Virgin Soil, by Ivan Turgenev

XXIII

THE dawn was already approaching on the night after Golushkin’s dinner when Solomin, after a brisk walk of about five miles, knocked at the gate in the high wall surrounding the factory. The watchman let him in at once and, followed by three house-dogs wagging their tails with great delight, accompanied him respectfully to his own dwelling. He seemed to be very pleased that the chief had got back safely.

“How did you manage to get here at night, Vassily Fedotitch? We didn’t expect you until tomorrow.”

“Oh, that’s all right, Gavrilla. It’s much nicer walking at night.”

The most unusually friendly relations existed between Solomin and his workpeople. They respected him as a superior, treated him as one of themselves, and considered him to be very learned. “Whatever Vassily Fedotitch says,” they declared, “is sacred! Because he has learned everything there is to be learned, and there isn’t an Englishman who can get around him!” And in fact, a certain well-known English manufacturer had once visited the factory, but whether it was that Solomin could speak to him in his own tongue or that he was really impressed by his knowledge is uncertain; he had laughed, slapped him on the shoulder, and invited him to come to Liverpool with him, saying to the workmen, in his broken Russian, “Oh, he’s all right, your man here!” At which the men laughed a great deal, not without a touch of pride. “So that’s what he is! Our man!”

And he really was theirs and one of them. Early the next morning his favourite Pavel woke him, prepared his things for washing, told him various news, and asked him various questions. They partook of some tea together hastily, after which Solomin put on his grey, greasy working-jacket and set out for the factory; and his life began to go round again like some huge flywheel.

But the thread had to be broken again. Five days after Solomin’s return home there drove into the courtyard a smart little phaeton, harnessed to four splendid horses and a footman in pale green livery, whom Pavel conducted to the little wing, where he solemnly handed Solomin a letter sealed with an armorial crest, from “His Excellency Boris Andraevitch Sipiagin.” In this letter, which exhaled an odour, not of perfume, but of some extraordinarily respectable English smell and was written in the third person, not by a secretary, but by the gentleman himself, the cultured owner of the village Arjanov, he begged to be excused for addressing himself to a man with whom he had not the honour of being personally acquainted, but of whom he, Sipiagin, had heard so many flattering accounts, and ventured to invite Mr. Solomin to come and see him at his house, as he very much wanted to ask his valuable advice about a manufacturing enterprise of some importance he had embarked upon. In the hope that Mr. Solomin would be kind enough to come, he, Sipiagin, had sent him his carriage, but in the event of his being unable to do so on that day, would he be kind enough to choose any other day that might be convenient for him and the same carriage would be gladly put at his disposal. Then followed the usual polite signature and a postscript written in the first person:

“I hope that you will not refuse to take dinner with us quite simply. No dress clothes.” (The words “quite simply” were underlined.) Together with this letter the footman (not without a certain amount of embarrassment) gave Solomin another letter from Nejdanov. It was just a simple note, not sealed with wax but merely stuck down, containing the following lines: “Do please come. You’re wanted badly and may be extremely useful. I need hardly say not to Mr. Sipiagin.”

On finishing Sipiagin’s letter Solomin thought, “How else can I go if not simply? I haven’t any dress clothes at the factory . . . And what the devil should I drag myself over there for? It’s just a waste of time!” But after reading Nejdanov’s note, he scratched the back of his neck and walked over to the window, irresolute.

“What answer am I to take back, sir?” the footman in green livery asked slowly.

Solomin stood for some seconds longer at the window.

“I am coming with you,” he announced, shaking back his hair and passing his hand over his forehead — “just let me get dressed.”

The footman left the room respectfully and Solomin sent for Pavel, had a talk with him, ran across to the factory once more, then putting on a black coat with a very long waist, which had been made by a provincial tailor, and a shabby top-hat which instantly gave his face a wooden expression, took his seat in the phaeton. He suddenly remembered that he had forgotten his gloves, and called out to the “never-failing” Pavel, who brought him a pair of newly-washed white kid ones, the fingers of which were so stretched at the tips that they looked like long biscuits. Solomin thrust the gloves into his pocket and gave the order to start. Then the footman jumped onto the box with an unnecessary amount of alacrity, the well-bred coachman sang out in a falsetto voice, and the horses started off at a gallop.

While the horses were bearing Solomin along to Sipiagin’s, that gentleman was sitting in his drawing-room with a halfcut political pamphlet on his knee, discussing him with his wife. He confided to her that he had written to him with the express purpose of trying to get him away from the merchant’s factory to his own, which was in a very bad way and needed reorganising. Sipiagin would not for a moment entertain the idea that Solomin would refuse to come, or even so much as appoint another day, though he had himself suggested it.

“But ours is a paper-mill, not a spinning-mill,” Valentina Mihailovna remarked.

“It’s all the same, my dear, machines are used in both, and he’s a mechanic.”

“But supposing he turns out to be a specialist!”

“My dear! In the first place there are no such things as specialists in Russia; in the second, I’ve told you that he’s a mechanic!”

Valentina Mihailovna smiled.

“Do be careful, my dear. You’ve been unfortunate once already with young men; mind you don’t make a second mistake.”

“Are you referring to Nejdanov? I don’t think I’ve been altogether mistaken with regard to him. He has been a good tutor to Kolia. And then you know “non bis in idem”! Excuse my being pedantic. . . . It means, things don’t repeat themselves!

“Don’t you think so? Well, I think that everything in the world repeats itself . . . especially what’s in the nature of things . . . and particularly among young people.”

“Que voulez-vous dire?” asked Sipiagin, flinging the pamphlet on the table with a graceful gesture of the hand.

“Ouvrez les yeux, et vous verrez!” Madame Sipiagina replied. They always spoke to one another in French.

“H’m!” Sipiagin grunted. “Are you referring to that student?”

“Yes, I’m referring to him.”

“H’m! Has he got anything on here, eh?” (He passed his hand over his forehead.)

“Open your eyes!”

“Is it Mariana, eh?” (The second” eh” was pronounced more through the nose than the first one.)

“Open your eyes, I tell you!”

Sipiagin frowned.

“We must talk about this later on. I should just like to say now that this Solomin may feel rather uncomfortable . . . You see, he is not used to society. We must be nice to him so as to make him feel at his ease. Of course, I don’t mean this for you, you’re such a dear, that I think you could fascinate anyone if you chose. J’en sais quelque chose, madame! I mean this for the others, if only for —”

He pointed to a fashionable grey hat lying on a shelf. It belonged to Mr. Kollomietzev, who had been in Arjanov since the morning.

“Il est tres cassant you know. He has far too great a contempt for the people for my liking. And he has been so frightfully quarrelsome and irritable of late. Is his little affair there not getting on well?”

Sipiagin nodded his head in some indefinite direction, but his wife understood him.

“Open your eyes, I tell you again!”

Sipiagin stood up.

“Eh?” (This “eh” was pronounced in a quite different tone, much lower.) “Is that how the land lies? They had better take care I don’t open them too wide!”

“That is your own affair, my dear. But as for that new young man of yours, you may be quite easy about him. I will see that everything is all right. Every precaution will be taken.”

It turned out that no precautions were necessary, however. Solomin was not in the least alarmed or embarrassed.

As soon as he was announced Sipiagin jumped up, exclaiming in a voice loud enough to be heard in the hall, “Show him in, of course show him in!” He then went up to the drawing-room door and stood waiting. No sooner had Solomin crossed the threshold, almost knocking against Sipiagin, when the latter extended both his hands, saying with an amiable smile and a friendly shake of the head, “How very nice of you to come . . . . I can hardly thank you enough.” Then he led him up to Valentina Mihailovna.

“Allow me to introduce you to my wife,” he said, gently pressing his hand against Solomin’s back, pushing him towards her as it were. “My dear, here is our best local engineer and manufacturer, Vassily . . . Fedosaitch Solomin.”

Madame Sipiagina stood up, raised her wonderful eyelashes, smiled sweetly as to an acquaintance, extended her hand with the palm upwards, her elbow pressed against her waist, her head bent a little to the right, in the attitude of a suppliant. Solomin let the husband and wife go through their little comedy, shook hands with them both, and sat down at the first invitation to do so. Sipiagin began to fuss about him, asking if he would like anything, but Solomin assured him that he wanted nothing and was not in the least bit tired from the journey.

“Then may we go to the factory?” Sipiagin asked, a little shame- faced, not daring to believe in so much condescension on the part of his guest.

“As soon as you like, I’m quite ready,” Solomin replied. “How awfully good of you! Shall we drive or would you like to walk?”

“Is it a long way?”

“About half a mile.”

“It’s hardly worthwhile bringing out the carriage.”

“Very well. Ivan! my hat and stick! Make haste! And you’ll see about some dinner, little one, won’t you? My hat, quick!”

Sipiagin was far more excited than his visitor, and calling out once more, “ Why don’t they give me my hat,” he, the stately dignitary, rushed out like a frolicsome schoolboy. While her husband was talking to Solomin, Valentina Mihailovna looked at him stealthily, trying to make out this new “young man.” He was sitting in an armchair, quite at his ease, his bare hands laid on his knee (he had not put on the gloves after all), calmly, although not without a certain amount of curiosity, looking around at the furniture and pictures. “I don’t understand,” she thought, “he’s a plebeian — quite a plebeian — and yet behaves so naturally!” Solomin did indeed carry himself naturally, not with any view to effect, as much as to say “Look what a splendid fellow I am!” but as a man whose thoughts and feelings are simple, direct, and strong at the same time. Madame Sipiagina wanted to say something to him, but was surprised to find that she did not quite know how to begin.

“Heavens!” she thought. “This mechanic is making me quite nervous!”

“My husband must be very grateful to you,” she remarked at last. “It was so good of you to sacrifice a few hours of your valuable time —”

“My time is not so very valuable, madame,” he observed. “Besides, I’ve not come here for long.”

“Voila ou l’ours a montre sa patte,” she thought in French, but at this moment her husband appeared in the doorway, his hat on his head and a walking stick in his hand.

“Are you ready, Vassily Fedosaitch?” he asked in a free and easy tone, half turned towards him.

Solomin rose, bowed to Valentina Mihailovna, and walked out behind Sipiagin.

“This way, this way, Vassily Fedosaitch!” Sipiagin called out, just as if they were groping their way through a tangled forest and Solomin needed a guide. “This way! Do be careful, there are some steps here, Vassily Fedosaitch!”

“If you want to call me by my father’s Christian name,” Solomin said slowly, “then it isn’t Fedosaitch, but Fedotitch.”

Sipiagin was taken aback and looked at him over his shoulder.

“I’m so sorry, Vassily Fedotitch.”

“Please don’t mention it.”

As soon as they got outside they ran against Kollomietzev.

“Where are you off to?” the latter asked, looking askance at Solomin. “Are you going to the factory? C’est la l’individu en question?”

Sipiagin opened his eyes wide and shook his head slightly by way of warning.

“Yes, we’re going to the factory. I want to show all my sins and transgressions to this gentleman, who is an engineer. Allow me to introduce you. Mr. Kollomietzev, a neighbouring landowner, Mr. Solomin.

Kollomietzev nodded his head twice in an off-hand manner without looking at Solomin, but the latter looked at him and there was a sinister gleam in his half-closed eyes.

“May I come with you?” Kollomietzev asked. “You know I’m always ready to learn.”

“Certainly, if you like.”

They went out of the courtyard into the road and had scarcely taken twenty steps when they ran across a priest in a woven cassock, who was wending his way homeward. Kollomietzev left his two companions and, going up to him with long, firm strides, asked for his blessing and gave him a sounding smack on his moist, red hand, much to the discomfiture of the priest, who did not in the least expect this sort of outburst. He then turned to Solomin and gave him a defiant look. He had evidently heard something about him and wanted to show off and get some fun out of this learned scoundrel.

“C’est une manifestation, mon cher?” Sipiagin muttered through his teeth.

Kollomietzev giggled.

“Oui, mon cher, une manifestation necessaire par temps qui court!”

They got to the factory and were met by a Little Russian with an enormous beard and false teeth, who had taken the place of the former manager, a German, whom Sipiagin had dismissed. This man was there in a temporary capacity and understood absolutely nothing; he merely kept on saying “Just so.. . yes . . . that’s it,” and sighing all the time. They began inspecting the place. Several of the workmen knew Solomin by sight and bowed to him. He even called out to one of them, “Hallo, Gregory! You here?” Solomin was soon convinced that the place was going badly. Money was simply thrown away for no reason whatever. The machines turned out to be of a very poor kind; many of them were quite superfluous and a great many necessary ones were lacking. Sipiagin kept looking into Solomin’s face, trying to guess his opinion, asked a few timid questions, wanted to know if he was at any rate satisfied with the order of the place.

“Oh, the order is all right,” Solomin replied, “but I doubt if you can get anything out of it.”

Not only Sipiagin, but even Kollomietzev felt, that in the factory Solomin was quite at home, was familiar with every little detail, was master there in fact. He laid his hand on a machine as a rider on his horse’s neck; he poked a wheel with his finger and it either stood still or began whirling round; he took some paper pulp out of a vat and it instantly revealed all its defects.

Solomin said very little, took no notice of the Little Russian at all, and went out without saying anything. Sipiagin and Kollomietzev followed him.

Sipiagin was so upset that he did not let any one accompany him. He stamped and ground his teeth with rage.

“I can see by your face,” he said turning to Solomin, “that you are not pleased with the place. Of course, I know that it’s not in a very excellent condition and doesn’t pay as yet. But please . . . give me your candid opinion as to what you consider to be the principal failings and as to what one could do to improve matters.”

“Paper-manufacturing is not in my line,” Solomin began, “but I can tell you one thing. I doubt if the aristocracy is cut out for industrial enterprises.”

“Do you consider it degrading for the aristocracy?” Kollomietzev asked.

Solomin smiled his habitual broad smile.

“Oh dear no! What is there degrading about it? And even if there were, I don’t think the aristocracy would be overly particular.”

“What do you mean?”

“I only meant,” Solomin continued, calmly, “that the gentry are not used to that kind of business. A knowledge of commerce is needed for that; everything has to be put on a different footing, you want technical training for it. The gentry don’t understand this. We see them starting woollen, cotton, and other factories all over the place, but they nearly always fall into the hands of the merchants in the end. It’s a pity, because the merchants are even worse sweaters. But it can’t be helped, I suppose.”

“To listen to you one would think that all questions of finance were above our nobility!” Kollomietzev exclaimed.

“Oh no! On the other hand the nobility are masters at it. For getting concessions for railways, founding banks, exempting themselves from some tax, or anything like that, there is no one to beat them! They make huge fortunes. I hinted at that just now, but it seemed to offend you. I had regular industrial enterprises in my mind when I spoke; I say regular, because founding private public houses, petty little grocers’ shops, or lending the peasants corn or money at a hundred or a hundred and fifty percent, as many of our landed gentry are now doing, I cannot consider as genuine financial enterprises.”

Kollomietzev did not say anything. He belonged to that new species of money-lending landlord whom Markelov had mentioned in his last talk with Nejdanov, and was the more inhuman in his demands that he had no personal dealings with the peasants themselves. He never allowed them into his perfumed European study, and conducted all his business with them through his manager. He was boiling with rage while listening to Solomin’s slow, impartial speech, but he held his peace; only the working of the muscles of his face betrayed what was passing within him.

“But allow me, Vassily Fedotitch,” Sipiagin began; “what you have just said may have been quite true in former days, when the nobility had quite different privileges and were altogether in a different position; but now, after all the beneficial reforms in our present industrial age, why should not the nobility turn their attention and bring their abilities into enterprises of this nature? Why shouldn’t they be able to understand what is understood by a simple illiterate merchant? They are not suffering from lack of education and one might even claim, without any exaggeration, that they are, in a certain sense, the representatives of enlightenment and progress.”

Boris Andraevitch spoke very well; his eloquence would have made a great stir in St. Petersburg, in his department, or maybe in higher quarters, but it produced no effect whatever on Solomin.

“The nobility cannot manage these things,” Solomin repeated.

“But why, I should like to know? Why?” Kollomietzev almost shouted.

“Because there is too much of the bureaucrat about them.”

“Bureaucrat?” Kollomietzev laughed maliciously. “I don’t think you quite realise what you’re saying, Mr. Solomin.”

Solomin continued smiling.

“What makes you think so, Mr. Kolomentzev?” (Kollomietzev shuddered at hearing his name thus mutilated.) “I assure you that I always realise what I am saying.”

“Then please explain what you meant just now!”

“With pleasure. I think that every bureaucrat is an outsider and was always such. The nobility have now become ‘outsiders.’”

Kollomietzev laughed louder than ever.

“But, my dear sir, I really don’t understand what you mean!”

“So much the worse for you. Perhaps you will if you try hard enough.”

“Sir!

“Gentlemen, gentlemen,” Sipiagin interposed hastily, trying to catch someone’s eye, “please, please . . . Kallomeitzeff, je vous prie de vous calmer. I suppose dinner will soon be ready. Come along, gentlemen!”

“Valentina Mihailovna!” Kollomietzev cried out five minutes later, rushing into her boudoir. “I really don’t know what your husband is doing! He has brought us one nihilist and now he’s bringing us another! Only this one is much worse!”

“But why?”

“He is advocating the most awful things, and what do you think? He has been talking to your husband for a whole hour, and not once, not once, did he address him as Your Excellency! Le vagabond!”

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