A House of Gentlefolk, by Ivan Turgenev

Chapter IX

For a long time the old Lavretsky could not forgive his son for his marriage. If six months later Ivan Petrovitch had come to him with a penitent face and had thrown himself at his feet, he would, very likely, have pardoned him, after giving him a pretty severe scolding, and a tap with his stick by way of intimidating him, but Ivan Petrovitch went on living abroad and apparently did not care a straw. “Be silent! I dare you to speak of it,” Piotr Andreitch said to his wife every time she ventured to try to incline him to mercy. “The puppy, he ought to thank God for ever that I have not laid my curse upon him; my father would have killed him, the worthless scamp, with his own hands, and he would have done right too.” At such terrible speeches Anna Pavlovna could only cross herself secretly. As for Ivan Petrovitch’s wife, Piotr Andreitch at first would not even hear her name, and in answer to a letter of Pestov’s, in which he mentioned his daughter-in-law, he went so far as to send him word that he knew nothing of any daughter-in-law, and that it was forbidden by law to harbour run-away wenches, a fact which he thought it his duty to remind him of. But later on, he was softened by hearing of the birth of a grandson, and he gave orders secretly that inquiries should be made about the health of the mother, and sent her a little money, also as though it did not come from him. Fedya was not a year old before Anna Pavlovna fell ill with a fatal complaint. A few days before her end, when she could no longer leave her bed, with timid tears in her eyes, fast growing dim, she informed her husband in the presence of the priest that she wanted to see her daughter-in-law and bid her farewell, and to give her grand-child her blessing. The heart-broken old man soothed her, and at once sent off his own carriage for his daughter-in-law, for the first time giving her the title of Malanya Sergyevna. Malanya came with her son and Marfa Timofyevna, who would not on any consideration allow her to go alone, and was unwilling to expose her to any indignity. Half dead with fright, Malanya Sergyevna went into Piotr Andreitch’s room. A nurse followed, carrying Fedya. Piotr Andreitch looked at her without speaking; she went up to kiss his hand; her trembling lips were only just able to touch it with a silent kiss.

“Well, my upstart lady,” he brought out at last, “how do you do? let us go to the mistress.”

He got up and bent over Fedya: the baby smiled and held out his little white hands to him. This changed the old man’s mood.

“Ah,” he said, “poor little one, you were pleading for your father; I will not abandon you, little bird.”

Directly Malanya Sergyevna entered Anna Pavlovna’s bedroom, she fell on her knees near the door. Anna Pavlovna beckoned her to come to her bedside, embraced her, and blessed her son; then turning a face contorted by cruel suffering to her husband she made an effort to speak.

“I know, I know, what you want to ask,” said Piotr Andreitch; “don’t fret yourself, she shall stay with us, and I will forgive Vanka for her sake.”

With an effort Anna Pavlovna took her husband’s hand and pressed it to her lips. The same evening she breathed her last.

Piotr Andreitch kept his word. He informed his son that for the sake of his mother’s dying hours, and for the sake of the little Fedor, he sent him his blessing and was keeping Malanya Sergyevna in his house. Two rooms on the ground floor were devoted to her; he presented her to his most honoured guests, the one-eyed brigadier Skurchin, and his wife, and bestowed on her two waiting-maids and a page for errands. Marfa Timofyevna took leave of her; she detested Glafira, and in the course of one day had fallen out with her three times.

It was a painful and embarrassing position at first for poor Malanya, but, after a while, she learnt to bear it, and grew used to her father-in-law. He, too, grew accustomed to her, and even fond of her, though he scarcely ever spoke to her, and a certain involuntary contempt was perceptible even in his signs of affection to her. Malanya Sergyevna had most to put up with from her sister-in-law. Even during her mother’s lifetime, Glafira had succeeded by degrees in getting the whole household into her hands; every one from her father downwards, submitted to her rule; not a piece of sugar was given out without her sanction; she would rather have died than shared her authority with another mistress — and with such a mistress! Her brother’s marriage had incensed her even more than Piotr Andreitch; she set herself to give the upstart a lesson, and Malanya Sergyevna from the very first hour was her slave. And, indeed, how was she to contend against the masterful, haughty Glafira, submissive, constantly bewildered, timid, and weak in health as she was? Not a day passed without Glafira reminding her of her former position, and commending her for not forgetting herself. Malanya Sergyevna could have reconciled herself readily to these reminiscences and commendations, however they might be — but Fedya was taken away from her, that was what crushed her. On the pretext that she was not capable of undertaking his education, she was scarcely allowed to see him; Glafira set herself to that task; the child was put absolutely under her control. Malanya Sergyevna began, in her distress, to beseech Ivan Petrovitch, in her letters, to return home soon. Piotr Andreitch himself wanted to see his son, but Ivan Petrovitch did nothing but write. He thanked his father on his wife’s account, and for the money sent him, promised to return quickly — and did not come. The year 1812 at last summoned him home from abroad. When they met again, after six years’ absence, the father embraced his son, and not by a single word made allusion to their former differences; it was not a time for that now, all Russia was rising up against the enemy, and both of them felt that they had Russian blood in their veins. Piotr Andreitch equipped a whole regiment of volunteers at his own expense. But the war came to an end, the danger was over; Ivan Petrovitch began to be bored again, and again he felt drawn away to the distance, to the world in which he had grown up, and where he felt himself at home. Malanya Sergyevna could not keep him; she meant too little to him. Even her fondest hopes came to nothing; her husband considered that it was much more suitable to intrust Fedya’s education to Glafira. Ivan Petrovitch’s poor wife could not bear this blow, she could not bear a second separation; in a few days, without a murmur, she quietly passed away. All her life she had never been able to oppose anything, and she did not struggle against her illness. When she could no longer speak, when the shadows of death were already on her face, her features expressed, as of old, bewildered resignation and constant, uncomplaining meekness; with the same dumb submissiveness she looked at Glafira, and just as Anna Pavlovna kissed her husband’s hand on her deathbed, she kissed Glafira’s, commending to her, to Glafira, her only son. So ended the earthly existence of this good and gentle creature, torn, God knows why, like an uprooted tree from its natural soil and at once thrown down with its roots in the air; she had faded and passed away leaving no trace, and no one mourned for her. Malanya Sergyevna’s maids pitied her, and so did even Piotr Andreitch. The old man missed her silent presence. “Forgive me . . . farewell, my meek one!” he whispered, as he took leave of her the last time in church. He wept as he threw a handful of earth in the grave.

He did not survive her long, not more than five years. In the winter of the year 1819, he died peacefully in Moscow, where he had moved with Glafira and his grandson, and left instructions that he should be buried beside Anna Pavlovna and “Malasha.” Ivan Petrovitch was then in Paris amusing himself; he had retired from service soon after 1815. When he heard of his father’s death he decided to return to Russia. It was necessary to make arrangements for the management of the property. Fedya, according to Glafira’s letter, had reached his twelfth year, and the time had come to set about his education in earnest.

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