Virgin Soil by Ivan S. Turgenev
NEJDANOV awoke early and, without waiting for a servant, dressed and went out into the garden. It was very large and beautiful this garden, and well kept. Hired labourers were scraping the paths with their spades, through the bright green shrubs a glimpse of kerchiefs could be seen on the heads of the peasant girls armed with rakes. Nejdanov wandered down to the pond; the early morning mist had already lifted, only a few curves in its banks still remained in obscurity. The sun, not yet far above the horizon, threw a rosy light over the steely silkiness of its broad surface. Five carpenters were busy about the raft, a newly- painted boat was lightly rocking from side to side, creating a gentle ripple over the water. The men rarely spoke, and then in somewhat preoccupied tones. Everything was submerged in the morning stillness, and everyone was occupied with the morning work; the whole gave one a feeling of order and regularity of everyday life. Suddenly, at the other end of the avenue, Nejdanov got a vision of the very incarnation of order and regularity-- Sipiagin himself.
He wore a brown coat, something like a dressing gown, and a checkered cap; he was leaning on an English bamboo cane, and his newly-shaven face shone with satisfaction; he was on the round of inspecting his estate. Sipiagin greeted Nejdanov kindly.
"Ah!" he exclaimed, "I see you are one of the early birds!" (He evidently wanted to express his approval by this old saying, which was a little out of place, of the fact that Nejdanov, like himself, did not like lying in bed long.) "At eight o'clock we all take tea in the dining room, and we usually breakfast at twelve. I should like you to give Kolia his first lesson in Russian grammar at ten o'clock, and a lesson in history at two. I don't want him to have any lessons tomorrow, as it will he his name-day, hut I would like you to begin today."
Nejdanov bowed his head, and Sipiagin took leave of him in the French fashion, quickly lifting his hand several times to his lips and nose, and walked away, whistling and waving his cane energetically, not at all like an important official and state dignitary, but like a jolly Russian country gentleman.
Until eight o'clock Nejdanov stayed in the garden, enjoying the shadows cast by the old trees, the fresh air, the singing of the birds, until the sound of a gong called him to the house. On his entrance he found the whole company already assembled in the dining room. Valentina Mihailovna greeted him in a friendly manner; she seemed to him marvellously beautiful in her morning gown. Mariana looked stern and serious as usual.
Exactly at ten o'clock Nejdanov gave Kolia his first lesson before Valentina Mihailovna, who had asked him if she might he present, and sat very quietly the whole time. Kolia proved an intelligent boy; after the inevitable moments of incertitude and discomfort, the lesson went off very well, and Valentina Mihailovna was evidently satisfied with Nejdanov, and spoke to him several times kindly. He tried to hold aloof a little--but not too much so. Valentina Mihailovna was also present at the second lesson, this time on Russian history. She announced, with a smile, that in this subject she needed instruction almost as much as Kolia. She conducted herself just as quietly as she had done at the first lesson.
Between two and five o'clock Nejdanov stayed in his own room writing letters to his St. Petersburg friends. He was neither bored nor in despair; his overstrained nerves had calmed down somewhat. However, they were set on edge again at dinner, although Kollomietzev was not present, and the kind attention of host and hostess remained unchanged; but it was this very attention that made Nejdanov angry. To make matters worse, the old maiden lady, Anna Zaharovna, was obviously antagonistic, Mariana continued serious, and Kolia rather unceremoniously kicked him under the table. Sipiagin also seemed out of sorts. He was extremely dissatisfied with the manager of his paper mill, a German, to whom he paid a large salary. Sipiagin began by abusing Germans in general, then announced that he was somewhat of a Slavophil, though not a fanatic, and mentioned a certain young Russian, by the name of Solomin, who, it was said, had successfully established another mill belonging to a neighbouring merchant; he was very anxious to meet this Solomin.
Kollomietzev came in the evening; his own estate was only about ten miles away from "Arjanov," the name of Sipiagin's village. There also came a certain justice of the peace, a squire, of the kind so admirably described in the two famous lines of Lermontov--
Behind a cravat, frock coat to the heels
Another guest arrived, with a dejected look, without a tooth in his head, but very accurately dressed. After him came the local doctor, a very bad doctor, who was fond of coming out with learned expressions. He assured everyone, for instance, that he liked Kukolnik better than Pushkin because there was a great deal of "protoplasm" about him. They all sat down to play cards. Nejdanov retired to his own room, and read and wrote until midnight.
The following day, the 9th of May, was Kolia's patron-saint's day.
Although the church was not a quarter of a mile off, the whole household drove to mass in three open carriages with footmen at the back. Everything was very festive and gorgeous. Sipiagin decorated himself with his order, Valentina Mihailovna was dressed in a beautiful pale lavender-coloured Parisian gown, and during the service read her prayers out of a tiny little prayer hook bound in red velvet. This little book was a matter of great concern among several old peasants, one of whom, unable to contain himself any longer, asked of his neighbour: "What is she doing? Lord have mercy on us! Is she casting a spell? " The sweet scent of the flowers, which filled the whole church, mingled with the smell of the peasant's coats, tarred boots and shoes, the whole being drowned by the delicious, overpowering scent of incense.
In the choir the clerks and sacristans tried their very hardest to sing well, and with the help of the men from the factory attempted something like a concert! There was a moment when an almost painful sensation came over the congregation. The tenor's voice (it belonged to one of the men from the factory, who was in the last stages of consumption) rose high above the rest, and without the slightest restraint trilled out long chromatic flat minor notes; they were terrible these notes! but to stop them would have meant the whole concert going to pieces. . . . However, the thing went off without any mishap. Father Kiprian, a priest of the most patriarchal appearance, dressed in the full vestments of the church, delivered his sermon out of a copy-book. Unfortunately, the conscientious father had considered it necessary to introduce the names of several very wise Assyrian kings, which caused him some trouble in pronunciation. He succeeded in showing a certain amount of learning, but perspired very much in the effort!
Nejdanov, who for a long time had not been inside a church, stood in a corner amidst the peasant women, who kept casting sidelong glances at him in between crossing themselves, bowing piously to the ground, and wiping their babies' noses. But the peasant girls in their new coats and beaded head-dresses, and the boys in their embroidered shirts, with girdles round their waists, stared intently at the new worshipper, turning their faces straight towards him...Nejdanov, too, looked at them, and many things rose up in his mind.
After mass, which lasted a very long time--the service of St. Nikolai the Miraculous is well known to he one of the longest in the Orthodox Church--all the clergy, at Sipiagin's invitation, returned to his house, and, after going through several additional ceremonies, such as sprinkling the room with holy water, they all sat down to an abundant breakfast, interspersed with the usual congratulations and rather wearisome talk. The host and hostess, who never took breakfast at such an early hour, broke the rule on this occasion. Sipiagin even went so far as to relate an anecdote, quite proper, of course, but nevertheless amusing, in spite of his dignity and red ribbon, and caused Father Kiprian to be filled with gratitude and amazement. To show that he, too, could tell something worth hearing on occasion, the good father related a conversation he had had with the bishop, when the latter, on a tour round his diocese, had invited all the clergy of the district to come and see him at the monastery in the town. " He is very severe with us," Father Kiprian assured everyone. "First he questioned us about our parish, about our arrangements, and then he began to examine us. . . . He turned to me also: 'What is your church's dedication day?' 'The Transfiguration of our Lord,' I replied. 'Do you know the hymn for that day? " I think so.' 'Sing it.' 'Thou wert transfigured on the mountain, Christ our Lord,' I began. 'Stop! Do you know the meaning of the Transfiguration?' 'To be quite brief,' I replied, 'our Lord wished to show himself to His disciples in all His glory.' 'Very well,' he said, 'here is a little image in memory of me.' I fell at his feet. ' I thank you, your Holiness. . . .' I did not go away from him emptyhanded."
"I have the honour of knowing his Holiness personally," Sipiagin said solemnly. "A most worthy pastor!"
"Most worthy!" Father Kiprian agreed; "only he puts too much faith in the ecclesiastical superintendents! "
Valentina Mihailovna referred to the peasant school, and spoke of Mariana as the future schoolmistress; the deacon (who had been appointed supervisor of the school), a man of strong athletic build, with long waving hair, bearing a faint resemblance to the well-groomed tail of an Orlov race courser, quite forgetting his vocal powers, gave forth such a volume of sound as to confuse himself and frighten everybody else. Soon after this the clergy took their leave.
Kolia, in his new coat decorated with golden buttons, was the hero of the day. He was given presents, he was congratulated, his hands were kissed at the front door and at the back door by servants, workmen from the factory, old women and young girls and peasants; the latter, in memory of the days of serfdom, hung around the tables in front of the house, spread out with pies and small bottles of vodka. The happy boy was shy and pleased and proud, all at the same time; he caressed his parents and ran out of the room. At dinner Sipiagin ordered champagne, and before drinking his son's health made a speech. He spoke of the significance of "serving the land," and indicated the road he wished his Nikolai to follow (he did not use the diminutive of the boy's name), of the duty he owed, first to his family; secondly to his class, to society; thirdly to the people--" Yes, my dear ladies and gentlemen, to the people; and fourthly, to the government!" By degrees Sipiagin became quite eloquent, with his hand under the tail of his coat in imitation of Robert Peel. He pronounced the word "science " with emotion, and finished his speech by the Latin exclamation, laboremus! which he instantly translated into Russian. Kolia, with a glass in his hand, went over to thank his father and to be kissed by the others.
Nejdanov exchanged glances with Mariana again. . .
They no doubt felt the same, but they did not speak to each other.
However, Nejdanov was more amused than annoyed with the whole proceeding, and the amiable hostess, Valentina Mihailovna, seemed to him to be an intelligent woman, who was aware that she was playing a part, but pleased to think that there was someone else intelligent enough to understand her. Nejdanov probably had no suspicion of the degree in which he was flattered by her attitude towards him.
On the following day lessons were renewed, and life fell back in its ordinary rut.
A week flew by in this way. Nejdanov's thoughts and experiences during that time may be best gathered from an extract of a letter he wrote to a certain Silin, an old school chum and his best friend. Silin did not live in St. Petersburg, but in a distant provincial town, with an old relative on whom he was entirely dependent. His position was such that he could hardly dream of ever getting away from there. He was a man of very poor health, timid, of limited capacity, but of an extraordinarily pure nature. He did not interest himself in politics, but read anything that came in his way, played on the flute as a resource against boredom, and was afraid of young ladies. Silin was passionately fond of Nejdanov--he had an affectionate heart in general. Nejdanov did not express himself to anyone as freely as he did to Vladimir Silin; when writing to him he felt as if he were communicating to some dear and intimate soul, dwelling in another world, or to his own conscience. Nejdanov could not for a moment conceive of the idea of living together again with Silin, as comrades in the same town. He would probably have lost interest in him, as there was little in common between them, but he wrote him long letters gladly with the fullest confidence. With others, on paper at any rate, he was not himself, but this never happened when writing to Silin. The latter was not a master in the art of writing, and responded only in short clumsy sentences, but Nejdanov had no need of lengthy replies; he knew quite well that his friend swallowed every word of his, as the dust in the road swallows each drop of rain, that he would keep his secrets sacredly, and that in his hopeless solitude he had no other interests but his, Nejdanov's, interests. He had never told anyone of his relation with Silin, a relation that was very dear to him.
"Well, my dear friend, my pure-hearted Vladimir!" Thus he wrote to him; he always called him pure-hearted, and not without good cause. "Congratulate me; I have fallen upon green pasture, and can rest awhile and gather strength. I am living in the house of a rich statesman, Sipiagin, as tutor to his little son; I eat well (have never eaten so well in my life!), sleep well, and wander about the beautiful country--but, above all, I have for a time crept out from under the wing of my St. Petersburg friends. At first it was horribly boring, but I feel a bit better now. I shall soon have to go into harness again, that is, put up with the consequences of what I have undertaken (the reason I was allowed to come here). For a time, at any rate, I can enjoy the delights of a purely animal existence, expand in the waist, and write verses if the mood seizes me. I will give you my observations another time. The estate seems to me well managed on the whole, with the exception, perhaps, of the factory, which is not quite right; some of the peasants are unapproachable, and the hired servants have servile faces--but we can talk about these things later on. My host and hostess are courteous, liberal- minded people; the master is for ever condescending, and bursts out from time to time in torrents of eloquence, a most highly cultured person! His lady, a picturesque beauty, who has all her wits about her, keeps such a close watch on one, and is so soft! I should think she has not a bone in her body! I am rather afraid of her, you know what sort of a ladies' man I make! There are neighbours--but uninteresting ones; then there is an old lady in the house who makes me feel uncomfortable. . . . Above all, I am interested in a certain young lady, but whether she is a relative or simply a companion here the Lord only knows! I have scarcely exchanged a couple of words with her, but I feel that we are birds of a feather. . ."
Here followed a description of Mariana's personal appearance and of all her habits; then he continued:
"That she is unhappy, proud, ambitious, reserved, but above all unhappy, I have not the smallest doubt. But why she is unhappy, I have as yet failed to discover. That she has an upright nature is quite evident, but whether she is good-natured or not remains to be seen. Are there really any good-natured women other than stupid ones? Is goodness essential? However, I know little about women. The lady of the house does not like her, and I believe it is mutual on either side. . . . But which of them is in the right is difficult to say. I think that the mistress is probably in the wrong . . . because she is so awfully polite to her; the other's brows twitch nervously when she is speaking to her patroness. She is a most highly-strong individual, like myself, and is just as easily upset as I am, although perhaps not in the same way.
"When all this can be disentangled, I will write to you again.
"She hardly ever speaks to me, as I have already told you, but in the few words she has addressed to me (always rather sudden and unexpected) there was a ring of rough sincerity which I liked. By the way, how long is that relative of yours going to bore you to death? When is he going to die?
"Have you read the article in the "European Messenger" about the latest impostors in the province of Orenburg? It happened in 1834, my dear! I don't like the journal, and the writer of the article is a conservative, but the thing is interesting and calculated to give one ideas. . .