Chapter XVII

As we know, time either flies like a bird or crawls like a snail. Thus a man is in best case when he fails to notice either the rapidity or the slowness of its flight. Similarly did Bazarov and Arkady spend their fortnight at Madame Odintsov's. Of this another contributory cause was the fact that alike in her household and in her daily life she maintained a régime to which she herself strictly adhered, and to which she constrained others to adhere; so that the daily domestic round accomplished itself according to a fixed programme. At eight o'clock the company would assemble for breakfast; whereafter, until luncheon time, individuals could do whatsoever they chose (the hostess herself devoting her attention to her steward—she administered her estate on the obrok or tithes system—her household servants, and her head housekeeper). Next, before dinner, the company would reassemble for conversation or for reading aloud; and the rest of the evening would be devoted to a walk, to cards, or to music. Lastly, at half-past ten Anna Sergievna would withdraw to her room, issue her orders for the following day, and retire to bed.

But to Bazarov this measured, slightly formal regularity was not wholly agreeable. "Somehow it reminds one of running on a pair of rails," he used to declare; while so much did the sight of liveried lacqueys and graded serfs offend his democratic instincts that once he averred that one might as well dine in the English fashion outright, and wear white ties and black tail-coats. These views he expressed to Anna Sergievna (something in her always led men to lay bare their opinions in her presence); and, after she had heard him out, she said: "From your point of view, the matter is as you say, and perhaps I play the fine lady too much; but in the country one cannot live anyhow; such a course always leads one to grow slovenly."

So she continued her régime as before. Yet, though Bazarov grumbled, he and Arkady found that to that very formality they owed the fact that everything in the establishment "ran as on rails." In passing it may be mentioned that between the two young men there had taken place a change which dated from the day of their arrival at Nikolsköe, and manifested itself, as regards Bazarov (for whom Anna Sergievna evidently entertained a liking, though seldom did she agree with his dicta), in the form of an unwonted captiousness which led him easily to lose his temper, to speak always with reluctance, to glare about him, and to be as unable to sit still as though mines had been exploding beneath his seat. As for Arkady (now come finally to the conclusion that he was in love with Madame Odintsov), the change manifested itself, rather, in his falling a prey to a melancholy which in no way prevented him from making friends with Katia, and even helped him to maintain with her kindly and cordial relations.

"Whereas Madame cares nothing for me," he would reflect, "this good-hearted creature does not give me the cold shoulder."

And these reflections would cause his heart to taste once more the sensuous joy of "magnanimity." Dimly Katia herself divined that her society afforded him a sort of comfort; wherefore she saw no reason to deny either him or herself the pleasure of this innocent, half-diffident, half-trustful camaraderie. True, in the presence, and under the keen eye, of the elder sister (who always caused Katia to retire precipitately into her shell) the pair never exchanged a single word (indeed, as a man in love, Arkady could not well have paid attention to any one but the object of his adoration while in the latter's vicinity); but as soon as he found himself alone with Katia he began, to a certain degree, really to enjoy himself. That is to say, whereas he knew himself to be incompetent to interest Madame (seeing that whenever he found himself alone with her he blushed and lost his head, while she, on her side, did not know what to say to him, so jejune was his mind as compared with her own), in Katia's presence he felt perfectly at home, and could treat her with condescension, and let her expound to him the impressions which she derived from music and the reading of tales, poems, and other "trifles." Nor did he notice, nor would he have consented to recognise had he noticed, the fact that those same "trifles" interested him as much as they did Katia. At the same time, the latter in no way acted as a clog upon his melancholy; wherefore, just as Madame was at her ease with Bazarov, so the young man was at his with Katia, and, after a short period of joint converse, the two couples would usually diverge. This happened especially during walks, and the more readily in that, whereas Katia adored nature, and Arkady too loved it (though he would never have admitted the fact), to Madame and Bazarov the charms of the natural world represented more or less a matter of indifference. Hardly need I add that from this constant separation between Arkady and Bazarov there flowed inevitable results which brought about in the relations of the pair a gradual change. That is to say, Bazarov ceased to discourse on Madame Odintsov—he ceased even to censure her for her "aristocratic manners"; and while, with regard to Katia, he sang her praises as usual (at the same time advising the placing of a check upon her sentimental tendencies), he took to uttering these encomiums only in a half-hearted and a perfunctory way, and, in general, to lecturing his pupil less than he had formerly done. Rather, he seemed to avoid him, to feel in some way uncomfortable in his presence.

These things Arkady duly noted, but kept his observations to himself.

The real cause of the innovation was the feeling which Madame Odintsov inspired in Bazarov's breast, and which he found to be a torture and a madness to him. Yet, had any one hinted to him, ever so distantly, that what was taking place in his soul could ever have been possible, he would have denied it with a contemptuous laugh and a cynical imprecation, seeing that, though a great devotee of feminine society and feminine beauty, he looked upon love in the ideal, the "romantic" (to use his own term) aspect as unpardonable folly, and upon the sentiment of chivalry as a sort of aberration or malady which moved him frequently to express his astonishment that Toggenburg and his Minnesingers and troubadours never ended by being clapped in a madhouse.

"Should a woman please you," he would say, "strive to attain your goal; but if you cannot attain that goal, waste no further trouble—just turn away. For the world does not rest upon a single keystone."

In similar fashion Madame Odintsov "pleased" Bazarov: yet, though the widespread reports in circulation about her might, with the freedom and independence of her views and the undoubted penchant which she entertained for himself, have been reckoned to tell in his favour, he soon discovered that, in her case, the "goal" was not to be attained. Also, he found to his surprise that he could not "turn away"—rather, that the mere thought of her made his blood boil. True, that symptom, if it had been the only one, might have been dealt with; but there became implanted in him something else—something which he had hitherto refused to admit, something of which he had hitherto made sport, but something which now aroused his pride. Therefore, although, when conversing with Anna Sergievna, he poured added scorn upon everything "romantic," he recognised, during his hours of solitude, that even in his own personality there lurked an element of "Romanticism." And at such times there was nothing for it but to rush out of doors into the woods, and to stride along at a pace which snapped off chance-met boughs, and found vent in curses at both them and himself. Or he would seek a hayloft or stable, and, stubbornly closing his eyes, strive to woo sleep, and almost invariably fail. Yet, as he sat there, there would come to him delusions that those proud lips had once responded to his kisses, that those chaste arms had embraced his neck, that those soulful eyes had gazed tenderly—yes, tenderly—into his: and at such times his head would whirl, and for a second or two, and until his discontent returned, he would relapse into a state of trance, and, as though urged by a demon, think thoughts of unavowable import. Again, there were times when he would conceive a change similar to his own to have taken place in her, and the expression of her face already to be charged with a special significance. Yet, this point reached, he would end merely by stamping his feet, grinding his teeth, and mentally shaking his fist at himself.

Once, when walking with her in the garden, he announced to her in curt, gruff tones that he intended soon to depart for his father's place; whereupon Anna Sergievna turned pale, as though something had pricked her heart, and pricked it in such a manner as to surprise even herself, and to leave her wondering what it could portend. Yet not for the sake of testing her, nor of seeing what might possibly come of it, had he mentioned his purposed departure (never at any time did he indulge in "scheming"). Rather, the reason was that, earlier that morning, he had had an interview with his father's steward, Timotheitch, a rough, but quick-witted, old fellow who, in past days, had acted as his nurse, and had now presented himself—with tousled, flaxen hair, red, weather-beaten face, watery, sunken eyes, short, stout jacket of grey-blue cloth, leathern girdle, and tarred boots—at Nikolsköe.

"Good-day to you, ancient!" had been Bazarov's greeting.

"Good-day to you, batiushka!" had responded the old man with a gleeful smile which had covered his face with wrinkles.

"And how is it that I see you here?" Bazarov had continued. "Is it that they have sent you to fetch me?"

"By no means, pardon me, batiushka!" Timotheitch had stammered out this denial for the reason that he had suddenly recollected certain strict injunctions imposed upon him before starting. "No, it is merely that I am on my way to the town on affairs connected with the estate, and turned aside a little to pay my respects to your honour. No, not to disturb you at all—oh dear no!"

"Do not lie," Bazarov had said. "Is this the way to the town?"

Timotheitch, cringing, had returned no reply.

"And how is my father?" Bazarov had continued.

"Quite well, thank God!"

"And my mother?"

"Your mother is the same, thank God!"

"And they are, I suppose, expecting me?"

The old man had cocked his head with a knowing air.

"Evgenii Vasilitch, why should they not be expecting you? Yes, as God is my trust, I know that their hearts are simply aching for a sight of you."

"Well, well! Do not make too long a stay of it, but tell them that I will come presently."

"I will, batiushka."

Yet it had been with a sigh that Timotheitch had replaced his cap on his head with both hands, left the house, remounted the shabby drozhki which he had left waiting at the gates, and disappeared at a trot—though not in the direction of the town.

The same evening saw Madame sitting in her boudoir with Bazarov, and Arkady pacing the salon, and listening to Katia's music. As for the Princess, she had gone to bed, for she could not abide the presence of guests—least of all, of "those upstarts and good-for-nothings" as she termed our friends. In fact, though she confined herself, in the drawing-room or the dining-room, to sulking, she resorted, when alone with her maid in the bedroom, to abuse of Arkady and Bazarov which made her cap and her false front fairly dance on her head. These things, of course, Madame Odintsov knew.

"Why need you depart?" she said to Bazarov. "Have you forgotten your promise?"

Bazarov started.

"What promise?" he asked.

"Then you have forgotten it! I mean the promise to give me a few lessons in chemistry?"

"How can I fulfil it? My father is expecting me at home, and I ought not to stay a day longer. You had better read through Notions Générales de Chimie, by Pelouse and Frémy. It is an excellent work, and clearly written—the very thing you want."

"But you said that no book can adequately replace—I forget the exact phrase you used, but you know what I mean, do you not?"

"I cannot help myself," he muttered.

"Nevertheless, why go?" She lowered her voice as she spoke. Bazarov glanced at her as she leant back in her chair and crossed her arms (which were bare to the elbow), and saw that by the light of the lamp (softened with a shade of pleated paper) she was looking paler than usual—also that the outlines of her figure were almost buried in a soft white gown, from underneath which there peeped forth the tips of her toes, posed crosswise.

"What reason should I have for remaining?" he replied.

She gave her head the faintest toss.

"What reason should you have?" she re-echoed. "Well, are you not happy here? Do you think that there will be no one to regret your departure?"

"There will be no one. Of that I am certain."

"Then you are wrong," came the reply after a pause. "But I do not believe you—I have an idea that you are not speaking seriously."

Bazarov said nothing.

"Why do you not answer me?" she persisted.

"What is there to say? In general, to regret people's absence is not worth while, and, least of all, the absence of people like myself."

"Why, again?"

"Because I am a prosaic and eminently uninteresting individual. Nor do I know how to talk."

"But you know how to play the esquire?"

"No, not even that. And, as you know, the softer aspect of life, the aspect which you hold so dear, lies altogether beyond me."

Madame Odintsov nibbled the corner of her handkerchief.

"Think what you like," she said, "but at least I shall find things dull when you are gone."

"Arkady will remain," he hazarded.

She shrugged her shoulders.

"Nevertheless I shall find the time wearisome," she repeated.

"Not for long."

"Why not?"

"Because, as you have very truly said, things never seem dull to you save when your régime is infringed. In fact, with such faultless regularity have you ordered your life that there abides in it no room for dullness or depression or any other burdensome feeling."

"And I too am faultless, I suppose—I have ordered my life too regularly ever to err?"

"I daresay. Take an example of it. In a few minutes it will be ten o'clock; when, as I know by experience, you will request me to leave your presence."

"Oh no, I shall not. You may remain. By the way, please open that window. The room is simply stifling."

Bazarov rose and unfastened the casement, which swung backwards with a snap, for the reason that he had not expected it to open so easily, and that his hands were trembling. Into the aperture glanced the soft, warm night with its vista of dark vault of heaven, faintly rustling trees, and pure, free, sweet-scented air.

"Also, please pull down the blind, and then resume your seat. I wish to have a little further talk with you before you go. Tell me something about yourself—a person to whom, by the way, you never refer."

"I would rather converse with you on more profitable subjects."

"What modesty! Nevertheless I wish to learn something of you, and of your family, and of the father for whose sake you are soon going to abandon me."

"Why the word 'abandon'?" reflected Bazarov. Then he added aloud: "Things of that kind interest no one—least of all you. I and my people are obscure folk."

"Whereas I, you imagine, am an aristocrat?"

Bazarov looked up.

"Yes," he replied with emphasis.

She smiled.

"Then I can see that your knowledge of me is small," she remarked. "But of course—you believe all human beings to be identical, and therefore not worth the trouble of studying. Some day I will tell you my history. But first tell me yours."

"You say that my knowledge of you is small?" queried Bazarov. "You may be right. Possibly every human being is an enigma. Let us take an example of that. You have withdrawn from society, and find it irksome, and limit your visitors' list to a couple of students. Yet why, with your intellect and your beauty, do you live in the country?"

"Why?" came the sharp rejoinder. "But first be so good as to explain what you mean by my 'beauty.'"

Bazarov frowned.

"That lies beside the point," he muttered. "The point is that I cannot understand why you settle in a rural spot of this kind."

"You cannot understand it, you cannot explain it?"

"No. There is only one possible explanation: and that is that you remain here because you are a person of self-indulgence who love comfort and the amenities of life, and are indifferent to aught else."

Again Madame Odintsov smiled.

"Then you are still determined to believe that I am incapable of being moved?" she said.

Bazarov glanced at her from under his brows.

"By curiosity, yes," he said. "But by nothing else."

"Indeed? Then I cease to wonder that you and I do not get on together. You are exactly like myself."

"That you and I do not get on together?" echoed Bazarov vaguely.

"Yes. But I had forgotten—you must be longing to retire?"

Bazarov rose. The lamp was casting a dim light, while into the fragrant, darkened, isolated room there came wafted at intervals, under the swinging blind, the sensuous freshness of the night, and the sounds of its mysterious whisperings. Madame Odintsov did not stir. Over her was stealing the same strange agitation which had infected Bazarov. Suddenly he realised that he was alone with a young and beautiful woman.

"Need you go?" she asked slowly.

He made no reply—he merely resumed his seat.

"Then you think me a spoilt, pampered, indolent person?" she continued in the same slow tone as she fixed her eyes upon the window. "Yet this much I know about myself: that I am very unhappy."

"Unhappy? For what reason? Because you attach too much importance to petty slanders?"

She frowned. Somehow she felt vexed that he should have understood her thus.

"No; things of that kind do not disturb me," she said. "Never should I allow them to do so—I am too proud. The reason why I am unhappy is that I have no wish, no enthusiasm, to live. I daresay you will not believe me, and will think that a mere 'petty aristocrat,' a person who is lapped in lace and seated in an armchair, is saying all this (and I will not conceal from you that I love what you call 'the comforts of life'): yet all the while I feel as though I had no desire to continue my existence. Pray reconcile that contradiction if you can. But perhaps you consider what I say 'Romanticism'?"

Bazarov shook his head.

"You are yet young," he said. "Also, you are rich and independent. What more could you have? What more do you desire?"

"What more?" she re-echoed with a sigh. "I do not know. I only know that I feel tired, antiquated; I feel as though I had been living a long, long time. Yes, I am growing old," she continued as she drew the ends of her mantilla around her bare shoulders. In doing so, she glanced at Bazarov. Her eyes met his, and the faintest of blushes stole into her face. "Behind me lie many memories—memories of my life in St. Petersburg, of a period of wealth followed by poverty, of my father's death, of my marriage, of my travels abroad—yes, many such memories there are. Yet none of them are worth cherishing. And before me lies only a weary road with no goal to it, along which I have no desire to travel."

"You are disenchanted," said Bazarov.

"No," she replied with a shiver. "Rather, I am dissatisfied. Oh that I could form a strong attachment of some kind!"

"To fall in love might save you," remarked Bazarov. "But you are incapable of that. That is where your misfortune lies."

Madame dropped her eyes upon the sleeve of her mantilla.

"I am incapable of falling in love?" she murmured.

"Not altogether. Moreover, I did wrong to call it a misfortune: for the person most to be pitied is the person who meets with that experience."

"What experience do you mean?"

"The experience of falling in love."

"How come you to know that?"

"By hearsay," he replied irritably, while to himself he added: "You are a mere coquette whom sheer idleness is leading to weary and madden me." And his heart swelled within him.

"On the other hand," he went on, "it may be that you are too exacting?"

As he spoke he bent forward and fell to playing with the tassels of his chair.

"Possibly I am," she agreed. "But, you see, I conceive that it ought to be everything or nothing. 'A life for a life.' 'Take my all, give your all, and put a truce to regrets and any thought of return.' That is the best rule."

"Indeed?" queried Bazarov. "Well, it is not a bad rule, and I am surprised that you should have failed to attain your desire."

"Self-surrender, you think, is an easy thing?"

"Not if one considers matters first, and appraises oneself, and sets upon oneself a definite value. It is only surrender without consideration that is easy."

"But how could one not value oneself? If one had value, no one would desire one's surrender."

"That would not be your concern nor mine: some one else's business would it be to determine our respective values. The one thing that would immediately concern us would be to know how to surrender."

Madame Odintsov sat up sharply.

"I still believe you to be speaking from experience," she said.

"No; words, idle words—words not meant to be taken personally."

"Then you yourself might be capable of surrendering?"

"I might. But in any case I should not care to boast."

Both remained silent for a moment. From the drawing-room came the notes of the piano.

"How late Katia is playing!" remarked Anna Sergievna.

Bazarov raised his head.

"Yes, it is late," he said. "Time for you to go to rest."

"Wait a moment, however. Why should you hurry away? I have something more to say to you."

"What may it be?"

"Wait," she repeated. As she did so, her eyes gazed at him as though studying his personality. For a few moments he paced the room—then suddenly approached her, said "Good night," squeezed her hand until she could have shrieked with the pain, and departed.

Raising her fingers to her lips, she blew after him a kiss. Then, rising with an abrupt, convulsive movement, she ran towards the door as though to call him back. But at that moment her maid entered with a decanter on a silver tray, and Madame halted, bid the maid begone, reseated herself, and sank into a reverie. Her hair, like a winding black snake, had broken loose from its fastenings. Dimly illumined by the lamp, she sat motionless, save that at intervals she chafed her hands, for the night air was beginning to grow chilly.

Two hours later Bazarov re-entered his bedroom in a state of dishevelment and despondency, and with his boots soaked with dew. Arkady was seated, fully dressed, at the writing-table, with a book in his hands.

"So you are not in bed yet?" Bazarov remarked irritably.

Arkady's only reply was to ask the counter-question:

"You have been sitting with Anna Sergievna, have you not?"

"I have," replied Bazarov. "I was sitting there while you and Katia were playing the piano."

"Oh, I was not playing," retorted Arkady. Then he stopped, for he felt the tears to be very near his eyes, and had no wish to let them fall in the presence of his satirical mentor.