Virgin Soil by Ivan S. Turgenev
Two days after these events, a cart drove up the courtyard of the worthy Father Zosim, containing a man and woman who are already known to the reader. The following day they were legally married. Soon afterwards they disappeared, and the good father never regretted what he had done. Solomin had left a letter in Pavel's charge, addressed to the proprietor of the factory, giving a full statement of the condition of the business (it turned out most flourishing) and asking for three months' leave. The letter was dated two days before Nejdanov's death, from which might be gathered that Solomin had considered it necessary even then to go away with him and Mariana and hide for a time. Nothing was revealed by the inquiry held over the suicide. The body was buried. Sipiagin gave up searching for his niece.
Nine months later Markelov was tried. At the trial he was just as calm as he had been at the governor's. He carried himself with dignity, but was rather depressed. His habitual hardness had toned down somewhat, not from any cowardice; a nobler element had been at work. He did not defend himself, did not regret what he had done, blamed no one, and mentioned no names. His emaciated face with the lustreless eyes retained but one expression: submission to his fate and firmness. His brief, direct, truthful answers aroused in his very judges a feeling akin to pity. Even the peasants who had seized him and were giving evidence against him shared this feeling and spoke of him as a good, simple- hearted gentleman. But his guilt could not possibly be passed over; he could not escape punishment, and he himself seemed to look upon it as his due. Of his few accomplices, Mashurina disappeared for a time. Ostrodumov was killed by a shopkeeper he was inciting to revolt, who had struck him an "awkward" blow. Golushkin, in consideration of his penitence (he was nearly frightened out of his wits), was let off lightly. Kisliakov was kept under arrest for about a month, after which he was released and even allowed to continue "galloping" from province of province. Nejdanov died, Solomin was under suspicion, but for lack of sufficient evidence was left in peace. (He did not, however, avoid trial and appeared when wanted.) Mariana was not even mentioned; Paklin came off splendidly; indeed no notice was taken of him.
A year and a half had gone by--it was the winter of 1870. In St. Petersburg--the very same St. Petersburg where the chamberlain Sipiagin, now a privy councillor, was beginning to play such an important part; where his wife patronised the arts, gave musical evenings, and founded charitable cook-shops; where Kollomietzev was considered one of the most hopeful members of the ministerial department--a little man was limping along one of the streets of the Vassily island, attired in a shabby coat with a catskin collar. This was no other than our old friend Paklin. He had changed a great deal since we last saw him. On his temples a few strands of silvery hair peeped out from under his fur cap. A tall, stout woman, closely muffled in a dark cloth coat, was coming towards him on the pavement. Paklin looked at her indifferently and passed on. Suddenly he stopped, threw up his arms as though struck by something, turned back quickly, and overtaking her peeped under her hat.
"Mashurina!" he exclaimed in an undertone.
The lady looked at him haughtily and walked on without saying a word.
"Dear Mashurina, I recognised you at once," Paklin continued, hobbling along beside her; "don't be afraid, I won't give you away! I am so glad to see you! I'm Paklin, Sila Paklin, you know, Nejdanov's friend. Do come home with me. I live quite near here. Do come!"
"Io sono contessa Rocca di Santo Fiume!" the lady said softly, but in a wonderfully pure Russian accent.
"Contessa! nonsense! Do come in and let us talk about old times-- "
"Where do you live? "the Italian countess asked suddenly in Russian. "I'm in a hurry."
"In this very street; in that grey three-storied house over there. It's so nice of you not to have snubbed me! Give me your hand, come on. Have you been here long? How do you come to be a countess? Have you married an Italian count?
Mashurina had not married an Italian count. She had been provided with a passport made out in the name of a certain Countess Rocca di Santo Fiume, who had died a short time ago, and had come quite calmly to Russia, though she did not know a single word of Italian and had the most typical of Russian faces.
Paklin brought her to his humble little lodging. His humpbacked sister who shared it with him came out to greet them from behind the partition dividing the kitchen from the passage.
"Here, Snapotchka," he said, "let me introduce you to a great friend of mine. We should like some tea as soon as you can get it."
Mashurina, who would on no account have come had not Paklin mentioned Nejdanov, bowed, then taking off her hat and passing her masculine hand through her closely cropped hair, sat down in silence. She had scarcely changed at all; even her dress was the same she had worn two years ago; only her eyes wore a fixed, sad expression, giving a pathetic look to her usually hard face. Snandulia went out for the samovar, while Paklin sat down opposite Mashurina and stroked her knee sympathetically. His head dropped on his breast, he could not speak from choking, and the tears glistened in his eyes. Mashurina sat erect and motionless, gazing severely to one side.
"Those were times!" Paklin began at last. "As I look at you everything comes back to me, the living and the dead. Even my little poll-parrots are no more . . .I don't think you knew them, by the way. They both died on the same day,as I always predicted they would. And Nejdanov... poor Nejdanov! I suppose you know--"
"Yes, I know," Mashurina interrupted him, still looking away.
"And do you know about Ostrodumov too?"
Mashurina merely nodded her head. She wanted him to go on talking about Nejdanov, but could not bring herself to ask him. He understood her, however.
"I was told that he mentioned you in the letter he left. Was it true?
"Yes," Mashurina replied after a pause.
"What a splendid chap he was! He didn't fall into the right rut somehow. He was about as fitted to be a revolutionist as I am! Do you know what he really was? The idealist of realism. Do you understand me?"
Mashurina flung him a rapid glance. She did not understand him and did not want to understand him. It seemed to her impertinent that he should compare himself to Nejdanov. "Let him brag!" she thought, though he was not bragging at all, but rather depreciating himself, according to his own ideas.
"Some fellow called Silin sought me out; Nejdanov, it seems, had left a letter for him too. Well, he wanted to know if Alexai had left any papers, but we hunted through all his things and found nothing. He must have burned everything, even his poems. Did you know that he wrote verses? I'm sorry they were destroyed; there must have been some good things among them. They all vanished with him-- became lost in the general whirl, dead and gone for ever. Nothing was left except the memories of his friends-- until they, too, vanish in their turn!"
"Do you remember the Sipiagins?" he began again; "those respectable, patronising, loathsome swells are now at the very height of power and glory." Mashurina, of course, did not remember the Sipiagins, but Paklin hated them so much that he could not keep from abusing them on every possible occasion. "They say there's such a high tone in their house! they're always talking about virtue! It's a bad sign, I think. Reminds me rather of an over-scented sick room. There must be some bad smell to conceal. Poor Alexai! It was they who ruined him!"
"And what is Solomin doing?" Mashurina asked. She had suddenly ceased wishing to hear Paklin talk about him.
"Solomin!" Paklin exclaimed. "He's a clever chap! turned out well too. He's left the old factory and taken all the best men with him. There was one fellow there called Pavel-- could do anything; he's taken him along too. They say he has a small factory of his own now, somewhere near Perm, run on cooperative lines. He's all right! he'll stick to anything he undertakes. Got some grit in him! His strength lies in the fact that he doesn't attempt to cure all the social ills with one blow. What a rum set we are to be sure, we Russians! We sit down quietly and wait for something or someone to come along and cure us all at once; heal all our wounds, pull out all our diseases, like a bad tooth. But who or what is to work this magic spell, Darwinism, the land, the Archbishop Perepentiev, a foreign war, we don't know and don't care, but we must have our tooth pulled out for us! It's nothing but mere idleness, sluggishness, want of thinking. Solomin, on the other hand, is different; he doesn't go in for pulling teeth- - he knows what he's about!"
Mashurina gave an impatient wave of the hand, as though she wished to dismiss the subject.
"And that girl," she began, "I forget her name . . . the one who ran away with Nejdanov-- what became of her?"
"Mariana? She's Solomin's wife now. They married over a year ago. It was merely for the sake of formality at first, but now they say she really is his wife."
Mashurina gave another impatient gesture. There was a time when she was jealous of Mariana, but now she was indignant with her for having been false to Nejdanov's memory.
"I suppose they have a baby by now," she said in an offhanded tone.
"I really don't know. But where are you off to?" Paklin asked, seeing that she had taken up her hat. "Do stay a little longer; my sister will bring us some tea directly."
It was not so much that he wanted Mashurina to stay, as that he could not let an opportunity slip by of giving utterance to what had accumulated and was boiling over in his breast. Since his return to St. Petersburg he had seen very little of people, especially of the younger generation. The Nejdanov affair had scared him; he grew more cautious, avoided society, and the young generation on their side looked upon him with suspicion. Once someone had even called him a traitor to his face.
As he was not fond of associating with the elder generation, it sometimes fell to his lot to be silent for weeks. To his sister he could not speak out freely, not because he considered her too stupid to understand him-- oh, no! he had the highest opinion of her intelligence-- but as soon as he began letting off some of his pet fireworks she would look at him with those sad reproachful eyes of hers, making him feel quite ashamed. And really, how is a man to go through life without letting off just a few squibs every now and again? So life in St. Petersburg became insupportable to Paklin and he longed to remove to Moscow. Speculations of all sorts-- ideas, fancies, and sarcasms-- were stored up in him like water in a closed mill. The floodgates could not be opened and the water grew stagnant. With the appearance of Mashurina the gates opened wide, and all his pent- up ideas came pouring out with a rush. He talked about St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg life, the whole of Russia. No one was spared! Mashurina was very little interested in all this, but she did not contradict or interrupt, and that was all he wanted of her.
"Yes," he began, "a fine time we are living in, I can assure you! Society in a state of absolute stagnation; everyone bored to death! As for literature, it's been reduced to a complete vacuum swept clean! Take criticism for example. If a promising young critic has to say, 'It's natural for a hen to lay eggs,' it takes him at least twenty whole pages to expound this mighty truth, and even then he doesn't quite manage it! They're as puffed up as feather-beds, these fine gentlemen, as soft-soapy as can be, and are always in raptures over the merest commonplaces! As for science, ha, ha, ha! we too have our learned Kant! [The word kant in Russian means a kind of braid or piping.] on the collars of our engineers! And it's no better in art! You go to a concert and listen to our national singer Agremantsky. Everyone is raving about him. But he has no more voice than a cat! Even Skoropikin, you know, our immortal Aristarchus, rings his praises. 'Here is something,' he declares, 'quite unlike Western art! ' Then he raves about our insignificant painters too! 'At one time, I bowed down before Europe and the Italians,' he says, 'but I've heard Rossini and seen Raphael and confess I was not at all impressed.' And our young men just go about repeating what he says and feel quite satisfied with themselves. And meanwhile the people are dying of hunger, crushed down by taxes. The only reform that has been accomplished is that the men have taken to wearing caps and the women have left off their head-dresses! And the poverty! the drunkenness! the usury!"
But at this point Mashurina yawned and Paklin saw that he must change the subject.
"You haven't told me yet," he said, turning to her," where you've been these two years; when you came back, what you've been doing with yourself, and how you managed to turn into an Italian countess--"
"There is no need for you to know all that," she put in. "It can hardly have any interest for you now. You see, you are no longer of our camp."
Paklin felt a pang and gave a forced laugh to hide his confusion.
"As you please," he said; "I know I'm regarded as out-of-date by the present generation, and really I can hardly count myself . . . of those ranks--" He did not finish the sentence. "Here comes Snapotchka with the tea. Take a cup with us and stay a little longer. Perhaps I may tell you something of interest to you."
Mashurina took a cup of tea and began sipping it with a lump of sugar in her mouth.
Paklin laughed heartily.
"It's a good thing the police are not here to see an Italian countess--"
"Rocca di Santo Fiume," Mashurina put in solemnly, sipping the hot tea.
"Contessa Rocca di Santo Fiume!" Paklin repeated after her; "and drinking her tea in the typical Russian way! That's rather suspicious, you know! The police would be on the alert in an instant."
"Some fellow in uniform bothered me when I was abroad," Mashurina remarked. "He kept on asking so many questions until I couldn't stand it any longer. 'Leave me alone, for heaven's sake!' I said to him at last."
"Oh no, in Russian."
"And what did he do?"
"Went away, of course."
"Bravo!" Paklin exclaimed. "Well, countess, have another cup. There is just one other thing I wanted to say to you. It seemed to me that you expressed yourself rather contemptuously of Solomin. But I tell you that people like him are the real men! It's difficult to understand them at first, but, believe me, they're the real men. The future is in their hands. They are not heroes, not even 'heroes of labour' as some crank of an American, or Englishman, called them in a book he wrote for the edification of us heathens, but they are robust, strong, dull men of the people. They are exactly what we want just now. You have only to look at Solomin. A head as clear as the day and a body as strong as an ox. Isn't that a wonder in itself? Why, any man with us in Russia who has had any brains, or feelings, or a conscience, has always been a physical wreck. Solomin's heart aches just as ours does; he hates the same things that we hate, but his nerves are of iron and his body is under his full control. He's a splendid man, I tell you! Why, think of it! here is a man with ideals, and no nonsense about him; educated and from the people, simple, yet all there . . . What more do you want?
"It's of no consequence," Paklin continued, working himself up more and more, without noticing that Mashurina had long ago ceased listening to him and was looking away somewhere, "it's of no consequence that Russia is now full of all sorts of queer people, fanatics, officials, generals plain and decorated, Epicureans, imitators, all manner of cranks. I once knew a lady, a certain Havrona Prishtekov, who, one fine day, suddenly turned a legitimist and assured everybody that when she died they had only to open her body and the name of Henry V. would be found engraven on her heart! All these people do not count, my dear lady; our true salvation lies with the Solomins, the dull, plain, but wise Solomins! Remember that I say this to you in the winter of 1870, when Germany is preparing to crush France--"
"Silishka," Snandulia's soft voice was heard from behind Paklin, "I think in your speculations about the future you have quite forgotten our religion and its influence. And besides," she added hastily, " Miss Mashurina is not listening to you. You had much better offer her some more tea."
Paklin pulled himself up.
"Why, of course . . . do have some more tea."
But Mashurina fixed her dark eyes upon him and said pensively:
"You don't happen to have any letter of Nejdanov s . . . or his photograph?"
"I have a photograph and quite a good one too. I believe it's in the table drawer. I'll get it in a minute."
He began rummaging about in the drawer, while Snandulia went up to Mashurina and with a long, intent look full of sympathy, clasped her hand like a comrade.
"Here it is! " Paklin exclaimed and handed her the photograph.
Mashurina thrust it into her pocket quickly, scarcely glancing at it, and without a word of thanks, flushing bright red, she put on her hat and made for the door.
"Are you going?" Paklin asked. "Where do you live? You might tell me that at any rate."
"Wherever I happen to be."
"I understand. You don't want me to know. Tell me at least, are you still working under Vassily Nikolaevitch?"
"What does it matter to you? "Or someone else, perhaps Sidor Sidoritch?" Mashurina did not reply.
"Or is your director some anonymous person?" Mashurina had already stepped across the threshold. "Perhaps it is someone anonymous!"
She slammed the door.
Paklin stood for a long time motionless before this closed door.
"Anonymous Russia!" he said at last.