Rudin, by Ivan Turgenev

Chapter V

Darya Mihailovna’s daughter, Natalya Alexyevna, at a first glance might fail to please. She had not yet had time to develop; she was thin, and dark, and stooped slightly. But her features were fine and regular, though too large for a girl of seventeen. Specially beautiful was her pure, smooth forehead above fine eyebrows, which seemed broken in the middle. She spoke little, but listened to others, and fixed her eyes on them as though she were forming her own conclusions. She would often stand with listless hands, motionless and deep in thought; her face at such moments showed that her mind was at work within. . . . A scarcely perceptible smile would suddenly appear on her lips and vanish again; then she would slowly raise her large dark eyes. ‘Qu’a-vez-vous?‘ Mlle, Boncourt would ask her, and then she would begin to scold her, saying that it was improper for a young girl to be absorbed and to appear absent-minded. But Natalya was not absent-minded; on the contrary, she studied diligently; she read and worked eagerly. Her feelings were strong and deep, but reserved; even as a child she seldom cried, and now she seldom even sighed and only grew slightly pale when anything distressed her. Her mother considered her a sensible, good sort of girl, calling her in a joke ‘mon honnete homme de fille‘ but had not a very high opinion of her intellectual abilities. ‘My Natalya happily is cold,’ she used to say, ‘not like me — and it is better so. She will be happy.’ Darya Mihailovna was mistaken. But few mothers understand their daughters.

Natalya loved Darya Mihailovna, but did not fully confide in her.

‘You have nothing to hide from me,’ Darya Mihailovna said to her once, ‘or else you would be very reserved about it; you are rather a close little thing.’

Natalya looked her mother in the face and thought, ‘Why shouldn’t I be reserved?’

When Rudin met her on the terrace she was just going indoors with Mlle, Boncourt to put on her hat and go out into the garden. Her morning occupations were over. Natalya was not treated as a school-girl now. Mlle, Boncourt had not given her lessons in mythology and geography for a long while; but Natalya had every morning to read historical books, travels, or other instructive works with her. Darya Mihailovna selected them, ostensibly on a special system of her own. In reality she simply gave Natalya everything which the French bookseller forwarded her from Petersburg, except, of course, the novels of Dumas Fils and Co. These novels Darya Mihailovna read herself. Mlle, Boncourt looked specially severely and sourly through her spectacles when Natalya was reading historical books; according to the old French lady’s ideas all history was filled with impermissible things, though for some reason or other of all the great men of antiquity she herself knew only one — Cambyses, and of modern times — Louis XIV. and Napoleon, whom she could not endure. But Natalya read books too, the existence of which Mlle, Boncourt did not suspect; she knew all Pushkin by heart.

Natalya flushed slightly at meeting Rudin.

‘Are you going for a walk?’ he asked her,

‘Yes. We are going into the garden.’

‘May I come with you?’

Natalya looked at Mlle, Boncourt

Mais certainement, monsieur; avec plaisir,’ said the old lady promptly.

Rudin took his hat and walked with them.

Natalya at first felt some awkwardness in walking side by side with Rudin on the same little path; afterwards she felt more at ease. He began to question her about her occupations and how she liked the country. She replied not without timidity, but without that hasty bashfulness which is so often taken for modesty. Her heart was beating.

‘You are not bored in the country?’ asked Rudin, taking her in with a sidelong glance.

‘How can one be bored in the country? I am very glad we are here. I am very happy here.’

‘You are happy — that is a great word. However, one can understood it; you are young.’

Rudin pronounced this last phrase rather strangely; either he envied Natalya or he was sorry for her.

‘Yes! youth!’ he continued, ‘the whole aim of science is to reach consciously what is bestowed on youth for nothing.’

Natalya looked attentively at Rudin; she did not understand him.

‘I have been talking all this morning with your mother,’ he went on; ‘she is an extraordinary woman. I understand why all our poets sought her friendship. Are you fond of poetry?’ he added, after a pause.

‘He is putting me through an examination,’ thought Natalya, and aloud: ‘Yes, I am very fond of it’

‘Poetry is the language of the gods. I love poems myself. But poetry is not only in poems; it is diffused everywhere, it is around us. Look at those trees, that sky on all sides there is the breath of beauty, and of life, and where there is life and beauty, there is poetry also.’

‘Let us sit down here on this bench,’ he added. ‘Here — so. I somehow fancy that when you are more used to me (and he looked her in the face with a smile) ‘we shall be friends, you and I. What do you think?’

‘He treats me like a school-girl,’ Natalya reflected again, and, not knowing what to say, she asked him whether he intended to remain long in the country.

‘All the summer and autumn, and perhaps the winter too. I am a very poor man, you know; my affairs are in confusion, and, besides, I am tired now of wandering from place to place. The time has come to rest.’

Natalya was surprised.

‘Is it possible you feel that it is time for you to rest?’ she asked him timidly.

Rudin turned so as to face Natalya.

‘What do you mean by that?’

‘I mean,’ she replied in some embarrassment, ‘that others may rest; but you . . . you ought to work, to try to be useful. Who, if not you ——’

‘I thank you for your flattering opinion,’ Rudin interrupted her. ‘To be useful . . . it is easy to say!’ (He passed his hand over his face.) ‘To be useful!’ he repeated. ‘Even if I had any firm conviction, how could I be useful? — even if I had faith in my own powers, where is one to find true, sympathetic souls?’

And Rudin waved his hand so hopelessly, and let his head sink so gloomily, that Natalya involuntarily asked herself, were those really his — those enthusiastic words full of the breath of hope, she had heard the evening before.

‘But no,’ he said, suddenly tossing back his lion-like mane, ‘that is all folly, and you are right. I thank you, Natalya Alexyevna, I thank you truly.’ (Natalya absolutely did not know what he was thanking her for.) ‘Your single phrase has recalled to me my duty, has pointed out to me my path. . . . Yes, I must act. I must not bury my talent, if I have any; I must not squander my powers on talk alone — empty, profitless talk — on mere words,’ and his words flowed in a stream. He spoke nobly, ardently, convincingly, of the sin of cowardice and indolence, of the necessity of action. He lavished reproaches on himself, maintained that to discuss beforehand what you mean to do is as unwise as to prick with a pin the swelling fruit, that it is only a vain waste of strength and sap. He declared that there was no noble idea which would not gain sympathy, that the only people who remained misunderstood were those who either did not know themselves what they wanted, or were not worthy to be understood. He spoke at length, and ended by once more thanking Natalya Alexyevna, and utterly unexpectedly pressed her hand, exclaiming. ‘You are a noble, generous creature!’

This outburst horrified Mlle, Boncourt, who in spite of her forty years’ residence in Russia understood Russian with difficulty, and was only moved to admiration by the splendid rapidity and flow of words on Rudin’s lips. In her eyes, however, he was something of the nature of a virtuoso or artist; and from people of that kind, according to her notions, it was impossible to demand a strict adherence to propriety.

She got up and drew her skirts with a jerk around her, observed to Natalya that it was time to go in, especially as M. Volinsoff (so she spoke of Volintsev) was to be there to lunch.

‘And here he is,’ she added, looking up one of the avenues which led to the house, and in fact Volintsev appeared not far off.

He came up with a hesitating step, greeted all of them from a distance, and with an expression of pain on his face he turned to Natalya and said:

‘Oh, you are having a walk?’

‘Yes,’ answered Natalya, ‘we were just going home.’

‘Ah!’ was Volintsev’s reply. ‘Well, let us go,’ and they all walked towards the house.

‘How is your sister?’ Rudin inquired, in a specially cordial tone, of Volintsev. The evening before, too, he had been very gracious to him.

‘Thank you; she is quite well. She will perhaps be here to-day. . . . I think you were discussing something when I came up?’

‘Yes; I have had a conversation with Natalya Alexyevna. She said one thing to me which affected me strongly.’

Volintsev did not ask what the one thing was, and in profound silence they all returned to Darya Mihailovna’s house.

Before dinner the party was again assembled in the drawing-room. Pigasov, however, did not come. Rudin was not at his best; he did nothing but press Pandalevsky to play Beethoven. Volintsev was silent and stared at the floor. Natalya did not leave her mother’s side, and was at times lost in thought, and then bent over her work. Bassistoff did not take his eyes off Rudin, constantly on the alert for him to say something brilliant. About three hours were passed in this way rather monotonously. Alexandra Pavlovna did not come to dinner, and when they rose from table Volintsev at once ordered his carriage to be ready, and slipped away without saying good-bye to any one.

His heart was heavy. He had long loved Natalya, and was repeatedly resolving to make her an offer. . . . She was kindly disposed to him — but her heart remained unmoved; he saw that clearly. He did not hope to inspire in her a tenderer sentiment, and was only waiting for the time when she should be perfectly at home with him and intimate with him. What could have disturbed him? what change had he noticed in these two days? Natalya had behaved to him exactly the same as before . . . .

Whether it was that some idea had come upon him that he perhaps did not know Natalya’s character at all — that she was more a stranger to him than he had thought — or jealousy had begun to work in him, or he had some dim presentiment of ill . . . anyway, he suffered, though he tried to reason with himself.

When he came in to his sister’s room, Lezhnyov was sitting with her.

‘Why have you come back so early?’ asked Alexandra Pavlovna.

‘Oh! I was bored.’

‘Was Rudin there?’

‘Yes.’

Volintsev flung down his cap and sat down. Alexandra Pavlovna turned eagerly to him.

‘Please, Serezha, help me to convince this obstinate man (she signified Lezhnyov) that Rudin is extraordinarily clever and eloquent.’

Volintsev muttered something.

‘But I am not disputing at all with you,’ Lezhnyov began. ‘I have no doubt of the cleverness and eloquence of Mr. Rudin; I only say that I don’t like him.’

‘But have you seen him?’ inquired Volintsev.

‘I saw him this morning at Darya Mihallovna’s. You know he is her first favourite now. The time will come when she will part with him — Pandalevsky is the only man she will never part with — but now he is supreme. I saw him, to be sure! He was sitting there — and she showed me off to him, “see, my good friend, what queer fish we have here!” But I am not a prize horse, to be trotted out on show, so I took myself off.’

‘But how did you come to be there?’

‘About a boundary; but that was all nonsense; she simply wanted to have a look at my physiognomy. She’s a fine lady — that’s explanation enough!’

‘His superiority is what offends you — that’s what it is!’ began Alexandra Pavlovna warmly, ‘that’s what you can’t forgive. But I am convinced that besides his cleverness he must have an excellent heart as well. You should see his eyes when he ——’

‘“Of purity exalted speaks,”’ quoted Lezhnyov.

‘You make me angry, and I shall cry. I am heartily sorry I did not go to Darya Mihailovna’s, but stopped with you. You don’t deserve it. Leave off teasing me,’ she added, in an appealing voice, ‘You had much better tell me about his youth.’

‘Rudin’s youth?’

‘Yes, of course. Didn’t you tell me you knew him well, and had known him a long time?’

Lezhnyov got up and walked up and down the room.

‘Yes,’ he began, ‘I do know him well. You want me to tell you about his youth? Very well. He was born in T— — and was the son of a poor landowner, who died soon after. He was left alone with his mother. She was a very good woman, and she idolised him; she lived on nothing but oatmeal, and every penny she had she spent on him. He was educated in Moscow, first at the expense of some uncle, and afterwards, when he was grown up and fully fledged, at the expense of a rich prince whose favour he had courted — there, I beg your pardon, I won’t do it again — with whom he had made friends. Then he went to the university. At the university I got to know him and we became intimate friends. I will tell you about our life in those days some other time, I can’t now. Then he went abroad . . . .’

Lezhnyov continued to walk up and down the room; Alexandra Pavlovna followed him with her eyes.

‘While he was abroad,’ he continued, ‘Rudin wrote very rarely to his mother, and paid her altogether only one visit for ten days. . . . The old lady died without him, cared for by strangers; but up to her death she never took her eyes off his portrait. I went to see her when I was staying in T——. She was a kind and hospitable woman; she always used to feast me on cherry jam. She loved her Mitya devotedly. People of the Petchorin type tell us that we always love those who are least capable of feeling love themselves; but it’s my idea that all mothers love their children especially when they are absent. Afterwards I met Rudin abroad. Then he was connected with a lady, one of our countrywomen, a bluestocking, no longer young, and plain, as a bluestocking is bound to be. He lived a good while with her, and at last threw her over — or no, I beg pardon — she threw him over. It was then that I too threw him over. That’s all.’

Lezhnyov ceased speaking, passed his hand over his brow, and dropped into a chair as if he were exhausted.

‘Do you know, Mihailo Mihailitch,’ began Alexandra Pavlovna, ‘you are a spiteful person, I see; indeed you are no better than Pigasov. I am convinced that all you have told me is true, that you have not made up anything, and yet in what an unfavourable light you have put it all! The poor old mother, her devotion, her solitary death, and that lady — What does it all amount to? You know that it’s easy to put the life of the best of men in such colours — and without adding anything, observe — that every one would be shocked! But that too is slander of a kind!’

Lezhnyov got up and again walked about the room.

‘I did not want to shock you at all, Alexandra Pavlovna,’ he brought out at last, ‘I am not given to slander. However,’ he added, after a moment’s thought, ‘in reality there is a foundation of fact in what you said. I did not mean to slander Rudin; but — who knows! very likely he has had time to change since those days — very possibly I am unjust to him.’

‘Ah! you see. So promise me that you will renew your acquaintance with him, and will get to know him thoroughly and then report your final opinion of him to me.’

‘As you please. But why are you so quiet, Sergei Pavlitch?’

Volintsev started and raised his head, as though he had just waked up.

‘What can I say? I don’t know him. Besides, my head aches to-day.’

‘Yes, you look rather pale this evening,’ remarked Alexandra Pavlovna; ‘are you unwell?’

‘My head aches,’ repeated Volintsev, and he went away.

Alexandra Pavlovna and Lezhnyov looked after him, and exchanged glances, though they said nothing. What was passing in Volintsev’s heart was no mystery to either of them.

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