Chapter XXIII

After speeding Arkady on his way with satirical expressions of regret (as well as giving him to understand that the satirist laboured under no delusions as to the object of the young man's journey), Bazarov withdrew into complete seclusion, since a perfect fever for work had come upon him. Nor did he quarrel any longer with Paul Petrovitch, and the less so since the latter had now come to adopt an exclusively aristocratic attitude, and to express his sentiments only in monosyllables, not in words. Once, and once only, did he allow himself to engage in a controversy with Bazarov over the then current question of the rights of the dvoriané. But suddenly he checked himself, and said with an air of cold politeness:

"It is clear that we shall never understand one another. At all events I have not the honour to understand you."

"True," agreed Bazarov. "For a man may understand the precipitation of ether, and be au fait with what is taking place in the sun, yet, confront him with the fact that another man blows his nose differently from the manner in which he blows his own, and at once that man will become lost in perplexity."

At the same time, there were occasions when Paul Petrovitch requested permission to attend the other's experiments; and once he went so far as to apply his perfumed, clean-shaven features to the microscope, for the purpose of observing how a transparent infusorium could swallow a greenish-looking particle, and then masticate the same with fang-like protuberances which grew in its throat. Still more frequently was Nikolai Petrovitch present in Bazarov's room. Indeed, but for the counter-distraction of estate-management, he would have spent his whole time in the process of what he called "self-improvement." Yet he never hampered the young naturalist: on the contrary, he would seat himself in a remote corner of the room, and, but for a guarded question or two, confine himself solely to silently and absorbedly watching the experiments. Also, at meal times he always endeavoured to turn the conversation in the direction of physics or geology or chemistry, for the reason that he divined in any other direction (that of industry, or, still more, that of politics) there lay a greater danger of collisions, or, at all events, of mutual soreness. For rightly did he divine that his brother's enmity towards Bazarov had by no means abated. And to this conclusion an incident which occurred at a juncture when cholera had just made its appearance in the neighbourhood, and carried off two victims from Marino itself, lent additional colour. One night Paul Petrovitch happened to be seized with a fainting fit, yet refused to apply to Bazarov for assistance; and when Bazarov, on meeting him on the following day, inquired why such a course had not been adopted, Paul Petrovitch—still pale, but as carefully brushed and combed as ever—retorted: "Did not you yourself tell me that you have no belief in medicine?"

Thus day followed day. Yet, though Bazarov devoted himself wholly to work, there was one person in the house whom he did not hold at arm's length, but was always willing to talk to. That person was Thenichka. Mostly he encountered her in the early mornings, when she was walking in the garden or the courtyard; but never did he enter her room, nor did she ever come to his door, save once, for the purpose of asking him to help her with Mitia's bath. And she not only trusted Bazarov; she also held him in no awe, and allowed herself more freedom in his presence than she did in that of Nikolai Petrovitch himself. The reason is difficult to determine. Perhaps it was the fact that unconsciously she detected in Bazarov none of the dvorianin element, none of that superiority which at once attracts and repels; the young Nihilist, to her, was just a clever doctor, and no more. At all events, she was so free from shyness in his presence that she would dandle her child unabashed, and, on one occasion, when seized with a headache, went so far as to accept at his hands a spoonful of medicine. True, in Nikolai Petrovitch's presence she seemed to shun Bazarov; but this was done more out of a sense of decorum than through subtlety. As for Paul Petrovitch, she feared him as much as ever, for he had taken to watching her with a keen, steady eye, and to making his appearance behind her as though his figure, clad in its inevitable English suit, and posed in its usual attitude of hands in trousers pockets, had suddenly sprung from the floor. "Whenever I see him I feel cold all over," once she complained to Duniasha; whereupon that maiden's thoughts reverted longingly to another "unfeeling" individual who had, all unwittingly, come to be "the cruel tyrant" of her heart.

Thenichka, therefore, liked Bazarov, and Bazarov liked Thenichka. Indeed, no sooner did he speak to her than his face would undergo a change, and, assuming a bright, almost a good-humoured, expression, exchange its habitual superciliousness for something like playful solicitude. Meanwhile she grew more beautiful daily. In the lives of young women there is a season when they begin to unfold and bloom like the roses in summer: and to that period Thenichka had just come. Everything, even the July heat then prevalent, contributed to it. Dressed in a gown of some light white material, she looked even lighter and whiter than it; and though she escaped actual sunburn, the heated air imparted to her cheeks and ears a faint tan, and, permeating her frame with gentle indolence, imbued her exquisite eyes with dreamy languor. No longer could she do any work; she could only let her hands sink upon her lap, and there remain. Seldom going even for a stroll, she spent the most of her time in a state of gently querulous and panting, but not distasteful, inertia.

"You should go and bathe as often as you can," Nikolai Petrovitch said to her one day (he had had a large, canopied bathing-place constructed in one of the last few ponds on the estate).

"Ah!" she gasped. "Even to walk to the pond half-kills me: and to walk back from it half-kills me again. There is no shade in the garden, you see."

"True," he agreed, wiping his forehead.

At seven o'clock one morning, when Bazarov was returning from a walk, he encountered Thenichka in the midst of a lilac clump which, though past the season of flowering, was still green and leafy. As usual, she had a white scarf thrown over her head, and beside the bench on which she was sitting there was a bunch of red and white roses with the dew yet glistening on their petals. He bade her good morning.

"It is you, then, Evgenii Vasilitch!" she exclaimed as she put aside a corner of her scarf to look at him—a movement which bared her arm to the elbow.

"What are you doing?" he asked as he seated himself beside her. "Is it a nosegay you are making?"

"Yes, for the breakfast table. Nikolai Petrovitch is so fond of such things."

"But breakfast is not yet. What a waste of flowers!"

"I know, but I gather them now because later the weather becomes too hot for walking. This is the only time when it is possible even to breathe. The heat makes me faint, and I am afraid of falling ill with it."

"Mere fancy. Let me feel your pulse."

He took her hand in his, and found the pulse to be beating with such regularity that he did not trouble even to count its throbs.

"You will live to be a hundred," he said as he relinquished her wrist.

"God preserve me from that!" exclaimed she.

"Why so? Surely you would like to live a long time?"

"Yes—I should; but not for a hundred years. You see, my grandmother lived to be eighty-five, but suffered terribly. Long before she died she had a constant cough, and was also blind and deaf and crooked, and had become a burden to herself. What would be the use of a life like that?"

"You think that it is better to be young?"

"I do. And why not?"

"How is it better? Tell me that."

"How is it better? Oh, as long as one is young one can do what one wants to do—one can walk about, and carry things, and not be dependent upon other folk. Is not that the best way?"

"I do not know. At all events I care not whether I be young or old."

"What makes you say that? Surely you cannot mean it?"

"No? Well, think of what my youth means to me. I am a lonely man, a man without home or—"

"But all depends upon yourself."

"No, it does not. I only wish that some one would take pity upon my loneliness!"

She glanced at him, but said nothing. After a pause she resumed:

"What is that book of yours?"

"This? It is a learned, scholarly work."

"How you study! Do you never grow tired of it? By this time, I should think, you must know everything."

"Indeed I do not.... But try reading a few lines of the book."

"I should never understand them. Is it a Russian book?" (She took the heavily bound volume into her hands.)

"What a large book!" she continued.

"Yes. Also, it is a Russian book."

"Nevertheless I should not be able to understand it.

"I do not want you to understand it. I merely want to be able to watch you as you read. For when you read you twitch your little nose most charmingly!"

She began to read aloud a page "on Creosote," but soon burst out laughing, and replaced the book upon the bench, whence it slipped to the ground.

"I love to see you laugh," said Bazarov.

"Say no more," she interrupted.

"Also, I love to hear you speak. Your voice is like the bubbling of a brook."

She turned away her head, and fell to sorting her flowers. Presently she resumed:

"Why do you love to hear me speak? You must have talked to many much finer and cleverer ladies?"

"I assure you, nevertheless, that all the fine and clever ladies in the world are worth less than your little finger."

"Oh, come!" And she crossed her hands.

Bazarov picked up the book.

"It is a work on medicine," he observed. "Why did you throw it away?"

"It is a work on medicine?" she re-echoed, and turned to him again. "Do you know, ever since you gave me those capsules—you remember them, do you not?—Mitia has slept splendidly! I can never sufficiently thank you. You are indeed good!"

"But the physician ought to be paid his fee," remarked he with a smile. "Doctors never do their work for nothing."

Upon this she raised her eyes. They looked all the darker for the brilliant glare which was beating upon the upper portion of her face. As a matter of fact, she was trying to divine whether he was speaking in earnest or in jest.

"Of course I should be delighted to pay you!" she said. "But first I must mention the matter to Nikolai Petrovitch."

"What?" he exclaimed. "You really think it is money I want? No, I do not require of you money."

"What, then?" she queried.

"What? Well, guess."

"How can I guess?"

"Then I must tell you. I want, I want—I want one of those roses."

She burst into a peal of laughter, and clapped her hands with delight at the request. Yet the laughter was accompanied with a certain sense of relief. Bazarov eyed her.

"Ah, you must excuse my laughing, Evgenii Vasilitch," she said (bending over the seat of the bench, she fumbled among the roses). "Which sort should you prefer? A red rose or a white one?"

"A red one, and not too large."

"Then take this one," she said, sitting up again. Yet even as she spoke she drew back her outstretched hand, and, biting her lips, glanced in the direction of the entrance to the arbour, and listened intently.

"What is it?" asked Bazarov. "Do you hear Nikolai Petrovitch coming?"

"No. Besides, every one has gone out to the fields. Nor do I fear any one except Paul Petrovitch. I merely thought that, that——"

"You thought what?"

"That some one might be coming this way. It seems I was wrong. Take this rose."

She handed Bazarov the gift.

"Why do you fear Paul Petrovitch?" he asked.

"I do so because he frightens me—when I speak to him he returns me no answer; he just stares at me in a meaning sort of way. You, too, do not like him, I believe? It was with him that you had such a quarrel, was it not? What it was all about I do not know, but at least I know that you worsted him like, like..."

With a gesture she signified the manner in which she considered Bazarov to have routed Paul Petrovitch.

"And, had he worsted me," he inquired, "would you have taken my part?"

"How could I? We should have agreed no better than you and he."

"You think so? Then let me tell you that a certain little hand could twist me around its little finger."

"Whose hand is that?"

"I expect you can guess. But smell this rose which you have just given me."

She bent forward in the direction of the flower, and as she did so her scarf slipped from her head to her shoulders, and revealed a mass of dark, soft, fluffy, glossy hair.

"Wait," said Bazarov. "I, too, will smell the rose." And, reaching forward, he kissed her full on her parted lips.

She started back, and pressed her hands against his breast as though to repel him; but so weak was the act of repulsion that he found it possible to renew and to prolong his kiss.

Suddenly there sounded from among the lilac bushes a dry cough, and just as Thenichka darted to the other end of the bench Paul Petrovitch appeared, bowed slightly to the pair, said with a sort of melancholy acidity in his tone: "It is you, then?" and turned on his heel and departed. The next moment Thenichka picked up her roses and rushed from the arbour. As she passed Bazarov she whispered in his ear: "That was indeed wrong of you, Evgenii Vasilitch!" And the words voiced a note of reproach that was palpably genuine and unfeigned.

Instantly Bazarov's thoughts recurred to another scene in which he had recently taken part, and he became conscience-stricken, as also contemptuous of himself, and vexed. He shook his head, congratulated himself ironically on his folly, and departed to his room.

As for Paul Petrovitch, he left the garden and walked slowly into the forest. He remained there a considerable time; and, on returning to breakfast, looked so dark of mien that Nikolai Petrovitch inquired anxiously whether he were not ill.

"As you know," replied the other quietly, "I suffer habitually from biliousness."