Virgin Soil by Ivan S. Turgenev
THE governor of S. was one of those good-natured, happy-go-lucky, worldly generals who, endowed with wonderfully clean, snow-white bodies and souls to match, of good breeding and education, are turned out of a mill where they are never ground down to becoming the "shepherds of the people." Nevertheless they prove themselves capable of a tolerable amount of administrative ability-- do little work, but are forever sighing after St. Petersburg and paying court to all the pretty women of the place. These are men who in some unaccountable way become useful to their province and manage to leave pleasant memories behind them. The governor had only just got out of bed, and was comfortably seated before his dressing-table in his night-shirt and silk dressing-gown, bathing his face and neck with eau-de-cologne after having removed a whole collection of charms and coins dangling from it, when he was informed of the arrival of Sipiagin and Kollomietzev upon some urgent business. He was very familiar with Sipiagin, having known him from childhood and constantly run across him in St. Petersburg drawing-rooms, and lately he had begun to ejaculate a respectful "Ah! " every time his name occurred to him--as if he saw in him a future statesman. Kollomietzev he did not know so well and respected less in consequence of various unpleasant complaints that had been made against him; however, he looked upon him as a man qui fera chemin in any case.
He ordered his guests to be shown into his study, where he soon joined them, as he was, in his silk dressing-gown, and not so much as excusing himself for receiving them in such an unofficial costume, shook hands with them heartily. Only Sipiagin and Kollomietzev appeared in the governor's study; Paklin remained in the drawing-room. On getting out of the carriage he had tried to slip away, muttering that he had some business at home, but Sipiagin had detained him with a polite firmness (Kollomietzev had rushed up to him and whispered in his ear: "Ne le lacher pas! Tonnerre de tonnerres!") and taken him in. He had not, however, taken him to the study, but had asked him, with the same polite firmness, to wait in the drawing-room until he was wanted. Even here Paklin had hoped to escape, but a robust gendarme at Kollomietzev's instruction appeared in the doorway; so Paklin remained.
"I dare say you've guessed what has brought me to you, Voldemar," Sipiagin began.
"No, my dear, no, I can't," the amiable Epicurean replied, while a smile of welcome played about his rosy cheeks, showing a glimpse of shiny teeth, half hidden by his silky moustache.
"What? Don't you know about Markelov?"
"What do you mean? What Markelov?" the governor repeated with the same joyful expression on his face. He did not remember, in the first place, that the man who was arrested yesterday was called Markelov, and, in the second, he had quite forgotten that Sipiagin's wife had a brother of that name. "But why are you standing, Boris? Sit down. Would you like some tea?"
Sipiagin's mind was far from tea.
When at last he explained why they had both appeared, the governor uttered an exclamation of pain and struck himself on the forehead, while his face assumed a sympathetic expression.
"Dear me! what a misfortune! And he's here now--today. . . . You know we never keep that sort with us for more than one night at the outside, but the chief of police is out of town, so your brother-in-law has been detained. He is to be sent on tomorrow. Dear me! what a dreadful thing! What your wife must have gone through! What would you like me to do?"
"I would like to have an interview with him here, if it is not against the law."
"My dear boy! laws are not made for men like you. I do feel so sorry for you.. . . C'est affreux, tu sais!"
He gave a peculiar ring. An adjutant appeared.
My dear baron, do please make some arrangement there . . ." He told him what he wanted and the baron vanished. "Only think, mon cher ami, the peasants nearly killed him. They tied his hands behind him, flung him in a cart, and brought him here! And he's not in the least bit angry or indignant with them you know! He was so calm altogether that I was amazed! But you will see for yourself. C'est un fanatique tranquille."
"Ce sont les pires," Kollomietzev remarked sarcastically. The governor looked up at him from under his eyebrows. "By the way, I must have a word with you, Simion Petrovitch."
"Yes; what about?"
"I don't like things at all--"
"You know that peasant who owed you money and came here to complain--"
"He's hanged himself."
"It's of no consequence when; but it's an ugly affair."
Kollomietzev merely shrugged his shoulders and moved away to the window with a graceful swing of the body. At this moment the adjutant brought in Markelov.
The governor had been right; he was unnaturally calm. Even his habitual moroseness had given place to an expression of weary indifference, which did not change when he caught sight of his brother-in-law. Only in the glance which he threw on the German adjutant, who was escorting him, there was a momentary flash of the old hatred he felt towards such people. His coat had been torn in several places and hurriedly stitched up with coarse thread; his forehead, eyebrows, and the bridge of his nose were covered with small scars caked with clotted blood. He had not washed, but had combed his hair.
"Sergai Mihailovitch!" Sipiagin began excitedly, taking a step or two towards him and extending his right hand, only so that he might touch him or stop him if he made a movement in advance, "Sergai Mihailovitch! I am not here to tell you of our amazement, our deep distress--you can have no doubt of that! You wanted to ruin yourself and have done so! But I've come to tell you . . . that . . . that . . . to give you the chance of hearing sound common-sense through the voice of honour and friendship. You can still mitigate your lot and, believe me, I will do all in my power to help you, as the honoured head of this province can bear witness!" At this point Sipiagin raised his voice. "A real penitence of your wrongs and a full confession without reserve which will be duly presented in the proper quarters--"
"Your excellency," Markelov exclaimed suddenly, turning towards the governor--the very sound of his voice was calm, though it was a little hoarse; "I thought that you wanted to see me in order to cross-examine me again, but if I have been brought here solely by Mr. Sipiagin's wish, then please order me to be taken back again. We cannot understand one another. All he says is so much Greek to me."
"Greek, eh!" Kollomietzev shrieked. "And to set peasants rioting, is that Greek too? Is that Greek too, eh?
"What have you here, your excellency? A landowner of the secret police? And how zealous he is!" Markelov remarked, a faint smile of pleasure playing about his pale lips.
Kollomietzev stamped and raged, but the governor stopped him.
"It serves you right, Simion Petrovitch. You shouldn't interfere in what is not your business."
"Not my business . . . not my business . . . It seems to me that it's the business of every nobleman--"
Markelov scanned Kollomietzev coldly and slowly, as if for the last time and then turned to Sipiagin.
"If you really want to know my views, my dear brother-in-law, here they are. I admit that the peasants had a right to arrest me and give me up if they disapproved of what I preached to them. They were free to do what they wanted. I came to them, not they to me. As for the government-- if it does send me to Siberia, I'll go without grumbling, although I don't consider myself guilty. The government does its work, defends itself. Are you satisfied?"
Sipiagin wrung his hands in despair.
"Satisfied!! What a word! That's not the point, and it is not for us to judge the doings of the government. The question, my dear Sergai, is whether you feel" (Sipiagin had decided to touch the tender strings) "the utter unreasonableness, senselessness, of your undertaking and are prepared to repent; and whether I can answer for you at all, my dear Sergai."
"I have said all I have to say and don't want to repeat it."
"But don't you repent? Don't you repent?"
"Oh, leave me alone with your repentence! You want to steal into my very soul? Leave that, at any rate, to me."
Sipiagin shrugged his shoulders.
"You were always like that; never would listen to common-sense. You have a splendid chance of getting out of this quietly, honourably...
"Quietly, honourably," Markelov repeated savagely. "We know those words. They are always flung at a man when he's wanted to do something mean! That is what these fine phrases are for!"
"We sympathise with you," Sipiagin continued reproachfully, "and you hate us."
"Fine sympathy! To Siberia and hard labour with us; that is your sympathy. Oh, let me alone! let me alone! for Heaven's sake!"
Markelov lowered his head.
He was agitated at heart, though externally calm. He was most of all tortured by the fact that he had been betrayed--and by whom? By Eremy of Goloplok! That same Eremy whom he had trusted so much! That Mendely the sulky had not followed him, had really not surprised him. Mendely was drunk and was consequently afraid. But Eremy! For Markelov, Eremy stood in some way as the personification of the whole Russian people, and Eremy had deceived him! Had he been mistaken about the thing he was striving for? Was Kisliakov a liar? And were Vassily Nikolaevitch's orders all stupid? And all the articles, books, works of socialists and thinkers, every letter of which had seemed to him invincible truth, were they all nonsense too? Was it really so? And the beautiful simile of the abcess awaiting the prick of the lancet--was that, too, nothing more than a phrase? "No! no! " he whispered to himself, and the colour spread faintly over his bronze-coloured face; "no! All these things are true, true . . . only I am to blame. I did not know how to do things, did not put things in the right way! I ought simply to have given orders, and if anyone had tried to hinder, or object--put a bullet through his head! there is nothing else to be done! He who is against us has no right to live. Don't they kill spies like dogs, worse than dogs?"
All the details of his capture rose up in Markelov's mind. First the silence, the leers, then the shrieks from the back of the crowd . . . someone coming up sideways as if bowing to him, then that sudden rush, when he was knocked down. His own cries of "What are you doing, my boys?" and their shouts, "A belt! A belt! tie him up! " Then the rattling of his bones . . . unspeakable rage . . . filth in his mouth, his nostrils . . . "Shove him in the cart! shove him in the cart!" someone roared with laughter. .
"I didn't go about it in the right way . . ." That was the thing that most tormented him. That he had fallen under the wheel was his personal misfortune and had nothing to do with the cause--it was possible to bear that . . . but Eremy! Eremy!!
While Markelov was standing with his head sunk on his breast, Sipiagin drew the governor aside and began talking to him in undertones. He flourished two fingers across his forehead, as though he would suggest that the unfortunate man was not quite right in his head, in order to arouse if not sympathy, at any rate indulgence towards the madman. The governor shrugged his shoulders, opened and shut his eyes, regretted his inability to do anything, but made some sort of promise in the end. "Tous les egards . . . certainement, tous les egards," the soft, pleasant words flowed through his scented moustache. "But you know the law, my boy!"
"Of course I do!" Sipiagin responded with a sort of submissive severity.
While they were talking in the corner, Kollomietzev could scarcely stand still in one spot. He walked up and down, hummed and hawed, showed every sign of impatience. At last he went up to Sipiagin, saying hastily, " Vous oublier l'autre!"
"Oh, yes!" Sipiagin exclaimed loudly. "Merci de me l'avoir rappele. Your excellency," he said, turning to the governor (he purposely addressed his friend Voldemar in this formal way, so as not to compromise the prestige of authority in Markelov's presence), "I must draw your attention to the fact that my brother-in-law's mad attempt has certain ramifications, and one of these branches, that is to say, one of the suspected persons, is to be found not very far from here, in this town. I've brought another with me," he added in a whisper, "he's in the drawing- room. Have him brought in here."
"What a man!" the governor thought with admiration, gazing respectfully at Sipiagin. He gave the order and a minute later Sila Paklin stood before him.
Paklin bowed very low to the governor as he came in, but catching sight of Markelov before he had time to raise himself, remained as he was, half bent down, fidgetting with his cap. Markelov looked at him vacantly, but could hardly have recognised him, as he withdrew into his own thoughts.
"Is this the branch?" the governor asked, pointing to Paklin with a long white finger adorned with a turquoise ring.
"Oh, no!" Sipiagin exclaimed with a slight smile. "However, who knows!" he added after a moment's thought. "Your excellency," he said aloud, "the gentleman before you is Mr. Paklin. He comes from St. Petersburg and is a close friend of a certain person who for a time held the position of tutor in my house and who ran away, taking with him a certain young girl who, I blush to say, is my niece.
"Ah! oui, oui," the governor mumbled, shaking his head, "I heard the story . . . The princess told me--"
Sipiagin raised his voice.
"That person is a certain Mr. Nejdanov, whom I strongly suspect of dangerous ideas and theories--"
"Un rouge a tous crins," Kollomietzev put in.
"Yes, dangerous ideas and theories," Sipiagin repeated more emphatically. "He must certainly know something about this propaganda. He is . . . in hiding, as I have been informed by Mr. Paklin, in the merchant Falyaeva's factory--"
At these words Markelov threw another glance at Paklin and gave a slow, indifferent smile.
"Excuse me, excuse me, your excellency," Paklin cried, "and you, Mr. Sipiagin, I never . . . never--"
"Did you say the merchant Falyaeva?" the governor asked, turning to Sipiagin and merely shaking his fingers in Paklin's direction, as much as to say," Gently, my good man, gently." "What is coming over our respectable, bearded merchants? Only yesterday one was arrested in connection with this affair. You may have heard of him--Golushkin, a very rich man. But he's harmless enough. He won't make revolutions; he's grovelling on his knees already."
"The merchant Falyaeva has nothing whatever to do with it," Sipiagin began; "I know nothing of his ideas; I was only talking of his factory where Mr. Nejdanov is to be found at this very moment, as Mr. Paklin says--"
"I said nothing of the kind!" Paklin cried; "you said it yourself!"
"Excuse me, Mr. Paklin," Sipiagin pronounced with the same relentless precision, "I admire that feeling of friendship which prompts you to deny it." ("A regular Guizot, upon my word!" the governor thought to himself.) "But take example by me. Do you suppose that the feeling of kinship is less strong in me than your feeling of friendship? But there is another feeling, my dear sir, yet stronger still, which guides all our deeds and actions, and that is duty!"
"Le sentiment du devoir," Kollomietzev explained.
Markelov took both the speakers in at a glance.
"Your excellency!" he exclaimed, "I ask you a second time; please have me removed out of sight of these babblers."
But there the governor lost patience a little.
"Mr. Markelov!" he pronounced severely, "I would advise you, in your present position, to be a little more careful of your tongue, and to show a little more respect to your elders, especially when they give expression to such patriotic sentiments as those you have just heard from the lips of your beau-frere! I shall be delighted, my dear Boris," he added, turning to Sipiagin, "to tell the minister of your noble action. But with whom is this Nejdanov staying at the factory?"
"With a certain Mr. Solomin, the chief engineer there, Mr. Paklin says."
It seemed to afford Sipiagin some peculiar pleasure in tormenting poor Sila. He made him pay dearly for the cigar he had given him and the playful familiarity of his behaviour.
"This Solomin," Kollomietzev put in, "is an out-and-out radical and republican. It would be a good thing if your excellency were to turn your attention to him too."
"Do you know these gentlemen . . . Solomin, and what's his name . . . Nejdanov?" the governor asked Markelov, somewhat authoritatively.
Markelov distended his nostrils malignantly.
"Do you know Confucius and Titus Livius, your excellency?"
The governor turned away.
"Il n'y a pas moyen de causer avec cette homme," he said, shrugging his shoulders. "Baron, come here, please."
The adjutant went up to him quickly and Paklin seized the opportunity of limping over to Sipiagin.
"What are you doing?" he asked in a whisper. "Why do you want to ruin your niece? Why, she's with him, with Nejdanov!"
"I am not ruining any one, my dear sir," Sipiagin said loudly, "I am only doing what my conscience bids me do, and--"
"And what your wife, my sister, bids you do; you dare not stand up against her!" Markelov exclaimed just as loudly.
Sipiagin took no notice of the remark; it was too much beneath him!
"Listen," Paklin continued, trembling all over with agitation, or may be from timidity; there was a malignant light in his eyes and the tears were nearly choking him--tears of pity for them and rage at himself; "listen, I told you she was married--it wasn't true, I lied! but they must get married--and if you prevent it, if the police get there--there will be a stain on your conscience which you'll never be able to wipe out--and you--"
"If what you have just told me be true," Sipiagin interrupted him still more loudly, "then it can only hasten the measures which I think necessary to take in this matter; and as for the purity of my conscience, I beg you not to trouble about that, my dear sir.
"It's been polished," Markelov put in again; "there is a coat of St. Petersburg varnish upon it; no amount of washing will make it come clean. You may whisper as much as you like, Mr. Paklin, but you won't get anything out of it!
At this point the governor considered it necessary to interfere.
"I think that you have said enough, gentlemen," he began, "and I'll ask you, my dear baron, to take Mr. Markelov away. N'est ce pas, Boris, you don't want him any further--"
Sipiagin made a gesture with his hands.
"I said everything I could think of!"
"Very well, baron!"
The adjutant came up to Markelov, clinked his spurs, made a horizontal movement of the hand, as if to request Markelov to make a move; the latter turned and walked out. Paklin, only in imagination it is true, but with bitter sympathy and pity, shook him by the hand.
"We'll send some of our men to the factory," the governor continued; "but you know, Boris, I thought this gentleman" (he moved his chin in Paklin's direction)" told you something about your niece . . . I understood that she was there at the factory. Then how...
"It's impossible to arrest her in any case," Sipiagin remarked thoughtfully; "perhaps she will think better of it and return. I'll write her a note, if I may."
"Do please. You may be quite sure . . . nous offrerons le quidam . . . mais nous sommes galants avec les dames et avec celle-la donc!"
"But you've made no arrangements about this Solomin," Kollomietzev exclaimed plaintively. He had been on the alert all the while, trying to catch what the governor and Sipiagin were saying. "I assure you he's the principal ringleader! I have a wonderful instinct about these things!"
"Pas trop de zele, my dear Simion Petrovitch," the governor remarked with a smile. "You remember Talleyrand! If it is really as you say the fellow won't escape us. You had better think of your--" the governor put his hand to his throat significantly. "By the way," he said, turning to Sipiagin, "et ce gaillard-la" (he moved his chin in Paklin's direction). "Qu'enferons nous? He does not appear very dangerous."
"Let him go," Sipiagin said in an undertone, and added in German, "Lass' den Lumpen laufen!"
He imagined for some reason that he was quoting from Goethe's Gotz von Berlichingen.
"You can go, sir!" the governor said aloud. "We do not require you any longer. Good day."
Paklin bowed to the company in general and went out into the street completely crushed and humiliated. Heavens! this contempt had utterly broken him.
"Good God! What am I? A coward, a traitor?" he thought, in unutterable despair. "Oh, no, no! I am an honest man, gentlemen! I have still some manhood left!"
But who was this familiar figure sitting on the governor's step and looking at him with a dejected, reproachful glance? It was Markelov's old servant. He had evidently come to town for his master, and would not for a moment leave the door of his prison. But why did he look so reproachfully at Paklin? He had not betrayed Markelov!
"And why did I go poking my nose into things that did not concern me? Why could I not sit quietly at home? And now it will be said and written that Paklin betrayed them-- betrayed his friends to the enemy!" He recalled the look Markelov had given him and his last words, "Whisper as much as you like, Mr. Paklin, but you won't get anything out of it!" and then these sad, aged, dejected eyes! he thought in desperation. And as it says in the scriptures, he "wept bitterly" as he turned his steps towards the oasis, to Fomishka and Fimishka and Snandulia.