A House of Gentlefolk, by Ivan Turgenev

Chapter II

A tall man entered, wearing a tidy overcoat, rather short trousers, grey doeskin gloves, and two neckties — a black one outside, and a white one below it. There was an air of decorum and propriety in everything about him, from his prosperous countenance and smoothly brushed hair, to his low-heeled, noiseless boots. He bowed first to the lady of the house, then to Marfa Timofyevna, and slowly drawing off his gloves, he advanced to take Marya Dmitrievna’s hand. After kissing it respectfully twice he seated himself with deliberation in an arm-chair, and rubbing the very tips of his fingers together, he observed with a smile —

“And is Elisaveta Mihalovna quite well?”

“Yes,” replied Marya Dmitrievna, “she’s in the garden.”

“And Elena Mihalovna?”

“Lenotchka’s in the garden too. Is there no news?”

“There is indeed!” replied the visitor, slowly blinking his eyes and pursing up his mouth. “Hm! . . . yes, indeed, there is a piece of news, and very surprising news too. Lavretsky — Fedor Ivanitch is here.”

“Fedya!” cried Marfa Timofyevna. “Are you sure you are not romancing, my good man?”

“No, indeed, I saw him myself.”

“Well, that does not prove it.”

“Fedor Ivanitch looked much more robust,” continued Gedeonovsky, affecting not to have heard Marfa Timofyevna’s last remark. “Fedor Ivanitch is broader and has quite a colour.”

“He looked more robust,” said Marya Dmitrievna, dwelling on each syllable. “I should have thought he had little enough to make him look robust.”

“Yes, indeed,” observed Gedeonovsky; “any other man in Fedor Ivanitch’s position would have hesitated to appear in society.”

“Why so, pray?” interposed Marfa Timofyevna. “What nonsense are you talking! The man’s come back to his home — where would you have him go? And has he been to blame, I should like to know!”

“The husband is always to blame, madam, I venture to assure you, when a wife misconducts herself.”

“You say that, my good sir, because you have never been married yourself.” Gedeonovsky listened with a forced smile.

“If I may be so inquisitive,” he asked, after a short pause, “for whom is that pretty scarf intended?”

Marfa Timofyevna gave him a sharp look.

“It’s intended,” she replied, “for a man who does not talk scandal, nor play the hypocrite, nor tell lies, if there’s such a man to be found in the world. I know Fedya well; he was only to blame in being too good to his wife. To be sure, he married for love, and no good ever comes of those love-matches,” added the old lady, with a sidelong glance at Marya Dmitrievna, as she got up from her place. “And now, my good sir, you may attack any one you like, even me if you choose; I’m going. I will not hinder you.” And Marfa Timofyevna walked away.

“That’s always how she is,” said Marya Dmitrievna, following her aunt with her eyes.

“We must remember your aunt’s age . . . there’s no help for it,” replied Gedeonovsky. “She spoke of a man not playing the hypocrite. But who is not hypocritical nowadays? It’s the age we live in. One of my friends, a most worthy man, and, I assure you, a man of no mean position, used to say, that nowadays the very hens can’t pick up a grain of corn without hypocrisy — they always approach it from one side. But when I look at you, dear lady — your character is so truly angelic; let me kiss your little snow-white hand!”

Marya Dmitrievna with a faint smile held out her plump hand to him with the little finger held apart from the rest. He pressed his lips to it, and she drew her chair nearer to him, and bending a little towards him, asked in an undertone —

“So you saw him? Was he really — all right — quite well and cheerful?”

“Yes, he was well and cheerful,” replied Gedeonovsky in a whisper.

“You haven’t heard where his wife is now?”

“She was lately in Paris; now, they say, she has gone away to Italy.”

“It is terrible, indeed — Fedya’s position; I wonder how he can bear it. Every one, of course, has trouble; but he, one may say, has been made the talk of all Europe.”

Gedeonovsky sighed.

“Yes, indeed, yes, indeed. They do say, you know that she associates with artists and musicians, and as the saying is, with strange creatures of all kinds. She has lost all sense of shame completely.”

“I am deeply, deeply grieved.” said Marya Dmitrievna. “On account of our relationship. You know, Sergei Petrovitch, he’s my cousin many times removed.”

“Of course, of course. Don’t I know everything that concerns your family? I should hope so, indeed.”

“Will he come to see us — what do you think?”

“One would suppose so; though, they say, he is intending to go home to his country place.”

Mary Dmitrievna lifted her eyes to heaven.

“Ah, Sergei Petrovitch, Sergei Petrovitch, when I think how careful we women ought to be in our conduct!”

“There are women and women, Marya Dmitrievna. There are unhappily such . . . of flighty character . . . and at a certain age too, and then they are not brought up in good principles.” (Sergei Petrovitch drew a blue checked handkerchief out of his pocket and began to unfold it.) “There are such women, no doubt.” (Sergei Petrovitch applied a corner of the handkerchief first to one and then to the other eye.) “But speaking generally, if one takes into consideration, I mean . . . the dust in the town is really extraordinary to-day,” he wound up.

“Maman, maman,” cried a pretty little girl of eleven running into the room, “Vladimir Nikolaitch is coming on horseback!”

Marya Dmitrievna got up; Sergei Petrovitch also rose and made a bow. “Our humble respects to Elena Mihalovna,” he said, and turning aside into a corner for good manners, he began blowing his long straight nose.

“What a splendid horse he has!” continued the little girl. “He was at the gate just now, he told Lisa and me he would dismount at the steps.”

The sound of hoofs was heard; and a graceful young man, riding a beautiful bay horse, was seen in the street, and stopped at the open window.

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