Chapter XVIII

When Madame Odintsov entered the breakfast-room next morning, Bazarov had been sitting over his cup for a considerable time. He glanced sharply at her as she opened the door, and she turned in his direction as inevitably as though he had signed to her to do so. Somehow her face looked pale, and it was not long before she returned to her boudoir, whence she issued again only at luncheon time. Since dawn the weather had been too rainy to admit of outdoor expeditions, and therefore the party adjourned to the drawing-room, where Arkady began to read aloud the latest number of some journal, while the Princess manifested her usual surprise at his conduct (as though it had been conduct of an indecent nature!), and fixed upon him a gaze which, though one of lasting malignancy, proved also to be one of which he took not the slightest notice.

"Pray come to my boudoir, Evgenii Vasilitch," said Anna Sergievna. "I have something to ask you. I think that last night you mentioned some textbook or another?"

Rising, she moved towards the door, whilst the Princess stared around the room as much as to say: "Dear, dear! This does surprise me!" Then she brought her eyes back to Arkady, who, raising his voice, and bending towards Katia (by whose side he was sitting), continued his reading as before.

Meanwhile Madame Odintsov walked hurriedly to her boudoir, and Bazarov followed with his eyes fixed upon the floor, and his ears open to no sound but the faint rustling of a silk dress. Arrived at her destination, Madame seated herself in the chair which she had occupied overnight, and Bazarov also took a seat where he had sat on the occasion in question.

"What is the title of the book?" she asked after a brief pause.

"Notions Générales, by Pelouse and Frémy. I can also recommend Ganot's Traité Élémentaire de Physique Expérimentale, which is more detailed in its plates than the other work, and, in general, is——"

But Madame Odintsov held up her hand.

"Pardon me," she interrupted. "I have not brought you here to discuss textbooks. I have brought you here to renew our conversation of last night, at the point where you left the room so abruptly. I hope that I shall not weary you?"

"I am entirely at your service. What was it we were discussing?"

She glanced at him.

"Happiness, I think," she said. "In fact, I was speaking to you of myself. The reason why I mention happiness is the following. Why is it that when one is enjoying, say, a piece of music, or a beautiful summer evening, or a conversation with a sympathetic companion, the occasion seems rather a hint at an infinite felicity existent elsewhere than a real felicity actually being experienced? Perhaps, however, you have never encountered such a phenomenon?"

"'Where we are not, there do we wish to be,'—you know the proverb. Last night you said that you are dissatisfied. Such a thought never enters into my head."

"Is it that such thoughts seem to you ridiculous?"

"No—rather, that they never occur to me."

"Indeed? Well, to know what your thoughts are is a thing which I greatly wish to attain."

"I do not understand you."

"Then listen. For a long time past I have been wishing to have this out with you. Do not tell me—you yourself know that it is useless to do so—that you are a man apart. As a matter of fact, you are a man still young, with all your life before you. I wish to know for what you are preparing, and what future awaits you, and what is the goal which you are seeking to reach, and whither you are travelling, and what you have in your mind—in short, who and what you are."

"I am surprised! Already you know that I dabble in natural science; while, as regards my future——"

"Yes? As regards your future?"

"I have told you that I purpose to become a district physician."

Anna Sergievna waved her hand impatiently.

"Why tell me that, when you yourself do not believe it? It is for Arkady to return me such answers, not you."

"And is Arkady in any way——?"

"Wait. Do you mean to tell me that such a modest rôle will really satisfy you, when you yourself have asserted that the science of medicine does not exist? No, no! You have given me that answer for the reason that you desire to keep me at arm's length, that you have no faith in me. Then let me tell you that I am capable of understanding you, that I too have known poverty and ambition, that I too have had my experiences."

"I daresay: yet pardon me when I intimate that I am not accustomed to bare my soul. Moreover, there is fixed between you and me such a gulf that——"

"A gulf? Do you again say that I am an aristocrat? Come, come, Evgenii Vasilitch! Have I not already told you that I——?"

"Can it avail anything to discuss the future when, for the most part, our futures are wholly independent of ourselves? Should the occasion arise to be up and doing, well and good: but, should the occasion not arise, at least let us leave ourselves room for thankfulness that we did not waste time in useless chatter."

"What? You call a friendly talk 'useless chatter'? Then do you deem me, as a woman, unworthy of your confidence, or do you despise all women?"

"You I do not despise: and that you know full well."

"I know nothing of the kind. Of course I can understand your reluctance to speak of your future career; but as to what is taking place within you at the present moment——"

"'Taking place within me at the present moment'?" Bazarov exclaimed. "One would think I was a state or a community! Nor is it a process which interests me; while, in addition, a man cannot always put into words 'what is taking place within him.'"

"I do not see it. Why should you hesitate to express what may be in your soul?"

"Could you do as much?" asked Bazarov.

"I could," came the reply after a brief hesitation.

Bazarov bowed in an ironical manner.

"Then you have the advantage of me," he said.

Her glance quickened into a note of interrogation.

"Very well," she said. "Yet I will venture to say that you and I have not met in vain, and that we shall always remain good friends. Moreover, I feel certain that in time your secretiveness and reserve will disappear."

"Then have you noticed in me much such 'secretiveness and reserve'?"

"I have."

Bazarov rose, and moved towards the window.

"Do you really want to know the cause of that 'secretiveness, and reserve'?" he asked. "Do you really want to know 'what is taking place within' me?"

"I do," she replied. Yet even as she spoke she felt run through her a tinge of apprehension for which she could not account.

"And you will not be angry with me if I tell you?"



He approached her and halted behind her.

"Learn, then," he said, "that I love you with a blind, insensate passion. You have forced it from me at last!"

She stretched out her arms before her, while Bazarov, turning, pressed his forehead against the window-pane. His breath caught in his throat, and his whole body was quivering. Yet this was not the agitation born of the diffidence of youth, nor was it the awe inspired by a first confession of love. Rather, it was the beating of a strong and terrible emotion which resembled madness and was, perhaps, akin to it. As for Madame Odintsov, a great horror had come over her—also a great feeling of compassion for him.

"Evgenii Vasilitch!" she cried. In the words there rang an involuntary note of tenderness.

Wheeling about, he devoured her with his glance. Then he seized her hands in his, and pressed her to his bosom.

She did not free herself at once. Only after a moment did she withdraw to a corner, and stand looking at him. He rushed towards her again, but she whispered in hurried alarm:

"You have mistaken me!"

Had he taken another step, she would have screamed.

Biting his lips, he left the room.

Half an hour later her maid brought her a note. It consisted of a single line only, and said: "Must I depart to-day, or may I remain until to-morrow?"

To it Anna Sergievna replied: "Why depart? I have failed to understand you, and you have failed to understand me—that is all."

But mentally she added: "Rather, I have failed to understand myself."

Until dinner time she remained secluded, and spent the hours in pacing her room with her hands clasped behind her. Occasionally she would halt before the window-panes or a mirror, to draw a handkerchief across a spot on her neck which seemed to be burning like fire. And every time that she did so she asked herself what had led her to force Bazarov's confidence; also, whether or not she had had any suspicion that such a thing might result.

"Yes, I am to blame," she finally decided. "Yet I could not have foreseen the whole dénouement."

Then she recalled Bazarov's almost animal face as he rushed to seize her in his arms. And at the thought she blushed.

"Or is it that——?" Here she stopped, and shook back her curls. The reason was that she had seen herself in a mirror, and, as in a flash, had learnt from that image of a head thrown back, with a mysterious smile lurking between a pair of half-parted lips and in a pair of half-closed eyes, something which confounded her.

"No, no! Again no!" she cried. "Only God knows what might come of it. Such things are not to be played with. Freedom from worry is the chief thing in the world."

Nor had her sangfroid really been shattered. Rather, she was a little agitated—so little that, when, for some unknown reason, she shed a tear or two, those tears owed their origin not to any deep emotion, to the fact that she was wounded, but to a sense of having involuntarily been at fault in permitting certain vague yearnings—a certain consciousness of the transience of life, a certain desire for novelty—to urge her towards the boundary line. And over that boundary line she had peeped. And in front of her she had beheld, not an abyss, but a waste, a sheer ugliness.