A House of Gentlefolk, by Ivan Turgenev

Chapter XXIX

Marya Dmitrievna did not give Lavretsky an over-cordial welcome when he made his appearance the following day. “Upon my word, he’s always in and out,” she thought. She did not much care for him, and Panshin, under whose influence she was, had been very artful and disparaging in his praises of him the evening before. And as she did not regard him as a visitor, and did not consider it necessary to entertain a relation, almost one of the family, it came to pass that in less than half-an hour’s time he found himself walking in an avenue in the grounds with Lisa. Lenotchka and Shurotchka were running about a few paces from them in the flower-garden.

Lisa was as calm as usual but more than usually pale. She took out of her pocket and held out to Lavretsky the sheet of the newspaper folded up small.

“That is terrible!” she said.

Lavretsky made no reply.

“But perhaps it is not true, though,” added Lisa.

“That is why I asked you not to speak of it to any one.”

Lisa walked on a little.

“Tell me,” she began: “you are not grieved? not at all?”

“I do not know myself what I feel,” replied Lavretsky.

“But you loved her once?”

“Yes.”

“Very much?”

“Yes.”

“So you are not grieved at her death?”

“She was dead to me long ago.”

“It is sinful to say that. Do not be angry with me. You call me your friend: a friend may say everything. To me it is really terrible . . . . Yesterday there was an evil look in your face . . . . Do you remember not long ago how you abused her, and she, perhaps, at that very time was dead? It is terrible. It has been sent to you as a punishment.”

Lavretsky smiled bitterly.

“Do you think so? At least, I am now free.”

Lisa gave a slight shudder.

“Stop, do not talk like that. Of what use is your freedom to you? You ought not to be thinking of that now, but of forgiveness.”

“I forgave her long ago,” Lavretsky interposed with a gesture of the hand.

“No, that is not it,” replied Lisa, flushing. “You did not understand me. You ought to be seeking to be forgiven.”

“To be forgiven by whom?”

“By whom? God. Who can forgive us, but God?”

Lavretsky seized her hand.

“Ah, Lisaveta Mihalovna, believe me,” he cried, “I have been punished enough as it is. I have expiated everything already, believe me.”

“That you cannot know,” Lisa murmured in an undertone. “You have forgotten — not long ago, when you were talking to me — you were not ready to forgive her.”

She walked in silence along the avenue.

“And what about your daughter?” Lisa asked, suddenly stopping short.

Lavretsky started.

“Oh, don’t be uneasy! I have already sent letters in all directions. The future of my daughter, as you call — as you say — is assured. Do not be uneasy.”

Lisa smiled mournfully.

“But you are right,” continued Lavretsky, “what can I do with my freedom? What good is it to me?”

“When did you get that paper?” said Lisa, without replying to his question.

“The day after your visit.”

“And is it possible you did not even shed tears?”

“No. I was thunderstruck; but where were tears to come from? Should I weep over the past? but it is utterly extinct for me! Her very fault did not destroy my happiness, but only showed me that it had never been at all. What is there to weep over now? Though indeed, who knows? I might, perhaps, have been more grieved if I had got this news a fortnight sooner.”

“A fortnight?” repeated Lisa. “But what has happened then in the last fortnight?”

Lavretsky made no answer, and suddenly Lisa flushed even more than before.

“Yes, yes, you guess why,” Lavretsky cried suddenly, “in the course of this fortnight I have come to know the value of a pure woman’s heart, and my past seems further from me than ever.”

Lisa was confused, and went gently into the flower-garden towards Lenotchka and Shurotchka.

“But I am glad I showed you that newspaper,” said Lavretsky, walking after her; “already I have grown used to hiding nothing from you, and I hope you will repay me with the same confidence.”

“Do you expect it?” said Lisa, standing still. “In that case I ought — but no! It is impossible.”

“What is it? Tell me, tell me.”

“Really, I believe I ought not — after all, though,” added Lisa, turning to Lavretsky with a smile, “what’s the good of half confidence? Do you know I received a letter today?”

“From Panshin?”

“Yes. How did you know?”

“He asks for your hand?”

“Yes,” replied Lisa, looking Lavretsky straight in the face with a serious expression.

Lavretsky on his side looked seriously at Lisa.

“Well, and what answer have you given him?” he managed to say at last.

“I don’t know what answer to give,” replied Lisa, letting her clasped hands fall.

“How is that? Do you love him, then?”

“Yes, I like him; he seems a nice man.”

“You said the very same thing, and in the very same words, three days ago. I want to know do you love him with that intense passionate feeling which we usually call love?”

“As you understand it — no.”

“You’re not in love with him?”

“No. But is that necessary?”

“What do you mean?”

“Mamma likes him,” continued Lisa, “he is kind; I have nothing against him.”

“You hesitate, however.”

“Yes — and perhaps — you, your words are the cause of it. Do you remember what you said three days ago? But that is weakness.”

“O my child!” cried Lavretsky suddenly, and his voice was shaking, “don’t cheat yourself with sophistries, don’t call weakness the cry of your heart, which is not ready to give itself without love. Do not take on yourself such a fearful responsibility to this man, whom you don’t love, though you are ready to belong to him.”

“I’m obeying, I take nothing on myself,” Lisa was murmuring.

“Obey your heart; only that will tell you the truth,” Lavretsky interrupted her. “Experience, prudence, all that is dust and ashes! Do not deprive yourself of the best, of the sole happiness on earth.”

“Do you say that, Fedor Ivanitch? You yourself married for love, and were you happy?”

Lavretsky threw up his arms.

“Ah, don’t talk about me! You can’t even understand all that a young, inexperienced, badly brought-up boy may mistake for love! Indeed though, after all, why should I be unfair to myself? I told you just now that I had not had happiness. No! I was not happy!”

“It seems to me, Fedor Ivanitch,” Lisa murmured in a low voice — when she did not agree with the person whom she was talking, she always dropped her voice; and now too she was deeply moved —“happiness on earth does not depend on ourselves.”

“On ourselves, ourselves, believe me” (he seized both her hands; Lisa grew pale and almost with terror but still steadfastly looked at him): “if only we do not ruin our lives. For some people marriage for love may be unhappiness; but not for you, with your calm temperament, and your clear soul; I beseech you, do not marry without love, from a sense of duty, self-sacrifice, or anything . . . . That is infidelity, that is mercenary, and worse still. Believe me — I have the right to say so; I have paid dearly for the right. And if your God —.”

At that instant Lavretsky noticed that Lenotchka and Shurotchka were standing near Lisa, and staring in dumb amazement at him. He dropped Lisa’s hands, saying hurriedly, “I beg your pardon,” and turned away towards the house.

“One thing only I beg of you,” he added, returning again to Lisa; “don’t decide at once, wait a little, think of what I have said to you. Even if you don’t believe me, even if you did decide on a marriage of prudence — even in that case you mustn’t marry Panshin. He can’t be your husband. You will promise me not to be in a hurry, won’t you?”

Lisa tried to answer Lavretsky, but she did not utter a word — not because she was resolved to “be in a hurry,” but because her heart was beating too violently and a feeling, akin to terror, stopped her breath.

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