Chapter XXVI

Although the late Monsieur Odintsov had disliked "innovations," he had not been opposed to the indulgence of "a certain play of refined taste," and had erected, in a space between the hothouses and the lake, a building modelled in the style of a Greek temple, but consisting of undeniable Russian bricks. Also, he had caused to be inserted in the massive rear wall of this temple or gallery six niches for six statues which were designed to represent Solitude, Silence, Thought, Melancholy, Modesty, and Sensibility, and which he had purposed to import from abroad; but only one of these, the statue of the Goddess of Silence, with a finger to her lips, had actually been delivered and erected; and even of that the household underlings had knocked off the nose on the very day of the statue's arrival. True, a neighbouring sculptor had offered to furnish the goddess with a nose "twice as good as the last one," but Odintsov had none the less ordered her removal to a corner of the millhouse, where for several years past she had acted as a source of superstitious awe to the peasant women of the district. Likewise, the front wall of the temple had become so overgrown with bushes that only the capitals of the supporting columns remained visible above the mass of verdure, and even at midday the interior of the building was cool and pleasant; and though Anna Sergievna had never really liked the place since the day when she had discovered an adder there, Katia paid it frequent visits, and, seating herself on a great stone bench which was fixed under one of the niches, would read or work, or surrender herself to the influence of that perfect restfulness which, known, probably, to every one, comes of a silent, half-unconscious contemplation of the great waves of life as they break for ever around and against us.

On the morning after Bazarov's arrival Katia was in her usual position on the bench, and beside her was Arkady—he having specially asked her to accompany him thither.

Though an hour was still wanting to luncheon time, the dew and the freshness of the morning had already given place to the sultriness and the aridity of noontide. Arkady's face yet bore the expression of yesterday, but Katia's features were stamped with one, rather, of depression. This was because after breakfast her sister had called her into the boudoir, and to some of those blandishments which always alarmed the girl had added a word of advice that Katia should observe more caution in her converse with Arkady, and, above all things, avoid such solitary tête-à-têtes with him as appeared to have aroused the attention of the household in general, and of the Princess in particular. Since the previous evening Anna Sergievna had been out of humour; and inasmuch as Katia's conscience was not wholly clear of responsibility in the matter, she had intimated, when yielding to Arkady's request, that it must be for the last time.

"Katia," he began with a sort of easy uneasiness, "since the day when I had the good fortune to reside under the same roof as yourself I have talked to you on many different subjects. But one particular question has for me a paramount importance: nor upon that question have I yet touched. Yesterday you said that during my stay here I have undergone a process of reformation"—he neither sought nor avoided Katia's eye—"and, to be frank, such a reformation has, in part at least, come about. Better than any one else do you know that this is so—you to whom, above all others, that remaking is due."

"To me?" she re-echoed.

"Yes, to you," Arkady repeated. "No longer am I the presumptuous lad who came here a short while ago: not for nothing have I attained my twenty-third year. And though I still wish to be of use in life, though I still wish to consecrate the whole of my faculties to the service of Truth, I no longer seek my ideals where I was wont to do—they appear to me to stand much nearer home. Hitherto I have been in ignorance of myself, hitherto I have set myself tasks beyond my powers; but now, through a certain feeling which is within me, my eyes have become opened. By the way, the manner in which I express myself may be lacking in clarity, yet I venture to hope that I have made myself understood?"

Katia said nothing; but she ceased to look at the speaker.

"In my opinion," he went on in a tone of rising emotion, while in a birch tree overhead a chaffinch started pouring forth a flood of unstudied song, "in my opinion, it is the duty of an honourable man to be frank with those who, with those who—in short, with those who stand nearest to him in life. Consequently I, I am minded to—to—-"

Here Arkady's eloquence failed him. He stumbled and stuttered and had to pause for a moment. Meanwhile Katia's eyes remained lowered. One would have thought that she did not in the least understand this preamble, but was expecting to hear something quite of a different nature.

"That I shall surprise you I know in advance," continued Arkady, once more spurring his faculties. "And that surprise will be the greater when I tell you that the feeling to which I have alluded concerns, to a certain extent—yes, to a certain extent, yourself. For yesterday, you will remember, you imputed to me a lack of gravity "—he was speaking much like a man who, having blundered into a bog, feels that at each step he sinks deeper and deeper, yet struggles on in the hope of eventually extricating himself—"and such a reproach is all too often levelled against, all too often falls upon, young people who have ceased to deserve it. Were I but possessed of more self-confidence" ("God help me! God help me!" he thought despairingly, but Katia did not even turn her head)—"had I but the right to hope that——"

"Did I but feel sure that you really mean what you say," broke in, at this moment, the clear accents of Anna Sergievna.

Arkady became dumb, and Katia turned pale; for along a little path which skirted the bushes screening the temple there were advancing Bazarov and Madame! Katia and Arkady could not actually see the pair, yet they could hear every word uttered, and even catch the sound of their breathing, and the rustle of Anna Sergievna's dress. Advancing a few more steps, the couple halted, and remained standing in front of the building.

"It is like this," Anna Sergievna continued. "You and I have blundered into an error. That is to say, while neither of us is in the heyday of youth—I so least of the two—and both of us have lived our lives and are weary, we are also (for I need not stand on ceremony) individuals of intellect. Consequently, though, at first, we interested one another, and felt our mutual curiosity aroused, it happened that subsequently——"

"That subsequently I grew stale in your eyes," hazarded Bazarov.

"Oh no! That that was not the cause of the situation you are well aware. But, whatever the cause, you and I have not a compelling need of one another. Therein lies the point. In other words, both of us have in us—how shall I express it?—both of us are too mutually akin. We were slow to grasp that fact. Now, Arkady—-"

"Have you a 'compelling need'—of him?" put in Bazarov.

"For shame, Evgenii Vasilitch! You yourself have averred that he is not wholly indifferent to me; and I too have long suspected that he cherishes for me at least a measure of admiration. As we are on the subject, I will not attempt to conceal from you that of late the fact that I am old enough to be his aunt has not prevented me from devoting to him more of my thoughts than I used to do. In his fresh young sentimentality there is a certain charm."

"The term 'fascination' comes handier in such cases," said Bazarov in the deep, quiet tone which, with him, always signified sarcasm. "As a matter of fact, I found Arkady secretive yesterday—he made but the scantiest of references either to you or your sister. That constitutes an important symptom."

"Katia and he are brother and sister to one another," said Madame. "Indeed I am pleased to see it—though perhaps I ought not to connive at so much familiarity."

"I presume that the element speaking in you is the sister?" drawled Bazarov.

"Of course! But need we stand here? Let us move on. We hold curious conversations, do we not? Indeed, to think of all the things which I now say to you! Yet I still fear you a little, even though I trust you as being, at heart, a good man."

"I am far from good; and you only call me so because I have lost all significance in your eyes. Ill boots it to weave chaplets for the head of a corpse."

"Evgenii Vasilitch, we cannot always command ourselves," came the sound of Anna Sergievna's next words; but the next moment the wind soughed, the leaves rustled, and the rest of what she was saying was carried away into the distance. Nothing beyond it save (after a pause) "You are free, are you not?" on the part of Bazarov could be distinguished. Then the sound of their footsteps died away, and once more complete silence reigned.

Turning to Katia, Arkady saw that she was sitting as before, but with her head more bent.

"Katerina Sergievna," he said tremulously, and with his hands clasped, "I shall love you always, and beyond recall; nor shall I ever love another woman. This is what I have been trying to say to you this morning, in the hope that I might ascertain your views, and then beg for your hand. I am not a rich man, but I would make any sacrifice for your sake. Come, then! Will you answer me? Will you trust me? Surely you do not think that I am speaking out of frivolity? Recall the past few days: may you not rest assured now that my remaining self (you know what I mean) is gone for ever? Come, look at me—look at me and speak but a word, a single word. I love you, I love you! Do not refuse to believe that I mean what I say."

Gravely, yet with a radiant look in her eyes, Katia raised her head, and, after a moment's thought, said with the trace of a smile: "Yes."

Arkady leapt up.

"'Yes'? You have said 'Yes,' Katia! But what do mean by that word? Do you mean that you believe in my love, or do you mean that——? No, no; I dare not finish the sentence."

Katia repeated only the word "Yes," but this time she left no room for misunderstanding. Arkady seized her large, but not unshapely, hands in his, and, panting with rapture, strained her to his breast. He could scarcely stand upon his feet—he could only keep repeating again and again: "Katia! Katia!" Meanwhile she shed a few innocent tears at which she smiled as they fell. The man who has not seen such tears in the eyes of his beloved does not know the height of happiness to which, with mingled joy and gratitude and modesty, a woman can attain.

Next morning Anna Sergievna sent for Bazarov to her boudoir; and when he arrived she, with a forced smile, handed him a folded sheet of notepaper. That sheet represented a letter from Arkady, a letter in which he begged for her sister's hand.

Bazarov skimmed the epistle—then scarcely could forbear venting the rancour which blazed for a moment in his breast.

"It is as I said, you see," he commented. "Only yesterday you were telling me that his feeling for Katerina Sergievna was that of a brother for a sister! And what are you going to do?"

"What would you advise me to do?" she said, still smiling.

"I presume"—he also was smiling, although he was feeling as wholly out of spirits, as little inclined towards gaiety, as she was—"I presume that we have no choice but to bestow our blessing upon the young couple. In every respect it would be a good match, for his father has a nice little property, Arkady is the only son, and the father is too easy-going to be likely to raise any difficulty."

Madame Odintsov rose and paced the room for a moment or two—her face alternately flushing and turning pale.

"So that is what you think?" she said. "Well, I too see no impediment. Indeed, the affair rejoices me both for Katia's sake and for—yes, for his. But first I must await his father's consent; and for that purpose I will send Arkady himself to interview Nikolai Petrovitch. So I was right yesterday, was I not? I was right when I said that you and I are become elderly? How did I fail to foresee this? I am indeed surprised at it!"

Again she smiled, but, in the very act of smiting, turned away.

"Our young folk are indeed cunning," remarked Bazarov. After a pause he added:

"Good-bye now. I hope that the affair may develop well. From a distance I, too, shall rejoice."

She turned and faced him.

"Need you really go?" she asked. "Why not stay a little longer? Pray stay, for I find talking to you a stimulant—it is like walking on the edge of a precipice: at first one is afraid, then one gathers courage. Do not go."

"I thank you for the proposal, as also for your flattering estimate of my conversational powers," said Bazarov. "Nevertheless, I have tarried overlong in a sphere which is alien to my personality. Only for a while can flying fish support themselves in the air. Then they relapse into their natural element. Allow me to flop back into mine."

Yet a bitter laugh was twisting his pale features. She saw it, and felt sorry for him.

"The man still loves me," was her thought, and she extended a sympathetic hand.

He understood her, however.

"No, no!" he exclaimed as he withdrew a step or two. "Though poor, I have never yet accepted alms. Good-bye, and may your lot always be happy."

"Yet we shall meet again," she replied with an involuntary gesture. "Of that I am certain."

"Anything may occur in this world," he remarked—then bowed and was gone.

That afternoon he said to Arkady as he knelt down to pack his trunk:

"I hear that you are going to make a nest for yourself? And why should you not? It is an excellent course to take. But for you to dissemble is useless, and I had scarcely expected that you would do so. Has the preoccupation of it all deprived you of your tongue?"

"When I left you at Marino I had no thought of this," said Arkady. "You are the dissembler, though, are you not? For when you say 'It is an excellent course to take,' you dissemble, as well as waste your time, seeing that I am well aware of your views on marriage."

"Merely my way of expressing myself. You see what I am doing at this moment. In my trunk is a vacant space. I am packing it with straw. And the same with life's trunk. To avoid leaving empty spaces therein we pad the interstices. You need not be offended. You cannot fail to remember what I really think of Katerina Sergievna. While some maidens earn cheap reputations by merely smiling at right moments, your inamorata can show more—indeed, so much more that soon you will be (and very properly) under her thumb."

Slapping down the lid of the trunk, Bazarov rose from the floor.

"Now, farewell," he said. "No, I will not deceive you: we are parting for ever, and you know it. In my opinion you have acted wisely, for you were not meant to live the hard, bitter, reckless life of Nihilism—you lack at once the necessary coolness and the necessary venom. But this is not to say that in you there is not a due measure of youthful spirit. What I mean is that that asset alone is not sufficient for the work. The dvorianin is powerless to progress beyond either well-bred effervescence or well-bred humility: and both sentiments are futile. For example, you have not yet been blooded, yet already you think yourself a man: whereas the two chief conditions of our existence are battle and bloodshed. Yes, the dust from our heels hurts your eyes, and the grime on our bodies makes you feel dirty. In other words, although you derive a certain gratification from indulging in self-criticism, and think no small beer of yourself, you have failed to grow to our stature. To us such things are vanities. Tools of an altogether different kind are what we need for the task. Consequently I repeat that, though a fine young fellow enough, you are also just a little-minded, so-called 'liberal-minded' baritch—what my father calls a 'product of evolution.'"

"Evgenii," was Arkady's sad reply, "we are parting for ever, yet this is all that you have to say to me!"

Bazarov scratched his head.

"Something else I could say, Arkady," he replied. "But I will not say that something—it would savour too much of Romanticism. Get married as soon as you can, line your nest, and beget plenty of offspring. Nor will those offspring be altogether fools, seeing that they will be born in due season, and not when you and I were.... My horses are ready and I must depart. Of the rest of the household I have taken leave already. Shall we embrace once more, eh?"

The tears gushed in torrents from Arkady's eyes as he flung himself upon his old friend and mentor.

"Ah, youth, youth!" commented Bazarov. "See what comes of being young! But before long, I know, Katerina Sergievna will have set things right. Yes, she will console you."

With a last good-bye he mounted the travelling cart, and, in the act of doing so, pointed to a pair of jackdaws which were sitting perched upon the stable roof.

"See!" he cried. "There's an instructive lesson for you!"

"What do you mean?" queried Arkady.

"What?" was Bazarov's ejaculation. "Are you so ignorant of, or so forgetful of, natural history as not to know that the jackdaw is the most respected of family birds? Mark the good example before you. Farewell, señor!"

And with a clatter the cart started on its way.

Nor was Bazarov mistaken, for, even before nightfall, Arkady, deep in conversation with Katia, had completely forgotten his vanished instructor. Moreover, already the young fellow was beginning to play second fiddle to his fiancée: which circumstance the girl, on realising, in no way felt surprised at. So it was arranged that on the following day he should depart for Marino to interview his father; and in the meanwhile, Anna Sergievna, having no desire to hamper the young couple, merely observed such a show of propriety as involved her not leaving them together for long, but at the same time keeping at a distance the Princess, who, since the tidings of the impending union, had been in a state of lachrymose rancour. For herself, Anna Sergievna had at first feared that the spectacle of the young people's happiness would prove too much for her; but now the contrary proved to be the case, and she not only failed to feel hurt at the spectacle, but even found that it interested her and eventually softened her—a consummation which brought both relief and regret.

"Bazarov was right," she reflected. "It was mere curiosity, mere love of ease, mere egoism, mere——"

"Children, is love an empirical sentiment?" once she asked of Arkady and Katia: but neither of the pair understood her meaning. Moreover, they were fighting a little shy of her, since they could not altogether forget the conversation which they had involuntarily overheard; but in time Anna Sergievna succeeded in overcoming also this timidity, and found the task the more easy to perform in that she had succeeded also in overcoming her disappointment.