Virgin Soil by Ivan S. Turgenev
The room into which the servant conducted Nejdanov was beautifully neat and spacious, with wide-open windows looking on to the garden. A gentle breeze stirred the white curtains, blowing them out high like sails and letting them fall again. Golden reflections glided lightly over the ceiling; the whole room was filled with the moist freshness of spring. Nejdanov dismissed the servant, unpacked his trunk, washed, and changed. The journey had thoroughly exhausted him. The constant presence of a stranger during the last two days, the many fruitless discussions, had completely upset his nerves. A certain bitterness, which was neither boredom nor anger, accumulated mysteriously in the depths of his being. He was annoyed with himself for his lack of courage, but his heart ached. He went up to the window and looked out into the garden. It was an old- fashioned garden, with rich dark soil, such as one rarely sees around Moscow, laid out on the slope of a hill into four separate parts. In front of the house there was a flower garden, with straight gravel paths, groups of acacias and lilac, and round flower beds. To the left, past the stable yard, as far down as the barn, there was an orchard, thickly planted with apples, pears, plums, currants, and raspberries. Beyond the flower garden, in front of the house, there was a large square walk, thickly enterlaced with lime trees. To the right, the view was shut out by an avenue of silver poplars; a glimpse of an orangery could be seen through a group of weeping willows. The whole garden was clothed in its first green leaves; the loud buzz of summer insects was not yet heard; the leaves rustled gently, chaffinches twittered everywhere; two doves sat cooing on a tree; the note of a solitary cuckoo was heard first in one place, then in another; the friendly cawing of rooks was carried from the distance beyond the mill pond, sounding like the creaking of innumerable cart wheels. Light clouds floated dreamily over this gentle stillness, spreading themselves out like the breasts of some huge,lazy birds.
Nejdanov gazed and listened, drinking in the cool air through half-parted lips.
His depression left him and a wonderful calmness entered his soul.
Meanwhile he was being discussed in the bedroom below. Sipiagin was telling his wife how he had met him, what Prince G. had said of him, and the gist of their talks on the journey.
"A clever chap!" he repeated, "and well educated, too. It's true he's a revolutionist, but what does it matter? These people are ambitious, at any rate. As for Kolia, he is too young to be spoiled by any of this nonsense."
Valentina Mihailovna listened to her husband affectionately; an amused smile played on her lips, as if he were telling her of some naughty amusing prank. It was pleasant to her to think that her seigneur a maitre, such a respectable man, of important position, could be as mischievous as a boy of twenty. Standing before the looking-glass in a snow-white shirt and blue silk braces, Sipiagin was brushing his hair in the English fashion with two brushes, while Valentina Mihailovna, her feet tucked under her, was sitting on a narrow Turkish couch, telling him various news about the house, the paper mill, which, alas, was not going well, as was to be expected; about the possibilities of changing the cook, about the church, of which the plaster had come off; about Mariana, Kollomietzev. . .
Between husband and wife there existed the fullest confidence and good understanding; they certainly lived in "love and harmony," as people used to say in olden days. When Sipiagin, after finishing his toilet, asked chivalrously for his wife's hand and she gave him both, and watched him with an affectionate pride as he kissed them in turn, the feeling expressed in their faces was good and true, although in her it shone out of a pair of eyes worthy of Raphael, and in him out of the ordinary eyes of a mere official.
On the stroke of five Nejdanov went down to dinner, which was announced by a Chinese gong, not by a bell. The whole company was already assembled in the dining room. Sipiagin welcomed him again from behind his high cravat, and showed him to a place between Anna Zaharovna and Kolia. Anna Zaharovna was an old maid, a sister of Sipiagin's father; she exhaled a smell of camphor, like a garment that had been put away for a long time, and had a nervous, dejected look. She had acted as Kolia's nurse or governess, and her wrinkled face expressed displeasure when Nejdanov sat down between her and her charge. Kolia looked sideways at his new neighbour; the intelligent boy soon saw that his tutor was shy and uncomfortable, that he did not raise his eyes, and scarcely ate anything. This pleased Kolia, who had been afraid that his tutor would be cross and severe. Valentina Mihailovna also watched Nejdanov.
"He looks like a student," she thought to herself. "He's not accustomed to society, but has a very interesting face, and the colour of his hair is like that of the apostle whose hair the old Italian masters always painted red--and his hands are clean!" Indeed, everybody at the table stared at Nejdanov, but they had mercy on him, and left him in peace for the time being. He was conscious of this, and was pleased and angry about it at the same time.
Sipiagin and Kollomietzev carried on the conversation. They talked about the county council, the governor, the highway tax, the peasants buying out the land, about mutual Moscow and St. Petersburg acquaintances, Katkov's lyceum, which was just coming into fashion, about the difficulty of getting labour, penalties, and damage caused by cattle, even of Bismarck, the war of 1866, and Napoleon III., whom Kollomietzev called a hero. Kollomietzev gave vent to the most retrograde opinions, going so far as to propose, in jest it is true, a toast given by a certain friend of his on a names-day banquet, "I drink to the only principle I acknowledge, the whip and Roedeger!"
Valentina Mihailovna frowned, and remarked that it was de tres mauvais gout.
Sipiagin, on the contrary, expressed the most liberal views, refuted Kollomietzev's arguments politely, though with a certain amount of disdain, and even chaffed him a little.
"Your terror of emancipation, my dear Simion Petrovitch," he said, "puts me in mind of our much respected friend, Alexai Ivanovitch Tveritinov, and the petition he sent in, in the year 1860. He insisted on reading it in every drawing room in St. Petersburg. There was one rather good sentence in it about our liberated serf, who was to march over the face of the fatherland bearing a torch in his hand. You should have seen our dear Alexai Ivanovitch, blowing out his cheeks and blinking his little eyes, pronounce in his babyish voice, 'T-torch! t-torch! Will march with a t-torch!' Well, the emancipation is now an established fact, but where is the peasant with the torch?
"Tveritinov was only slightly wrong," Kollomietzev said solemnly. "Not the peasants will march with the torch, but others."
At the words, Nejdanov, who until then had scarcely noticed Mariana, who sat a little to one side, exchanged glances with her, and instantly felt that this solemn girl and he were of the same convictions, of the same stamp. She had made no impression on him whatever when Sipiagin had introduced them; then why did he exchange glances with her in particular? He wondered if it was not disgraceful to sit and listen to such views without protesting and by reason of his silence letting others think that he shared them. Nejdanov looked at Mariana a second time, and her eyes seemed to say, "Wait a while . . . the time is not ripe. It isn't worth it . . . later on . . . there is plenty of time in store."
He was happy to think that she understood him, and began following the conversation again. Valentina Mihailovna supported her husband, and was, if anything, even more radical in her expressions than he. She could not understand, "simply could not un-der-stand, how an educated young man could hold such antiquated views."
"However," she added, "I am convinced that you only say these things for the sake of argument. And you, Alexai Dmitritch," she added to Nejdanov, with a smile (he wondered how she had learned his Christian name and his father's name), "I know, do not share Simion Petrovitch's fears; my husband told me about your talks on the journey."
Nejdanov blushed, bent over his plate, and mumbled something; he did not feel shy, but was simply unaccustomed to conversing with such brilliant personages. Madame Sipiagin continued smiling to him; her husband nodded his head patronisingly. Kollomietzev stuck his monocle between his eyebrow and nose and stared at the student who dared not to share his "fears." But it was difficult to embarrass Nejdanov in this way; on the contrary, he instantly sat up straight, and in his turn fixed his gaze on the fashionable official. Just as instinctively as he had felt Mariana to be a comrade, so he felt Kollomietzev to be an enemy! Kollomietzev felt it too; he removed his monocle, turned away, and tried to laugh carelessly--but it did not come off somehow. Only Anna Zaharovna, who secretly worshipped him, was on his side, and became even angrier than before with the unwelcome neighbour separating her from Kolia.
Soon after this dinner came to an end. The company went out on the terrace to drink coffee. Sipiagin and Kollomietzev lit up cigars. Sipiagin offered Nejdanov a regalia, but the latter refused.
"Why, of course!" Sipiagin exclaimed; "I've forgotten that you only smoke your own particular cigarettes!
"A curious taste!" Kollomietzev muttered between his teeth.
Nejdanov very nearly burst out, "I know the difference between a regalia and a cigarette quite well, but I don't want to be under an obligation to anyone!" but he contained himself and held his peace. He put down this second piece of insolence to his enemy's account.
"Mariana!" Madame Sipiagin suddenly called, "don't be on ceremony with our new friend . . . smoke your cigarette if you like. All the more so, as I hear," she added, turning to Nejdanov, "that among you all young ladies smoke."
"Yes," Nejdanov remarked dryly. This was the first remark he had made to Madame Sipiagina.
"I don't smoke," she continued, screwing up her velvety eyes caressingly. "I suppose I am behind the times."
Mariana slowly and carefully took out a cigarette, a box of matches, and began to smoke, as if on purpose to spite her aunt. Nejdanov took a light from Mariana and also began smoking.
It was a beautiful evening. Kolia and Anna Zaharovna went into the garden; the others remained for some time longer on the terrace enjoying the fresh air. The conversation was very lively. Kollomietzev condemned modern literature, and on this subject, too, Sipiagin showed himself a liberal. He insisted on the utter freedom and independence of literature, pointed out its uses, instanced Chateaubriand, whom the Emperor Alexander Pavlitch had invested with the order of St. Andrew! Nejdanov did not take part in the discussion; Madame Sipiagina watched him with an expression of approval and surprise at his modesty.
They all went in to drink tea in the drawing room.
"Alexai Dmitritch," Sipiagin said to Nejdanov, "we are addicted to the bad habit of playing cards in the evening, and even play a forbidden game, stukushka. . . . I won't ask you to join us, but perhaps Mariana will be good enough to play you something on the piano. You like music, I hope." And without waiting for an answer Sipiagin took up a pack of cards. Mariana sat down at the piano and played, rather indifferently, several of Mendelssohn's "Songs Without Words." Charmant! Charmant! quel touché! Kollomietzev called out from the other end of the room, but the exclamation was only due to politeness, and Nejdanov, in spite of Sipiagin's remark, showed no passion for music.
Meanwhile Sipiagin, his wife, Kollomietzev, and Anna Zaharovna sat down to cards. Kolia came to say goodnight, and, receiving his parents' blessing and a large glass of milk instead of tea, went off to bed. His father called after him to inform him that tomorrow he was to begin his lessons with Alexai Dmitritch. A little later, seeing Nejdanov wandering aimlessly about the room and turning over the photographic albums, apparently without any interest, Sipiagin begged him not to be on ceremony and retire if he wished, as he was probably tired after the journey, and to remember that the ruling principle of their house was liberty.
Nejdanov took advantage of this and bowing to all present went out. In the doorway he knocked against Mariana, and, looking into her eyes, was convinced a second time that they would be comrades, although she showed no sign of pleasure at seeing him, but, on the contrary, frowned heavily.
When he went in, his room was filled with a sweet freshness; the windows had stood wide open all day. In the garden, opposite his window, a nightingale was trilling out its sweet song; the evening sky became covered with the warm glow of the rising moon behind the rounded tops of the lime trees. Nejdanov lit a candle; a grey moth fluttered in from the dark garden straight to the flame; she circled round it, whilst a gentle breeze from without blew on them both, disturbing the yellow-bluish flame of the candle.
"How strange!" Nejdanov thought, lying in bed; "they seem good, liberal-minded people, even humane . . . but I feel so troubled in my heart. This chamberlain . Kollomietzev. . . . However, morning is wiser than evening . . . It's no good being sentimental."
At this moment the watchman knocked loudly with his stick and called out, "I say there--"
"Take care," answered another doleful voice. "Fugh! Heavens! It's like being in prison!" Nejdanov exclaimed.