In spite of her self-command, in spite of her superiority to convention, Madame Odintsov could not but feel a little uncomfortable when she entered the dining-room for the evening meal. Nevertheless the meal passed off without incident, and after it Porphyri Platonitch came in, and related various anecdotes on the strength of a recent visit to the neighbouring town—among other things, a story to the effect that Governor "Bardeloue" had commanded his whole staff of officials to wear spurs, in order that, if need be, he could dispatch them on their errands on horseback! Meanwhile, Arkady talked in an undertone to Katia, and also paid diplomatic attention to the Princess; while Bazarov maintained such an obstinate, gloomy silence that Madame, glancing at him (as she did twice, and openly, not covertly), thought to herself, as she scanned his stern, forbidding face, downcast eyes, and all-pervading expression of rigid contempt: "No, no! Again, no!"
Dinner over, she conducted her guests into the garden, and, perceiving that Bazarov desired a word with her, walked aside a little, halted, and waited for him. Approaching with his eyes on the ground, he said in a dull way:
"I must beg your pardon, Anna Sergievna. Surely you must be feeling extremely angry with me?"
"No, not angry so much as grieved," she replied.
"So much the worse! But I have received sufficient punishment, have I not? My position now (I am sure that you will agree with me) is a very awkward one. True, you wrote in your message: 'Why need you depart?' but I cannot and will not remain. By to-morrow, therefore, I shall have departed."
"But why need you, need you——?"
"Why need I depart?"
"No, I was going to have said something quite different."
"We cannot recover the past," he continued, "and it was only a question of time before this should happen. I know only of one condition under which I could remain. And that condition is never likely to arise. For (pardon my presumption) I suppose you neither love me now nor could ever do so?"
With the words there came a flash from under his dark brows.
She did not reply. Through her brain there flitted only the one thought: "I am afraid of this man!"
"Farewell," he continued, as though he had divined that thought. Then he moved away towards the house.
Entering the house a little later, Anna Sergievna called to Katia, and took the girl by the arm: nor throughout the rest of the evening did she once part from her. Also, instead of joining in a game of cards, she sat uttering laugh after laugh of a nature which ill consorted with her blanched and careworn face. Gazing at her perplexedly, as a young man will do, Arkady kept asking himself the question: "What can this mean?" As for Bazarov, he locked himself in his room, and only appeared to join the rest at tea. When he did so, Anna Sergievna yearned to say something kind to him, but could think of no words for the purpose. To her dilemma, however, an unexpected incident put an end. This was the entry of the butler to announce Sitnikov!
To describe the craven fashion in which the young Progressive entered the room would be impossible. Although, with characteristic importunity, he had decided to repair to the residence of a lady with whom he was barely acquainted, and who had not accorded him an invitation (his pretext for such presumption being that, according to information received, she happened to be entertaining guests who were both intellectual and "very intimate" with himself), he had since felt his courage ebb to the marrow of his bones, and now, instead of proffering all the excuses and compliments which he had prepared in advance, blurted out some ridiculous story to the effect that Evdoksia Kukshin had sent him to inquire after the health of Anna Sergievna, and that Arkady Nikolaievitch had always spoken of him in terms of the highest respect. But at this point he began to stammer, and so lost his head as to sit down upon his own hat! No one bade him depart, however, and Anna Sergievna even went so far as to present him to her aunt and sister. Accordingly it was not long before he recovered his equanimity, and shone forth with his accustomed brilliancy. Often the appearance of the paltry represents a convenient phenomenon in life, since it relaxes over-taut strings, and sobers natures prone to conceit and self-assurance by reminding them of their kinship with the newcomer. Thus Sitnikov's arrival caused everything to become duller and a trifle more futile, but also rendered things simpler, and enabled the company to partake of supper with a better appetite, and to part for the night half an hour earlier than usual.
"Let me recall to you some words of your own," said Arkady when he had got into bed, and Bazarov was still undressing. "I refer to the words: 'Why are you down-hearted? Have you just fulfilled a sacred duty?'"
Between the two there had become established those half-quizzical relations which are always a sign of tacit distrust and a smouldering grudge.
"To-morrow I intend to set out for my father's place," remarked Bazarov, in disregard of what Arkady had said.
The latter raised himself on his elbow. Though surprised, he also, for some reason, felt glad.
"Ah!" he exclaimed. "Then that is why you are down-hearted?"
"When you are come to be a little older," he replied, "you will know more."
"And what of Anna Sergievna?" continued Arkady.
"Well? What of her?"
"Is it likely that she will let you go?"
"I am not her hireling."
Arkady relapsed into thought, and Bazarov sought his bed, and turned his face to the wall.
For a few moments silence reigned.
"Evgenii," said Arkady suddenly.
"I too intend to leave to-morrow."
Bazarov made no reply.
"True, I shall be returning to Marino," continued Arkady, "but we might bear one another company as far as Khokhlovskïe Viselki, and there you could hire horses of Thedot. Of course, I should have been delighted to make your family's acquaintance, but, were I to accompany you, I might act as a source of constraint upon them and yourself alike. You must pay us another visit at Marino later."
"I will. As a matter of fact, I have left some of my things there." Bazarov still had his face turned to the wall.
"Why does he not ask me the reason of my departure—a departure as sudden as his?" reflected Arkady. "Why is either of us departing, for that matter?"
As he continued to reflect he realised that, while unable to return a satisfactory answer to the question propounded, he seemed to have got a heartache somehow, to be feeling that he would find it hard to part with the life at Nikolsköe to which he was grown so accustomed. Yet he could not remain there alone. That would be worse still.
"Between him and her there is something in the wind," he reflected. "That being so, what would my sticking here avail after he had gone? I should weary Anna Sergievna, and lose my last chance of pleasing her."
Then he began to draw a mental picture of the lady whom he had just named: until there cut across the fair presentment of the young widow another set of features.
"Katia too I shall miss," he whispered to his pillow (which had already received one of his tears). At length, raising his curly poll, he exclaimed:
"What, in the devil's name, brought that idiot Sitnikov here?"
He heard Bazarov stir under the bedclothes, then remark:
"You yourself are an idiot. We need the Sitnikovs of this world. Such donkeys are absolutely necessary to us, to me. The gods ought not to have to bake pots."
"Ah!" reflected Arkady. For, as in a flash, there had become revealed to him the bottomless profundity of Bazarov's conceit.
"Then you and I are the gods?" he said aloud. "Or are you a god, and I a donkey?"
"You are," came the gruff reply. "As yet, at all events, you are."
No particular astonishment was evinced by Madame Odintsov when, on the following day, Arkady informed her that it was his intention to accompany Bazarov. Rather, she looked distraught and weary. Katia glanced at him gravely and in silence, and the Princess went so far as to cross herself under her shawl—a precaution against the young men observing the gesture. Sitnikov too was dumbfounded at having just entered the breakfast-room in a new and most elegant suit (this time not of "Slavophil" cut, not to mention the fact that he had also had the pleasure of amazing his temporary valet with the multitude of his shirts), only to find himself confronted with the prospect of being deserted by his comrades! He shuffled and wriggled like a hare driven to the edge of a covert, and blurted out, almost in panic-stricken fashion, that he too had a great mind to depart. Nor did Madame Odintsov make any great effort to dissuade him.
"I have an exceedingly comfortable koliaska," the unfortunate young man said to Arkady, "and I could give you a lift in it, and leave Evgenii Vasilitch to use your tarantass, which would suit him better than the koliaska."
"But I should not like to take you so far out of your way, for the distance to my home is considerable."
"That would not matter, that would not matter. I have plenty of time to spare, and also some business to do in that direction."
"What? Leasehold business again?" inquired Arkady disparagingly. But Sitnikov was so distraught that he forbore to giggle in his usual fashion.
"I can guarantee that the koliaska is comfortable," he repeated. "Indeed, it could hold all three of us."
"Do not vex Monsieur Sitnikov by refusing," put in Madame Odintsov.
So, with a meaning glance at her, Arkady nodded assent to Sitnikov.
Breakfast over, the guests departed. Anna Sergievna offered Bazarov her hand.
"I hope we shall meet again?" she said.
"Only if you wish it," he replied.
"Then we shall meet again."
The first to issue upon the verandah and enter Sitnikov's koliaska was Arkady. The butler assisted him obsequiously, although Arkady could with equal readiness have struck the man or burst into tears. As for Bazarov, he took possession of the tarantass.
Khokhlovskïe Viselki reached, Arkady waited until Thedot, the local posting-master, had harnessed fresh horses, and then, approaching the tarantass, said to Bazarov with his old smile:
"Evgenii, take me with you. I should like to come to your place, after all."
"Get in, then," muttered Bazarov.
This made Sitnikov, who had been walking up and down beside his conveyance, and whistling, fairly gasp. Nevertheless the heartless Arkady removed his luggage from the koliaska, seated himself beside Bazarov, and, according his late fellow-traveller a courteous bow, shouted: "Right away!" The tarantass started, and soon was lost to view. Much taken aback, Sitnikov gazed at his coachman. But the latter was flicking the flanks of the trace horse with his whip, and therefore Sitnikov had no choice but to leap into the vehicle, to shout to a couple of peasants: "Off with your caps, you rascals!" and be driven to the town, whither he arrived at a late hour, and where, on the following day, he declared to Madame Kukshin that he had had enough of "those odious churls and upstarts."
On Arkady seating himself beside Bazarov in the tarantass, he pressed his hand, and Bazarov seemed to divine the meaning of the silent hand-clasp, and to appreciate it. During the previous night the elder man had never once closed his eyes. Also, for several days past he had neither smoked a cigar nor eaten more than the merest scrap of food. Indeed, as he sat in the tarantass, his fine-drawn profile, under the overshadowing cap, looked sharper and grimmer than ever.
"Give me a cigar, will you?" he said. "Also, pray look at my tongue, and tell me if it has a bilious appearance."
"Yes, it has," replied Arkady.
"I thought so, for this cigar seems tasteless. Moreover, the infernal thing has come unrolled."
"You have changed a good deal of late?" hazarded Arkady.
"I daresay. But I shall be myself again, soon. The only thing now troubling me is the fact that my mother is so good-naturedly fussy. Should one's paunch not be projecting, or should one not eat at least ten meals a day, she relapses into despair. My father, of course, is different, for he has been all over the world, and knows what is what. This cigar is simply unsmokable." And Bazarov consigned it to the dust of the roadway.
"The distance to your place is twenty-five versts, I suppose?" queried Arkady.
"It is so. But inquire of that sage there." And Bazarov pointed to the peasant (an employé of Thedot's) who was seated on the box.
The "sage" in question replied that he "could not say exactly," since the verst-posts in those parts had not been measured out; after which he went on to swear at the shaft horse for "kicking" its "jowl about"—that is to say, jerking its head up and down.
"Aye, aye," commented Bazarov. "Take warning from me, my young friend. An instructive example sits before you—an example of the vanity of this world. By a single thread does the destiny of every man hang, and at any moment there may open before him an abyss into which he and his may plunge. For always he is laying up for himself misfortune."
"At what are you hinting?" asked Arkady.
"At nothing. I am merely saying outright that you and I have behaved very foolishly. However, why talk of it? I have noticed that in surgical operations it is the patient who fights against his hurt who soonest gets well."
"I do not understand you," Arkady said. "So far as I can see, you have nothing whatsoever to complain of."
"You cannot understand me? Well, mark this: that you had far better go and break stones by the roadside than allow a woman to obtain even the least hold over you. Such a thing is sheer" (he nearly said "Romanticism," but changed his mind) "rubbish."
"Perhaps you do not believe me?" he went on. "Nevertheless, I tell you that, though you and I have been cultivating feminine society, and enjoying it, the sense of relief when such society is abandoned is like taking a cold bath on a summer's day. Never ought a man to touch such follies. Always he ought, as the excellent Spanish saying has it, 'to remain as the beasts of the field.' Look here," he added to the peasant on the box. "Do you, my man of wisdom, possess a wife?"
The peasant turned a portion of a flat, near-sighted visage in the friends' direction.
"A wife?" he repeated. "Yes, I do. Why shouldn't I?"
"Never mind that. Do you ever beat her?"
"My wife? Sometimes. But never without good cause."
"Excellent! And does she ever beat you?"
The peasant gave his reins a jerk.
"What a thing, barin!" he exclaimed. "Surely you must be joking?" Evidently the question had offended him.
"You hear that, Arkady Nikolaievitch?" said Bazarov. "You and I have been similarly beaten. That is what comes of being gentry."
Arkady laughed in spite of himself, but Bazarov turned away, and did not speak again until the end of the journey.
To Arkady the twenty-five versts seemed like fifty; but at length there came into view, on the slope of a low hill, the homestead of the manor where Bazarov's parents resided. On one side of it, amid a clump of young birch trees, there could be seen the servants' quarters under their thatched roofs; while at the door of the nearest hut a couple of fur-capped peasants were engaged in a contest of mutual abuse.
"You are an old pig!" one of them said to the other. "And that is worse than being a young one."
"Your wife is a witch," retorted the other.
"From the lack of restraint in their bearing," commented Bazarov, "as well as from the playfulness of their terms of speech, you will gather that my father's peasantry are not downtrodden. But here is my father himself. I can see him stepping out on to the verandah. He will have heard the sound of our collar-bells. Yes, it is he! I recognise his figure. But how grey he looks, poor old fellow!"