A House of Gentlefolk, by Ivan Turgenev

Chapter XXI

In the course of a fortnight, Fedor Ivanitch had brought Glafira Petrovna’s little house into order and had cleared the court-yard and the garden. From Lavriky comfortable furniture was sent him; from the town, wine, books, and papers; horses made their appearance in the stable; in brief Fedor Ivanitch provided himself with everything necessary and began to live — not precisely after the manner of a country landowner, nor precisely after the manner of a hermit. His days passed monotonously; but he was not bored though he saw no one; he set diligently and attentively to work at farming his estate, rode about the neighbourhood and did some reading. He read little, however; he found it pleasanter to listen to the tales of old Anton. Lavretsky usually sat at the window with a pipe and a cup of cold tea. Anton stood at the door, his hands crossed behind him, and began upon his slow, deliberate stories of old times, of those fabulous times when oats and rye were not sold by measure, but in great sacks, at two or three farthings a sack; when there were impassable forests, virgin steppes stretching on every side, even close to the town. “And now,” complained the old man, whose eightieth year had passed, “there has been so much clearing, so much ploughing everywhere, there’s nowhere you may drive now.” Anton used to tell many stories, too, of his mistress, Glafira Petrovna; how prudent and saving she was; how a certain gentleman, a young neighbour, had paid her court, and used to ride over to see her, and how she was even pleased to put on her best cap, with ribbons of salmon colour, and her yellow gown of tru-tru levantine for him; but how, later on, she had been angry with the gentleman neighbour for his unseemly inquiry, “What, madam, pray, might be your fortune?” and had bade them refuse him the house; and how it was then that she had given directions that, after her decease, everything to the last rag should pass to Fedor Ivanitch. And, indeed, Lavretsky found all his aunt’s household goods intact, not excepting the best cap with ribbons of salmon colour, and the yellow gown of tru-tru levantine. Of old papers and interesting documents, upon which Lavretsky had reckoned, there seemed no trace, except one old book, in which his grandfather, Piotr Andreitch, had inscribed in one place, “Celebration in the city of Saint Petersburg of the peace, concluded with the Turkish empire by his Excellency Prince Alexander Alexandrovitch Prozorovsky;” in another place a recipe for a pectoral decoction with the comment, “This recipe was given to the general’s lady, Prascovya Federovna Soltikov, by the chief priest of the Church of the Life-giving Trinity, Fedor Avksentyevitch:” in another, a piece of political news of this kind: “Somewhat less talk of the French tigers;” and next this entry: “In the Moscow Gazette an announcement of the death of Mr. Senior-Major Mihal Petrovitch Kolitchev. Is not this the son of Piotr Vassilyevitch Kolitchev? Lavretsky found also some old calendars and dream-books, and the mysterious work of Ambodik; many were the memories stirred by the well-known; but long-forgotten Symbols and Emblems. In Glafira Petrovna’s little dressing-table, Lavretsky found a small packet, tied up with black ribbon, sealed with black sealing wax, and thrust away in the very farthest corner of the drawer. In the parcel there lay face to face a portrait, in pastel, of his father in his youth, with effeminate curls straying over his brow, with almond-shaped languid eyes and parted lips, and a portrait, almost effaced, of a pale woman in a white dress with a white rose in her hand — his mother. Of herself, Glafira Petrovna had never allowed a portrait to be taken. “I, myself, little father, Fedor Ivanitch,” Anton used to tell Lavretsky, “though I did not then live in the master’s house, still I can remember your great-grandfather, Andrey Afanasyevitch, seeing that I had come to my eighteenth year when he died. Once I met him in the garden and my knees! were knocking with fright indeed; however, he did nothing, only asked me my name, and sent me to his room for his pocket-handkerchief. He was a gentleman — how shall I tell you — he didn’t look on any one as better than himself. For your great-grandfather had, I do assure you, a magic amulet; a monk from Mount Athos made him a present of this amulet. And he told him, this monk did, “It’s for your kindness, Boyar, I give you this; wear it, and you need not fear judgment.” Well, but there, little father, we know what those times were like; what the master fancied doing, that he did. Sometimes, if even some gentleman saw fit to cross him in anything, he would just stare at him and say, “You swim in shallow water;” that was his favourite saying. And he lived, your great-grandfather of blessed memory, in a small log-house; and what goods he left behind him, what silver, and stores of all kinds! All the storehouses were full and overflowing. He was a manager. That very decanter, that you were pleased to admire, was his; he used to drink brandy out of it. But there was your grandfather, Piotr Andreitch, built himself a palace of stone, but he never grew rich; everything with him went badly, and he lived worse than his father by far, and he got no pleasure from it for himself, but spent all his money, and now there is nothing to remember him by — not a silver spoon has come down from him, and we have Glafira Petrovna’s management to thank for all that is saved.

“But is it true,” Lavretsky interrupted him, “they called her the old witch?”

“What sort of people called her so, I should like to know!” replied Anton with an air of displeasure.

“And little father,” the old man one day found courage to ask, “what about our mistress, where is she pleased to fix her residence?”

“I am separated from my wife,” Lavretsky answered with an effort, “please do not ask questions about her.”

“Yes, sir,” replied the old man mournfully.

After three weeks had passed by, Lavretsky rode into O——— to the Kalitins, and spent an evening with them. Lemm was there; Lavretsky took a great liking to him. Although thanks to his father, he played no instrument, he was passionately fond of music, real classical music. Panshin was not at the Kalitins’ that evening. The governor had sent him off to some place out of the town. Lisa played alone and very correct; Lemm woke up, got excited, twisted a piece of paper into a roll, and conducted. Marya Dmitrievna laughed at first, as she looked at him, later on she went off to bed; in her own words, Beethoven was too agitating for her nerves. At midnight Lavretsky accompanied Lemm to his lodging and stopped there with him till three o’clock in the morning. Lemm talked a great deal; his bent figure grew erect, his eyes opened wide and flashed fire; his hair even stood up on his forehead. It was so long since any one had shown him any sympathy, and Lavretsky was obviously interested in him, he was plying him with sympathetic and attentive questions. This touched the old man; he ended by showing the visitor his music, played and even sang in a faded voice some extracts from his works, among others the whole of Schiller’s ballad, Fridolin, set by him to music. Lavretsky admired it, made him repeat some passages, and at parting, invited him to stay a few days with him. Lemm, as he accompanied him as far as the street, agreed at once, and warmly pressed his hand; but when he was left standing alone in the fresh, damp air, in the just dawning sunrise, he looked round him, shuddered, shrank into himself, and crept up to his little room, with a guilty air. “Ich bin wohl nicht klug” (I must be out of my senses), he muttered, as he lay down in his hard short bed. He tried to say that he was ill, a few days later, when Lavretsky drove over to fetch him in an open carriage; but Fedor Ivanitch went up into his room and managed to persuade him. What produced the most powerful effect upon Lemm was the circumstance that Lavretsky had ordered a piano from town to be sent into the country expressly for him.

They set off together to the Kalitins’ and spent the evening with them, but not so pleasantly as on the last occasion. Panshin was there, he talked a great deal about his expedition, and very amusingly mimicked and described the country gentry he had seen; Lavretsky laughed, but Lemm would not come out of his corner, and sat silent, slightly tremulous all over like a spider, looking dull and sullen, and he only revived when Lavretsky began to take leave. Even when he was sitting in the carriage, the old man was still shy and constrained; but the warm soft air, the light breeze, and the light shadows, the scent of the grass and the birch-buds, the peaceful light of the starlit, moonless night, the pleasant tramp and snort of the horses — all the witchery of the roadside, the spring and the night, sank into the poor German’s soul, and he was himself the first to begin a conversation with Lavretsky.

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