Chapter XX
 

"WELL," Paklin was the first to begin, "we have been to the eighteenth century, now let us fly to the twentieth! Golushkin is such a go-ahead man that one can hardly count him as belonging to the nineteenth."

"Why, do you know him?"

"What a question! Did you know my poll-parrots?"

"No, but you introduced us."

"Well, then, introduce me. I don't suppose you have any secrets to talk over, and Golushkin is a hospitable man. You will see; he will be delighted to see a new face. We are not very formal here in S."

"Yes," Markelov muttered, "I have certainly noticed an absence of formality about the people here."

Paklin shook his head.

"I suppose that was a hit for me. . . I can't help it. I deserve it, no doubt. But may I suggest, my new friend, that you throw off those sad, oppressive thoughts, no doubt due to your bilious temperament . . . and chiefly--"

"And you sir, my new friend," Markelov interrupted him angrily, "allow me to tell you, by way of a warning, that I have never in my life been given to joking, least of all today! And what do you know about my temperament, I should like to know? It strikes me that it is not so very long since we first set eyes on one another."

"There, there, don't get angry and don't swear. I believe you without that," Paklin exclaimed. "0h you," he said, turning to Solomin, "you, whom the wise Fimishka called a cool sort of man, and there certainly is something restful about you--do you think I had the slightest intention of saying anything unpleasant to anyone or of joking out of place? I only suggested going with you to Golushkin's. Besides, I'm such a harmless person; it's not my fault that Mr. Markelov has a bilious complexion."

Solomin first shrugged one shoulder, then the other. It was a habit of his when he did not quite know what to say.

"I don't think," he said at last, "that you could offend anyone, Mr. Paklin, or that you wished to--and why should you not come with us to Mr. Golushkin? We shall, no doubt, spend our time there just as pleasantly as we did at your kinsman's--and just as profitably most likely."

Paklin threatened him with his finger.

"Oh! I see, you can be wicked too if you like! However, you are also coming to Golushkin's, are you not?"

"Of course I am. I have wasted the day as it is."

"Well then, en avant, marchons! To the twentieth century! To the twentieth century! Nejdanov, you are an advanced man, lead the way!"

"Very well, come along; only don't keep on repeating the same jokes lest we should think you are running short."

"I have still enough left for you, my dear friends," Paklin said gaily and went on ahead, not by leaping, but by limping, as he said.

"What an amusing man!" Solomin remarked as he was walking along arm-in-arm with Nejdanov; "if we should ever be sent to Siberia, which Heaven forbid, there will be someone to entertain us at any rate."

Markelov walked in silence behind the others.

Meanwhile great preparations were going on at Golushkin's to produce a "chic" dinner. (Golushkin, as a man of the highest European culture, kept a French cook, who had formerly been dismissed from a club for dirtiness.) A nasty, greasy fish soup was prepared, various pates chauds and fricasses and, most important of all, several bottles of champagne had been procured and put into ice.

The host met the young people with his characteristic awkwardness, bustle, and much giggling. He was delighted to see Paklin as the latter had predicted and asked of him--

"Is he one of us? Of course he is! I need not have asked," he said, without waiting for a reply. He began telling them how he had just come from that "old fogey" the governor, and how the latter worried him to death about some sort of charity institution. It was difficult to say what satisfied Golushkin most, the fact that he was received at the governor's, or that he was able to abuse that worth before these advanced, young men. Then he introduced them to the promised proselyte, who turned out to be no other than the sleek consumptive individual with the long neck whom they had seen in the morning, Vasia, Golushkin's clerk. "He hasn't much to say," Golushkin declared, "but is devoted heart and soul to our cause." To this Vasia bowed, blushed, blinked his eyes, and grinned in such a manner that it was impossible to say whether he was merely a vulgar fool or an out-and-out knave and blackguard.

"Well, gentlemen, let us go to dinner," Golushkin exclaimed.

They partook of various kinds of salt fish to give them an appetite and sat down to the table. Directly after the soup, Golushkin ordered the champagne to be brought up, which came out in frozen little lumps as he poured it into the glasses. "For our . . . our enterprise!" Golushkin exclaimed, winking at the servant, as much as to say, "One must be careful in the presence of strangers." The proselyte Vasia continued silent, and though he sat on the very edge of his chair and conducted himself generally with a servility quite out of keeping with the convictions to which, according to his master, he was devoted body and soul, yet gulped down the wine with an amazing greediness. The others made up for his silence, however, that is, Golushkin and Paklin, especially Paklin. Nejdanov was inwardly annoyed, Markelov angry and indignant, just as indignant, though in a different way, as he had been at the Subotchevs'; Solomin was observant.

Paklin was in high spirits and delighted Golushkin with his sharp, ready wit. The latter had not the slightest suspicion that the "little cripple" every now and again whispered to Nejdanov, who happened to be sitting beside him, the most unflattering remarks at his, Golushkin's, expense. He thought him "a simple sort of fellow" who might be patronised; that was probably why he liked him. Had Paklin been sitting next him he would no doubt have poked him in the ribs or slapped him on the shoulder, but as it was, he merely contented himself by nodding and winking in his direction. Between him and Nejdanov sat Markelov, like a dark cloud, and then Solomin. Golushkin went into convulsions at every word Paklin said, laughed on trust in advance, holding his sides and showing his bluish gums. Paklin soon saw what was expected of him and began abusing everything (it being an easy thing for him), everything and everybody; conservatives, liberals, officials, lawyers, administrators, landlords, county councils and district councils, Moscow and St. Petersburg. "Yes, yes, yes," Golushkin put in, "that's just how it is! For instance, our mayor here is a perfect ass! A hopeless blockhead! I tell him one thing after another, but he doesn't understand a single word; just like our governor!"

"Is your governor a fool then?" Paklin asked.

"I told you he was an ass!"

"By the way, does he speak in a hoarse voice or through his nose?"

"What do you mean?" Golushkin asked somewhat bewildered.

"Why, don't you know? In Russia all our important civilians speak in a hoarse voice and our great army men speak through the nose. Only our very highest dignitaries do both at the same time."

Golushkin roared with laughter till the tears rolled down his cheeks.

"Yes, yes," he spluttered, "if he talks through his nose. . then he's an army man!"

"You idiot!" Paklin thought to himself.

"Everything is rotten in this country, wherever you may turn!" he bawled out after a pause. "Everything is rotten, everything!

"My dear Kapiton Andraitch," Paklin began suggestively (he had just asked Nejdanov in an undertone, "Why does he throw his arms about as if his coat were too tight for him?"), "my dear Kapiton Andraitch, believe me, half measures are of no use!"

"Who talks of half measures!" Golushkin shouted furiously (he had suddenly ceased laughing), "there's only one thing to be done; it must all be pulled up by the roots: Vasia, drink!"

"I am drinking, Kapiton Andraitch," the clerk observed, emptying a glass down his throat.

Golushkin followed his suit.

"I wonder he doesn't burst!" Paklin whispered to Nejdanov.

"He's used to it!" the latter replied.

But the clerk was not the only one who drank. Little by little the wine affected them all. Nejdanov, Markelov, and even Solomin began taking part in the conversation.

At first disdainfully, as if annoyed with himself for doing so, for not keeping up his character, Nejdanov began to hold forth. He maintained that the time had now come to leave off playing with words; that the time had con e for "action," that they were now on sure ground! And then, quite unconscious of the fact that he was contradicting himself, he began to demand of them to show him what real existing elements they had to rely on, saying that as far as he could see society was utterly unsympathetic towards them, and the people were as ignorant as could be. Nobody made any objection to what he said, not because there was nothing to object to, but because everyone was talking on his own account. Markelov hammered out obstinately in his hoarse, angry, monotonous voice ("just as if he were chopping cabbage," Paklin remarked). Precisely what he was talking about no one could make out, but the word "artillery" could be heard in a momentary hush. He was no doubt referring to the defects he had discovered in its organisation. Germans and adjutants were also brought in. Solomin remarked that there were two ways of waiting, waiting and doing nothing and waiting while pushing things ahead at the same time.

"We don't want moderates," Markelov said angrily.

"The moderates have so far been working among the upper classes," Solomin remarked, "and we must go for the lower."

"We don't want it! damnation! We don't want it!" Golushkin bawled out furiously. "We must do everything with one blow! With one blow, I say!"

"What is the use of extreme measures? It's like jumping out of the window."

"And I'll jump too, if necessary!" Golushkin shouted. "I'll jump! and so will Vasia! I've only to tell him and he'll jump! eh, Vasia? You'll jump, eh?"

The clerk finished his glass of champagne.

"Where you go, Kapiton Andraitch, there I follow. I shouldn't dare do otherwise."

"You had better not, or I'll make mincemeat of you!"

Soon a perfect babel followed.

Like the first flakes of snow whirling round and round in the mild autumn air, so words began flying in all directions in Golushkin's hot, stuffy dining-room; all kinds of words, rolling and tumbling over one another: progress, government, literature, the taxation question, the church question, the woman question; the law-court question, realism, nihilism, communism, international, clerical, liberal, capital, administration, organisation, association, and even crystallisation! It was just what Golushkin wanted; this uproar seemed to him the real thing. He was triumphant. "Look at us! out of the way or I'll knock you on the head! Kapiton Golushkin is coming!" At last the clerk Vasia became so tipsy that he began to giggle and talk to his plate. All at once he jumped up shouting wildly, "What sort of devil is this PROgymnasium?"

Golushkin sprang up too, and throwing back his hot, flushed face, on which an expression of vulgar self-satisfaction was curiously mingled with a feeling of terror, a secret misgiving, he bawled out, "I'll sacrifice another thousand! Get it for me, Vasia!" To which Vasia replied, "All right!"

Just then Paklin, pale and perspiring (he had been drinking no less than the clerk during the last quarter of an hour), jumped up from his seat and, waving both his arms above his head, shouted brokenly, "Sacrifice! Sacrifice! What pollution of such a holy word! Sacrifice! No one dares live up to thee, no one can fulfill thy commands, certainly not one of us here--and this fool, this miserable money-bag opens its belly, lets forth a few of its miserable roubles, and shouts 'Sacrifice!' And wants to be thanked, expects a wreath of laurels, the mean scoundrel!

Golushkin either did not hear or did not understand what Paklin was saying, or perhaps took it only as a joke, because he shouted again, "Yes, a thousand roubles! Kapiton Golushkin keeps his word!" And so saying he thrust his hand into a side pocket. "Here is the money, take it! Tear it to pieces! Remember Kapiton!" When under excitement Golushkin invariably talked of himself in the third person, as children often do. Nejdanov picked up the notes which Golushkin had flung on the table covered with wine stains. Since there was nothing more to wait for, and the hour was getting late, they rose, took their hats, and departed.

They all felt giddy as soon as they got out into the fresh air, especially Paklin.

"Well, where are we going to now?" he asked with an effort.

"I don't know were you are going, but I'm going home," Solomin replied.

"Back to the factory? " Yes."

"Now, at night, and on foot?"

"Why not? I don't think there are any wolves or robbers here-- and my legs are quite strong enough to carry me. It's cooler walking at night."

"But hang it all, it's four miles!

"I wouldn't mind if it were more. Good-bye, gentlemen." Solomin buttoned his coat, pulled his cap over his forehead, lighted a cigar, and walked down the street with long strides.

"And where are you going to?" Paklin asked, turning to Nejdanov.

"I'm going home with him." He pointed to Markelov, who was standing motionless, his hands crossed on his breast. "We have horses and a conveyance."

"Very well. . . . And I'm going to Fomishka's and Fimishka's oasis. And do you know what I should like to say? There's twaddle here and twaddle there, only that twaddle, the twaddle of the eighteenth century, is nearer to the Russian character than the twaddle of the twentieth century. Goodbye, gentlemen. I'm drunk, so don't be offended at what I say, only a better woman than my sister Snandulia ... is not to be found on God's earth, although she is a hunchback and called Snandulia. That's how things are arranged in this world! She ought to have such a name. Do you know who Saint Snandulia was? She was a virtuous woman who used to visit prisons and heal the wounds of the sick. But . . . goodbye! goodbye, Nejdanov, thou man to be pitied! And you, officer... ugh! misanthrope! goodbye!" He dragged himself away, limping and swaying from side to side, towards the oasis, while Markelov and Nejdanov sought out the posting inn where they had left their conveyance, ordered the horses to be harnessed, and half an hour later were driving along the high road.