Virgin Soil by Ivan S. Turgenev
SIPIAGIN had barely crossed the threshold when Paklin jumped up, and rushing across to Nejdanov began showering congratulations upon him.
"What a fine catch!" he exclaimed laughing, scarcely able to stand still. "Do you know who he is? He's quite a celebrity, a chamberlain, one of our pillars of society, a future minister!"
"I have never heard of him," Nejdanov remarked dejectedly.
Paklin threw up his arms in despair.
"That's just where we are mistaken, Alexai Dmitritch! We never know anyone. We want to do things, to turn the whole world upside down, and are living outside this very world, amidst two or three friends, jostling each other in our narrow little circle!
"Excuse me," Nejdanov put in. "I don't think that is quite true. We certainly do not go amongst the enemy, but are constantly mixing with our own kind, and with the masses."
"Just a minute! " Paklin interrupted, in his turn. "Talking of enemies reminds me of Goethe's lines--
Wer den Dichter will versteh'n
and I say--
Wer den Feinde will versteh'n
To turn one's back on one's enemies, not to try and understand their manner of life, is utterly stupid! Yes, utterly stu-pid! If I want to shoot a wolf in the forest, I must first find out his haunts. You talked of coming in contact with the people just now. My dear boy! In 1862 the Poles formed their revolutionary bands in the forest; we are just about to enter that same forest, I mean the people, where it is no less dark and dense than in the other."
"Then what would you have us do?"
"The Hindus cast themselves under the wheels of the Juggernaut," Paklin continued; "they were mangled to pieces and died in ecstasy. We, also, have our Juggernaut--it crushes and mangles us, but there is no ecstasy in it."
"Then what would you have us do?" Nejdanov almost screamed at him. "Would you have us write preachy novels?
Paklin folded his arms and put his head on one side.
"You, at any rate, could write novels. You have a decidedly literary turn of mind. All right, I won't say anything about it. I know you don't like it being mentioned. I know it is not very exciting to write the sort of stuff wanted, and in the modern style too. "'Oh, I love you," she bounded--'"
"It's all the same to me," he replied, scratching himself.
"That is precisely why I advise you to get to know all sorts and conditions, beginning from the very highest. We must not be entirely dependent on people like Ostrodumov! They are very honest, worthy folk, but so hopelessly stupid! You need only look at our friend. The very soles of his boots are not like those worn by intelligent people. Why did he hurry away just now? Only because he did not want to be in the same room with an aristocrat, to breathe the same air--"
"Please don't talk like that about Ostrodumov before me!" Nejdanov burst out. "He wears thick boots because they are cheaper!"
"I did not mean it in that sense," Paklin began.
"If he did not wish to remain in the same room with an aristocrat," Nejdanov continued, raising his voice, "I think it very praiseworthy on his part, and what is more, he is capable of sacrificing himself, will face death, if necessary, which is more than you or I will ever do!
Paklin made a sad grimace, and pointed to his scraggy, crippled legs.
"Now do I look like a warrior, my dear Alexai Dmitritch? But enough of this. I am delighted that you met this Sipiagin, and can even foresee something useful to our cause as a result of it. You will find yourself in the highest society, will come in contact with those wonderful beauties one hears about, women with velvety bodies on steel springs, as it says in "Letters on Spain". Get to know them, my dear fellow. If you were at all inclined to be an Epicurean, I should really be afraid to let you go. But those are not the objects with which you are going, are they?"
"I am going away," Nejdanov said, "to earn my living. And to get away from you all," he added to himself.
"Of course, of course! That is why I advise you to learn. Fugh! What a smell this gentleman has left behind him!" Paklin sniffed the air. "The very ambrosia that the governor's wife longed for in Gogol's 'Revisor'!"
"He discussed me with Prince G.," Nejdanov remarked dejectedly. "I suppose he knows my whole history now."
"You need not suppose; you may be quite sure of it! But what does it matter? I wouldn't mind betting that that was the very reason for his wanting to engage you. You will be able to hold your own with the best of them. You are an aristocrat yourself by blood, and consequently an equal. However, I have stayed too long. I must go back to the exploiter's, to my office. Goodbye."
Paklin went to the door, but stopped and turned back.
"I say, Aliosha," he began in a persuasive tone of voice, you have only just refused me, and I know you will not be short of money now; but, all the same, do allow me to sacrifice just a little for the cause. I can't do anything else, so let me help with my pocket! I have put ten roubles on the table. Will you take them?"
Nejdanov remained motionless, and did not say anything. "Silence means consent! Thanks!" Paklin exclaimed gaily and vanished.
Nejdanov was left alone. He continued gazing out into the narrow, gloomy court, unpenetrated by the sun even in summer, and he felt sad and gloomy at heart.
We already know that Nejdanov's father was Prince G., a rich adjutant-general. His mother was the daughter of the general's governess, a pretty girl who died on the day of Nejdanov's birth. He received his early education in a boarding school kept by a certain Swiss, a very energetic and severe pedagogue, after which he entered the university. His great ambition was to study law, but his father, who had a violent hatred for nihilists, made him go in for history and philology, or for "aesthetics" as Nejdanov put it with a bitter smile. His father used to see him about four times a year in all, but was, nevertheless, interested in his welfare, and when he died, left him a sum of six thousand roubles "in memory of Nastinka" his mother. Nejdanov received the interest on this money from his brothers the Princes G., which they were pleased to call an allowance.
Paklin had good reason to call him an aristocrat. Everything about him betokened his origin. His tiny ears, hands, feet, his small but fine features, delicate skin, wavy hair; his very voice was pleasant, although it was slightly guttural. He was highly strung, frightfully conceited, very susceptible, and even capricious. The false position he had been placed in from childhood had made him sensitive and irritable, but his natural generosity had kept him from becoming suspicious and mistrustful. This same false position was the cause of an utter inconsistency, which permeated his whole being. He was fastidiously accurate and horribly squeamish, tried to be cynical and coarse in his speech, but was an idealist by nature. He was passionate and pure-minded, bold and timid at the same time, and, like a repentant sinner, ashamed of his sins; he was ashamed alike of his timidity and his purity, and considered it his duty to scoff at all idealism. He had an affectionate heart, but held himself aloof from everybody, was easily exasperated, but never bore ill-will. He was furious with his father for having made him take up "aesthetics," openly interested himself in politics and social questions, professed the most extreme views (which meant more to him than mere words), but secretly took a delight in art, poetry, beauty in all its manifestations, and in his inspired moments wrote verses. It is true that he carefully hid the copy-book in which they were written, and none of his St. Petersburg friends, with the exception of Paklin, and he only by his peculiar intuitiveness, suspected its existence. Nothing hurt or offended Nejdanov more than the smallest allusion to his poetry, which he regarded as an unpardonable weakness in himself. His Swiss schoolmaster had taught him a great many things, and he was not afraid of hard work. He applied himself readily and zealously, but did not work consecutively. All his friends loved him. They were attracted by his natural sense of justice, his kindness, and his pure- mindedness, but Nejdanov was not born under a lucky star, and did not find life an easy matter. He was fully conscious of this fact and felt utterly lonely in spite of the untiring devotion of his friends.
He stood meditating at the window. Sad, oppressive thoughts rose up in his mind one after another about the prospective journey, the new and unexpected change that was coming into his life. He had no regrets at the thought of leaving St. Petersburg, as he would leave nothing behind that was especially dear to him, and he knew that he would be back in the autumn; but he was pervaded by the spirit of indecision, and an involuntary melancholy came over him.
"A fine tutor I shall make!" flashed across his mind. "Am I cut out for a schoolmaster?" He was ready to reproach himself for having undertaken the duties of a tutor, and would have been unjust in doing so. Nejdanov was sufficiently cultured, and, in spite of his uncertain temperament, children grew readily fond of him and he of them. His depression was due to that feeling which takes possession of one before any change of place, a feeling experienced by all melancholy, dreaming people and unknown to those of energetic, sanguine temperaments, who always rejoice at any break in the humdrum of their daily existence, and welcome a change of abode with pleasure. Nejdanov was so lost in his meditations that his thoughts began quite unconsciously to take the form of words. His wandering sensations began to arrange themselves into measured cadences.
"Damn!" he exclaimed aloud. "I'm wandering off into poetry!" He shook himself and turned away from the window. He caught sight of Paklin's ten-rouble note, put it in his pocket, and began pacing up and down the room.
"I must get some money in advance," he thought to himself. "What a good thing this gentleman suggested it. A hundred roubles . . . a hundred from my brothers--their excellencies. . . . I want fifty to pay my debts, fifty or seventy for the journey--and the rest Ostrodumov can have. Then there are Paklin's ten roubles in addition, and I dare say I can get something from Merkulov--"
In the midst of these calculations the rhythmic cadences began to reassert themselves. He stood still, as if rooted to the spot, with fixed gaze. After a while his hands involuntarily found their way to the table drawer, from which he pulled out a much- used copy-book. He dropped into a chair with the same fixed look, humming softly to himself and every now and again shaking back his wavy hair, began writing line after line, sometimes scratching out and rewriting.
The door leading into the passage opened slightly and Mashurina's head appeared. Nejdanov did not notice her and went on writing. Mashurina stood looking at him intently for some time, shook her head, and drew it back again. Nejdanov sat up straight, and suddenly catching sight of her, exclaimed with some annoyance: "Oh, is that you?" and thrust the copy-book into the drawer again.
Mashurina came into the room with a firm step.
"Ostrodumov asked me to come," she began deliberately.
"He would like to know when we can have the money. If you could get it today, we could start this evening."
"I can't get it today," Nejdanov said with a frown. Please come tomorrow."
"At what time?"
Mashurina was silent for a while and then extended her hand.
"I am afraid I interrupted you. I am so sorry. But then. . . I am going away. . . who knows if we shall ever meet again. . . I wanted to say goodbye to you."
Nejdanov pressed her cold, red fingers. "You know the man who was here today," he began. "I have come to terms with him, and am going with him. His place is down in the province of S., not far from the town itself."
A glad smile lit up Mashurina's face.
"Near S. did you say? Then we may see each other again perhaps. They might send us there!" Mashurina sighed. "Oh, Alexai Dmitritch--"
"What is it?" Nejdanov asked.
Mashurina looked intense.
"Oh, nothing. Goodbye. It's nothing." She squeezed Nejdanov's hand a second time and went out.
"There is not a soul in St. Petersburg who is so attached to me as this eccentric person," he thought. " I wish she had not interrupted me though. However, I suppose it's for the best."
The next morning Nejdanov called at Sipiagin's townhouse and was shown into a magnificent study, furnished in a rather severe style, but quite in keeping with the dignity of a statesman of liberal views. The gentleman himself was sitting before an enormous bureau, piled up with all sorts of useless papers, arrayed in the strictest order, and numerous ivory paper-knives, which had never been known to cut anything. During the space of an hour Nejdanov listened to the wise, courteous, patronising speeches of his host, received a hundred roubles, and ten days later was leaning back in the plush seat of a reserved first- class compartment, side by side with this same wise, liberal politician, being borne along to Moscow on the jolting lines of the Nikolaevsky Railway.