vain."

"Then I too, alas, must pay him my devoirs. But first introduce me to your friend."

"Sitnikov—Kirsanov," responded Bazarov without halting.

"Delighted!" minced Sitnikov as he stepped back, struck an attitude, and hurriedly doffed his super-elegant gloves. "I have heard much of you, Monsieur Kirsanov. I too am an old acquaintance—I might even say, an old pupil—of Evgenii Vasilitch's. Through him it was that I came by my spiritual regeneration."

Arkady glanced at Bazarov's "old pupil," and saw that he had small, dull, pleasant, nervous features; also that his narrow, sunken eyes expressed a great restlessness, and that his lips were parted in a perpetual smile of a wooden and ingratiating order.

"Do you know," Sitnikov continued, "when Evgenii Vasilitch first told me that we ought to ignore every species of authority I experienced a sense of rapture, I felt as though I had suddenly ripened. 'Ah,' I thought, 'at last have I found my man!' By the way, Evgenii Vasilitch, you must come and see a certain lady of my acquaintance—one who, beyond all others, is the person to understand you, and to look upon your coming as a red-letter event. Perhaps you have heard of her already?"

"No. Who is she?" asked Bazarov reluctantly.

"A Madame Kukshin—a Madame, I should say, Evdoksia Kukshin. And she is not merely a remarkable character and a woman of light and leading; she is also representative of the émancipée, in the best sense of the word. But look here. How would it be if all three of us were to go and see her? She lives only two steps away, and she would give us luncheon. You have not lunched already, I presume?"

"No, we have not."

"Then the arrangement would suit us all. By the way, she is independent, but a married woman."

"Good-looking?" queried Bazarov.

"N-No—one could not exactly say that."

"Then why ask us to go and see her?"

"Ah, ha! You will have your jest, I see. But remember that she will stand us a bottle of champagne."

"The practicality of the man!"

Sitnikov gave a shrill giggle.

"Shall we go?" he added.

"I cannot decide."

Here Arkady put in a word.

"We have come to inspect the local people," he remarked, "so let us inspect them."

"True enough," seconded Sitnikov. "And, of course, you must come, Monsieur Kirsanov. We could not go without you."

"What? Are all three of us to descend upon her?"

"What matter? She herself is an odd person."

"And you say that she will stand us a bottle of champagne."

"Yes; or even a bottle apiece," asserted Sitnikov. "I will go bail upon that."

"Go bail with what?"

"With my head."

"Your purse would have been better; but lead on."