Virgin Soil by Ivan S. Turgenev
MARKELOV'S guests were still asleep when a messenger with a letter came to him from his sister, Madame Sipiagina. In this letter Valentina Mihailovna spoke about various little domestic details, asked him to return a book he had borrowed, and added, by the way, in a postscript, the very "amusing" piece of news that his old flame Mariana was in love with the tutor Nejdanov and he with her. This was not merely gossip, but she, Valentina Mihailovna, had seen with her own eyes and heard with her own ears. Markelov's face grew blacker than night, but he did not utter a word. He ordered the book to be returned, and when he caught sight of Nejdanov coming downstairs, greeted him just as usual and did not even forget to give him the promised packet of Kisliakov's letters. He did not stay with him however, but went out to see to the farm.
Nejdanov returned to his own room and glanced through the letters. The young propagandist spoke mostly about himself, about his unsparing activity. According to him, during the last month, he had been in no less than eleven provinces, nine towns, twenty- nine villages, fifty-three hamlets,one farmhouse, and seven factories. Sixteen nights he had slept in hay-lofts, one in a stable, another even in a cow-shed (here he wrote, in parenthesis, that fleas did not worry him); he had wheedled himself into mud-huts, workmen's barracks, had preached, taught, distributed pamphlets, and collected information; some things he had made a note of on the spot; others he carried in his memory by the very latest method of mnemonics. He had written fourteen long letters, twenty-eight shorter ones, and eighteen notes, four of which were written in pencil, one in blood, and another in soot and water. All this he had managed to do because he had learned how to divide his time systematically, according to the examples set by men such as Quintin Johnson, Karrelius, Sverlitskov, and other writers and statisticians. Then he went on to talk of himself again, of his guiding star, saying how he had supplemented Fourier's passions by being the first to discover the "fundaments, the root principle," and how he would not go out of this world without leaving some trace behind him; how he was filled with wonder that he, a youth of twenty-four, should have solved all the problems of life and science; that he would turn the whole of Russia up-side-down, that he would "shake her up!" "Dixi!!" he added at the end of the paragraph. This word "Dixi" appeared very frequently in Kisliakov's letters, and always with a double exclamation mark. In one of the letters there were some verses with a socialist tendency, written to a certain young lady, beginning with the words-- "Love not me, but the idea!"
Nejdanov marvelled inwardly, not so much at Kisliakov's conceit, as at Markelov's honest simplicity. "Bother aestheticism! Mr. Kisliakov may be even useful," he thought to himself instantly.
The three friends gathered together for tea in the dining-room, but last night's conversation was not renewed between them. Not one of them wished to talk, but Solomin was the only one who sat silent peacefully. Both Nejdanov and Markelov seemed inwardly agitated. After tea they set out for the town. Markelov's old servant, who was sitting on the doorstep, accompanied his former master with his habitual dejected glance.
The merchant Golushkin, with whom it was necessary to acquaint Nejdanov, was the son of a wealthy merchant in drugs, an Old Believer, of the Thedosian sect. He had not increased the fortune left to him by his father, being, as the saying goes, a joneur, an Epicurean in the Russian fashion, with absolutely no business abilities. He was a man of forty, rather stout and ugly, pock- marked, with small eyes like a pig's. He spoke hurriedly, swallowing his words as it were, gesticulated with his hands, threw his legs about and went into roars of laughter at everything. On the whole, he gave one the impression of being a stupid, spoiled, conceited bounder. He considered himself a man of culture because he dressed in the German fashion, kept an open house (though it was not overly clean), frequented the theatre, and had many protegees among variety actresses, with whom he conversed in some extraordinary jargon meant to be French. His principal passion was a thirst for popularity. "Let the name of Golushkin thunder through the world! As once Suvorov or Potyomkin, then why not now Kapiton Golushkin?" It was this very passion, conquering even his innate meanness, which had thrown him, as he himself expressed it not without a touch of pride, "into the arms of the opposition" (formerly he used to say "position," but had learned better since then) and brought him in contact with the nihilists. He gave expression to the most extreme views, scoffed at his own Old Believer's faith, ate meat in Lent, played cards, and drank champagne like water. He never got into difficulties, because he said, "Wherever necessary, I have bribed the authorities. All holes are stitched up, all mouths are closed, all ears are stopped."
He was a widower without children. His sister's sons fawned around him continuously, but he called them a lot of ignorant louts, barbarians, and would hardly look at them. He lived in a large, stone house, kept in rather a slovenly manner. Some of the rooms were furnished with foreign furniture, others contained nothing but a few painted wooden chairs and a couch covered with American cloth. There were pictures everywhere of an indifferent variety. Fiery landscapes, purple seascapes, fat naked women with pink-coloured knees and elbows, and "The Kiss" by Moller. In spite of the fact that Golushkin had no family, there were a great many menials and hangers-on collected under his roof. He did not receive them from any feeling of generosity, but simply from a desire to be popular and to have someone at his beck and call. "My clients," he used to say when he wished to throw dust in one's eyes. He read very little, but had an excellent memory for learned expressions.
The young people found Golushkin in his study, where he was sitting comfortably wrapped up in a long dressing-gown, with a cigar between his lips, pretending to be reading a newspaper. On their entrance he jumped up, rushed up to them, went red in the face, shouted for some refreshments to be brought quickly, asked them some questions, laughed for no reason in particular, and all this in one breath. He knew Markelov and Solomin, but had not yet met Nejdanov. On hearing that the latter was a student, he broke into another laugh, pressed his hand a second time, exclaiming:
"Splendid! Splendid! We are gathering forces! Learning is light, ignorance is darkness--I had a wretched education myself, but I understand things; that's how I've got on!"
It seemed to Nejdanov that Golushkin was shy and embarrassed--and indeed it really was so. "Take care, brother Kapiton! Mind what you are about!" was his first thought on meeting a new person. He soon recovered himself however, and began in the same hurried, lisping, confused tone of voice, talking about Vassily Nikolaevitch, about his temperament, about the necessity of pro- pa-ganda (he knew this word quite well, but articulated it slowly), saying that he, Golushkin, had discovered a certain promising young chap, that the time had now come, that the time was now ripe for . . . for the lancet (at this word he glanced at Markelov, but the latter did not stir). He then turned to Nejdanov and began speaking of himself in no less glowing terms than the distinguished correspondent Kisliakov, saying that he had long ago ceased being a fool, that he fully recognised the rights of the proletariat (he remembered this word splendidly), that although he had actually given up commerce and taken to banking instead with a view to increasing his capital, yet only so that this same capital could at any given moment be called upon for the use ... for the use of the cause, that is to say, for the use of the people, and that he, Golushkin, in reality, despised wealth! At this point a servant entered with some refreshment; Golushkin cleared his throat significantly, asked if they would not partake of something, and was the first to gulp down a glass of strong pepper-brandy. The guests partook of refreshments. Golushkin thrust huge pieces of caviar into his mouth and drank incessantly, saying every now and again:
"Come, gentlemen, come, some splendid Macon, please!" Turning to Nejdanov, he began asking him where he had come from, where he was staying and for how long, and on hearing that he was staying at Sipiagin's, exclaimed: "I know this gentleman! Nothing in him whatever!" and instantly began abusing all the landowners in the province because, he said, not only were they void of public spirit, but they did not even understand their own interests.
But, strange to say, in spite of his being so abusive, his eyes wandered about uneasily. Nejdanov could not make him out at all, and wondered what possible use he could be to them. Solomin was silent as usual and Markelov wore such a gloomy expression that Nejdanov could not help asking what was the matter with him. Markelov declared that it was nothing in a tone in which people commonly let you understand that there is something wrong, but that it does not concern you. Golushkin again started abusing someone or other and then went on to praise the new generation. "Such clever chaps they are nowadays! Clever chaps!" Solomin interrupted him by asking about the hopeful young man whom he had mentioned and where be had discovered him. Golushkin laughed, repeating once or twice, " Just wait, you will see! You will see!" and began questioning him about his factory and its "rogue" of an owner, to which Solomin replied in monosyllables. Then Golushkin poured them all champagne, and bending over to Nejdanov, whispered in his ear, "To the republic!" and drank off his glass at a gulp. Nejdanov merely put his lips to the glass; Solomin said that he did not take wine in the morning; and Markelov angrily and resolutely drank his glass to the last drop. He was torn by impatience. "Here we are coolly wasting our time and not tackling the real matter in hand." He struck a blow on the table, exclaiming severely, "Gentlemen!" and began to speak.
But at this moment there entered a sleek, consumptive-looking man with a long neck, in a merchant's coat of nankeen, and arms outstretched like a bird. He bowed to the whole company and, approaching Golushkin, communicated something to him in a whisper.
"In a minute! In a minute!" the latter exclaimed, hurriedly. "Gentlemen," he added, "I must ask you to excuse me. Vasia, my clerk, has just told me of such a little piece of news " (Golushkin expressed himself thus purposely by way of a joke) "which absolutely necessitates my leaving you for awhile. But I hope, gentlemen, that you will come and have dinner with me at three o'clock. Then we shall be more free!"
Neither Solomin nor Nejdanov knew what to say, but Markelov replied instantly, with that same severity in his face and voice:
"Of course we will come."
"Thanks very much," Golushkin said hastily, and bending down to Markelov, added, "I will give a thousand roubles for the cause in any case. . . . Don't be afraid of that!"
And so saying, he waved his right hand three times, with the thumb and little finger sticking out. "You may rely on me!" he added.
He accompanied his guests to the door, shouting, "I shall expect you at three!"
"Very well," Markelov was the only one to reply.
"Gentlemen!" Solomin exclaimed as soon as they found themselves in the street, "I am going to take a cab and go straight back to the factory. What can we do here until dinnertime? A sheer waste of time, kicking our heels about, and I am afraid our worthy merchant is like the well-known goat, neither good for milk nor for wool."
"The wool is there right enough," Markelov observed gloomily. "He promised to give us some money. Don't you like him? Unfortunately, we can't pick and choose. People do not run after us exactly."
"I am not fastidious," Solomin said calmly. "I merely thought that my presence would not do much good. However," he added, glancing at Nejdanov with a smile, "I will stay if you like. Even death is bearable in good company."
Markelov raised his head.
"Supposing we go into the public garden. The weather is lovely. We can sit and look at the people."
They moved on; Markelov and Solomin in front, Nejdanov in the rear.