A House of Gentlefolk, by Ivan Turgenev

Chapter XVIII

Four days later, he set off for home. His coach rolled quickly along the soft cross-road. There had been no rain for a fortnight; a fine milk mist was diffused in the air and hung over the distant woods; a smell of burning came from it. A multitude of darkish clouds with blurred edges were creeping across the pale blue sky; a fairly strong breeze blew a dry and steady gale, without dispelling the heat. Leaning back with his head on the cushion and his arms crossed on his breast, Lavretsky watched the furrowed fields unfolding like a fan before him, the willow bushes as they slowly came into sight, and the dull ravens and rooks, who looked sidelong with stupid suspicion at the approaching carriage, the long ditches, overgrown with mugwort, wormwood, and mountain ash; and as he watched the fresh fertile wilderness and solitude of this steppe country, the greenness, the long slopes, and valleys with stunted oak bushes, the grey villages, and scant birch trees — the whole Russian landscape, so long unseen by him, stirred emotion at once pleasant, sweet and almost painful in his heart, and he felt weighed down by a kind of pleasant oppression. Slowly his thoughts wandered; their outlines were as vague and indistinct as the outlines of the clouds which seemed to be wandering at random overhead. He remembered his childhood, his mother; he remembered her death, how they had carried him in to her, and how, clasping his head to her bosom, she had begun to wail over him, then had glanced at Glafira Petrovna — and checked herself. He remembered his father, at first vigorous, discontented with everything, with strident voice; and later, blind, tearful, with unkempt grey beard; he remembered how one day after drinking a glass too much at dinner, and spilling the gravy over his napkin, he began to relate his conquests, growing red in the face, and winking with his sightless eyes; he remember Varvara Pavlovna — and involuntarily shuddered, as a man shudders from a sudden internal pain, and shook his head. Then his! thoughts came to a stop at Lisa.

“There,” he thought, “Is a new creature, only just entering on life. A nice girl, what will become of her? She is good-looking too. A pale, fresh face, mouth and eyes so serious, and an honest innocent expression. It is a pity she seems a little enthusiastic. A good figure, and she moves so lightly, and a soft voice. I like the way she stops suddenly, listens attentively, without a smile, then grows thoughtful and shakes back her hair. I fancy, too, that Panshin is not good enough for her. What’s amiss with him, though? And besides, what business have I to wonder about it? She will go along the same road as all the rest. I had better go to sleep.” And Lavretsky closed his eyes.

He could not sleep, but he sank into the drowsy numbness of a journey. Images of the past rose slowly as before, floated in his soul, mixed and tangled up with other fancies. Lavretsky, for some unknown reason, began to think about Robert Peel, . . . about French history — of how he would gain a battle, if he were a general; he fancied the shots and the cries . . . . His head slipped on one side, he opened his eyes. The same fields, the same steppe scenery; the polished shoes of the trace-horses flashed alternately through the driving dust; the coachman’s shirt, yellow with red gussets, was puffed out by the wind . . . . “A nice home-coming!” glanced through Lavretsky’s brain; and he cried, “Get on!” wrapped himself in his cloak and pressed close into the cushion. The carriage jolted; Lavretsky sat up and opened his eyes wide. On the slope before him stretched a small hamlet; a little to the right could be seen an ancient manor house of small size, with closed shutters! and a winding flight of steps; nettles, green and thick as hemp, grew over the wide courtyard from the very gates; in it stood a storehouse built of oak, still strong. This was Vassilyevskoe.

The coachman drove to the gates and drew up; Lavretsky’s groom stood up on the box and as though in preparation for jumping down, shouted, “Hey!” There was a sleepy, muffled sound of barking, but not even a dog made its appearance; the groom again made ready for a jump, and again shouted “Hey!” The feeble barking was repeated, and an instant after a man from some unseen quarter ran into the courtyard, dressed in a nankeen coat, his head as white as snow; he stared at the coach, shading his eyes from the sun; all at once he slapped his thighs with both hands, ran to and fro a little, then rushed to open the gates. The coach drove into the yard, crushing the nettles with the wheels, and drew up at the steps. The white-headed man, who seemed very alert, was already standing on the bottom step, his legs bent and wide apart. he unfastened the apron of the carriage, holding back the strap with a jerk and aiding his master to alight; he kissed his hand.

“How do you do, how do you do, brother?” began Lavretsky. “Your name’s Anton, I think? You are still alive, then?” The old man bowed without speaking, and ran off for the keys. While he went, the coachman sat motionless, sitting sideways and staring at the closed door, but Lavretsky’s groom stood as he had leaped down in a picturesque pose with one arm thrown back on the box. The old man brought the keys, and, quite needlessly, twisting about like a snake, with his elbows raised high, he opened the door, stood on one side, and again bowed to the earth.

“So here I am at home, here I am back again,” thought Lavretsky, as he walked into the diminutive passage, while one after another the shutters were being opened with much creaking and knocking, and the light of day poured into the deserted rooms.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:05