Chapter XXVIII

Since that time six months have passed, and there has fallen upon the country a "white" winter—a winter of clear, keen, motionless frosts, of deep, crackling snow, of pink-rimed trees, of pale-emerald heavens, of smoke-capped chimneys, of puffs of vapour from momentarily opened doors, of faces fresh and hard-bitten, of horses galloping headlong to thaw their frozen limbs. It is now the close of a January day, and the increasing chill of evening is nipping the still air in an ever-tightening vice as the sun sinks downward into a sea of red.

But in the windows of Marino there are lights burning, and Prokofitch, vested in a black tail-coat, a pair of white gloves, and a peculiar atmosphere of solemnity, is laying the table with seven covers. This is because a week ago there were solemnised in the tiny church of the parish—solemnised quietly, almost without a witness—two sets of nuptials: the nuptials of Arkady and Katia and those of Nikolai Petrovitch and Thenichka. And to-day Nikolai Petrovitch is offering his brother a farewell dinner, for the reason that Paul is on the point of departing for Moscow, whither Anna Sergievna has already removed after bestowing upon the younger of the two couples a handsome dowry.

At three o'clock precisely the company gathers around the board. Mitia too is present with his niania (in nurse's cap), while Paul Petrovitch is seated between Katia and Thenichka, and the bridegrooms are ranged one on either side of their newly-wedded spouses. A change has taken place in our old acquaintances since last we saw them—they have improved, as regards the younger ones, both in appearance and in sedateness of demeanour. Only Paul Petrovitch looks thinner; though the circumstance imparts, if anything, an added touch of refinement and "grand-seignorishness" to his always expressive features. Thenichka, in particular, is a different person from what she was. Clad in a brand-new silken gown, and wearing a broad velvet band over her hair and a necklace around her throat, she holds herself with an immovable dignity, yet also with an immovable deference towards her surroundings. And meanwhile she smiles, as much as to say: "Pardon me, but I am not responsible for this"; while the others respond with similar smiles, as though they too would be glad to excuse themselves for their share in the proceedings. Yet the fact that on every one present sits a touch of gravity and embarrassment becomes the company no less than do their other characteristics. Everywhere, too, there is to be seen such an anxious solicitude for mutual wants that the company could seem unanimously to be playing some simple-minded comedy; and though, of the guests, the quietest is Katia, it is plain, from her confidence of bearing, that, as a daughter-in-law, she has found favour in the eyes of Nikaiai Petrovitch.

At length the meal comes to an end, and Nikolai, rising and grasping a wine-glass, addresses Paul Petrovitch:

"Dearest brother, you are about to leave us. Yes, you are about to leave us. But not for long must you be absent, since I, for one, could never express to you how much I, how much I—that is to say, how much we... But, to tell you the truth, I am not good at making a speech. Arkady, to you I depute the task."

"But I am not ready, Papa."

"Neither am I. However, Paul, I embrace you, and wish you every joy, and beg of you to return to us soon."

Whereupon Paul Petrovitch exchanges greetings all round (not excluding little Mitia), and, in particular, kisses Thenichka's hand (which she has not learnt to offer in the right way), drinks a twice-filled glass to the company at large, and says with a profound sigh: "May you all be happy, my friends! Farewell!" And though the English terminal flourish passes unnoticed, every one is touched with the benediction which has preceded it.

"Yes, and I drink to the memory of Bazarov," whispers Katia to her husband as she clinks glasses with him: but though, in response, he squeezes her hand, he decides not to propose the toast in public.

And here, apparently, there ought to follow the word Finis; but since some of my readers may care to know how each of the characters in the book is faring at the present day, I will satisfy that curiosity.

To take Anna Sergievna first, she has married—not for love, nor yet out of a sense of duty—a rising young statesman who is an intelligent legislator, a severely practical thinker, a man of strong will and eloquence, and a lover with a temperament as cold as ice. Nevertheless the pair reside on amicable terms, and may, in time, attain to happiness—nay, even to love.

As for the Princess, she is dead, and her memory perished with her.

The Kirsanovs, father and son, are settled at Marino, and appear to be righting their industrial affairs, in that Arkady has developed into a capable manager, and the estate now brings in a fair income. Nikolai Petrovitch, too, is constant in his endeavours to make peace on the property, and, riding systematically round it, delivers long speeches in the belief that only need the peasantry be "reasoned with"—that is to say, plied with the same words over and over again—for the muzhik gradually to become a tractable animal. Yet Nikolai earns the approval neither of the educated gentry, who speak with affected jauntiness of the coming "'mancipation" (they invariably give the syllable "an" a nasal inflection), nor of those uneducated landowners who roundly curse what they term "that ——'muncipation." In other words, for both classes Nikolai Petrovitch is too "mild."

Katerina Sergievna has had a son born to her, and named him Kolia; Mitia is now a big, active, volubly lisping boy; and Thenichka (rather, Theodosia Nikolaievna) adores her daughter-in-law only less than her husband and Mitia. In fact, that adoration reaches the point that, should Katia sit down to the piano, Thenichka cannot leave her though the playing continue all day.

Then a word concerning Peter the valet. As much a lump of mingled stupidity and conceit as ever, he still pronounces his e's as u's, but has taken unto himself a wife, and, with her, a respectable dowry. The daughter of a market gardener of the neighbouring town, she had already refused two eligible partis solely on the ground that they did not possess watches! But Peter possesses not only a watch, but also a pair of patent leather pumps.

Again, any day on the Brühl Terrace, in Dresden, you may meet, between two and four o'clock in the afternoon (the fashionable hour for a promenade), a man of about fifty. Grey-headed, and afflicted with gout, yet still handsome, he is elegantly dressed, and stamped with that air of good breeding which comes only of long association with elevated strata of society. That man is Paul Petrovitch. Having left Moscow for foreign parts for his health's sake, he has settled in Dresden for the reason that there he possesses the largest number of English and nomad-Russian acquaintances. Towards the former he bears himself with simplicity, and almost with modesty, but with a touch of hauteur; and, in return, the English look upon him as a trifle tedious, but respect him on the score of his being "quite a gentleman." In the presence of the Russian element, however, Paul Petrovitch is more free and easy—he gives rein unstintedly to his sarcasm, and rallies both his compatriots and himself. Yet from him such things come pleasantly, and with a gay insouciance, and in a becoming manner; while, in addition, he holds Slavophil views—views which (as we all know) invariably induce the great world to rate their holder a person très distingué. True, never by any chance does Paul read a Russian book; yet by way of compensation, there stands on his writing-table a silver ash-tray shaped like a muzhik's clog. Moreover, from some of our Russian tourists he receives considerable attention when they happen to be passing through the town; and even our old friend Matvei Ilyitch Koliazin, on finding himself "in temporary opposition," has paid him a visit while en route to Bohemia for a course of the waters. In fact, the only persons who show Paul no deference at all are the native Germans, whose society he does not greatly cultivate. Yet even they agree that, in the matter of obtaining tickets for the Court Chapel or the theatre and so forth, none is so clever, so dexterous, as "der Herr Baron von Kirsanov." In fact, always does he do "the right thing" so far as he is able; and even yet he can create some stir, owing to the fact that he has once, and to good purpose, been a social lion. Yet life presses upon him not a little heavily—more heavily than he himself is aware. Merely need one look at him as, huddled against the aisle wall of the Russian church, he sits plunged in thought, with his lips bitterly compressed, and continues sitting there until, remembering his surroundings, he makes, almost imperceptibly, the sign of the cross. In similar fashion, Madame Kukshin has gone abroad—in her case, to Heidelberg, where she is engaged in studying, not natural science, but architecture—a branch wherein she has, according to herself, "discovered several new laws." Also, still she is hail-fellow-well-met with students, more especially with some of those Russian physicists and chemists who swarm in Heidelberg, and who, though at first flabbergasting the simple-minded German professors with the moderation of their views, subsequently proceed to flabbergast those professors with the wholeheartedness of their sloth. In fact, it is of two or three of those chemistry students who, though unable to distinguish even oxygen from azote, are yet charged to the brim with conceit and the spirit of "denial," that Madame Kukshin's circle is chiefly composed.

Similarly, friend Sitnikov is preparing to become a great man. For which purpose he is flaunting it in St. Petersburg, and (to quote his own expression) "carrying on the work of the late Bazarov." True, rumour declares that some one has recently given him a second thrashing; as also that he (Sitnikov) has declined to face the music—rather, that he has preferred to hint in an obscure article in an equally obscure newspaper that his assailant is the coward; but to this report Sitnikov merely attaches the epithet "ironical." For the rest, his father continues to send him remittances, while his wife accounts him equally a littérateur and a fool.

Lastly, in a remote corner of Russia there lies a little country cemetery. Like most cemeteries of the kind, it is depressing of aspect. Over its fences dense masses of weed have grown, its drab wooden crosses are rickety and turning mouldy under their blistered, painted canopies, its stone paths have lost their alignment, and look as though some one has displaced them from below, its two or three ragged trees diffuse only the scantiest of shade, and sheep wander unhindered over its tombs. But among those tombs there lies a grave which no man molests and no animal tramples upon: only the birds perch upon it and sing as evening falls. For around that grave stands an iron railing, and at its head and foot are planted two young fir trees. It is the grave of Evgenii Vasilitch Bazarov. Occasionally from the neighbouring manor-house there come two aged and decrepit folk, a man and his wife. Supporting one another with a step which ever grows heavier, they approach the railing, sink upon their knees, and weep long, bitter tears as they gaze at the dumb headstone where their son lies sleeping. Then they exchange a word or two, dust the stone with assiduous care, lay upon it a sprig of fir, and offer a last petition. Yet even then they can scarce bear to tear themselves from the spot where they can draw nearest to their son, and to their memories of him.

But are those tears, those prayers, all fruitless? Is that love, that hallowed, selfless love, of theirs to be wholly unavailing? No, no, and a thousand times no! For, though the heart which lies within that tomb may have been passionate and wild and erring, the flowers which bloom in that spot contemplate us with eyes of naught but peace and innocence, and speak to us of naught but the eternal, mighty calm of "unheeding" nature, as an image of the Eternal Reconciliation, and of the Life which shall have no End.