Virgin Soil, by Ivan Turgenev

XXXIV

IT was already ten o’clock in the evening; in the drawing-room of the Arjanov house Sipiagin, his wife, and Kollomietzev were sitting over a game at cards when a footman entered and announced that an unknown gentleman, a certain Mr. Paklin, wished to see Boris Andraevitch upon a very urgent business.

“So late!” Valentina Mihailovna exclaimed, surprised.

What? “Boris Andraevitch asked, screwing up his handsome nose; “what did you say the gentleman’s name was?”

Mr. Paklin, sir.”

“Paklin!” Kollomietzev exclaimed; “a real country name. Paklin . . . Solomin . . . De vrais noms ruraux, hein?”

“Did you say,” Boris Andraevitch continued, still turned towards the footman with his nose screwed up, “that the business was an urgent one?”

“The gentleman said so, sir.”

“H’m. . . . No doubt some beggar or intriguer.”

“Or both,” Kollomietzev chimed in.

“Very likely. Ask him into my study.” Boris Andraevitch got up. “Pardon, ma bonne. Have a game of ecarte till I come back, unless you would like to wait for me. I won’t he long.”

“Nous causerons . . . Allez!” Kollomietzev said.

When Sipiagin entered his study and caught sight of Paklin’s poor, feeble little figure meekly leaning up against the door between the wall and the fireplace, he was seized by that truly ministerial sensation of haughty compassion and fastidious condescension so characteristic of the St. Petersburg bureaucrat. “Heavens! What a miserable little wretch!” he thought; “and lame too, I believe!”

“Sit down, please,” he said aloud, making use of some of his most benevolent baritone notes and throwing back his head, sat down before his guest did. “You are no doubt tired from the journey. Sit down, please, and tell me about this important matter that has brought you so late.”

“Your excellency,” Paklin began, cautiously dropping into an arm- chair, “I have taken the liberty of coming to you —”

“Just a minute, please,” Sipiagin interrupted him, “I think I’ve seen you before. I never forget faces. But er . . . er . . . really . . . where have I seen you?”

You are not mistaken, your excellency. I had the honour of meeting you in St. Petersburg at a certain person’s who . . . who has since . . . unfortunately . . . incurred your displeasure —”

Sipiagin jumped up from his chair.

“Why, at Mr. Nejdanov’s? I remember now. You haven’t come from him by the way, have you?”

“Not at all, your excellency; on the contrary . . .I—”

Sipiagin sat down again.

“That’s good. For had you come on his account I should have asked you to leave the house at once. I cannot allow any mediator between myself and Mr. Nejdanov. Mr. Nejdanov has insulted me in a way which cannot be forgotten . . . I am above any feelings of revenge, but I don’t wish to know anything of him, nor of the girl — more depraved in mind than in heart “ (Sipiagin had repeated this phrase at least thirty times since Mariana ran away), “who could bring herself to abandon a home that had sheltered her, to become the mistress of a nameless adventurer! It is enough for them that I am content to forget them.”

At this last word Sipiagin waved his wrist into space.

“I forget them, my dear sir!”

“Your excellency, I have already told you that I did not come from them in particular, but I may inform your excellency that they are legally married . . .” (“It’s all the same,” Paklin thought; “I said that I would lie and so here I am. Never mind!”)

Sipiagin moved his head from left to right on the back of his chair.

“It does not interest me in the least, sir. It only makes one foolish marriage the more in the world — that’s all. But what is this urgent matter to which I am indebted for the pleasure of your visit?”

“Ugh! you cursed director of a department!” Paklin thought, “I’ll soon make you pull a different face! “Your wife’s brother,” he said aloud, “Mr. Markelov, has been seized by the peasants whom he had been inciting to rebellion, and is now under arrest in the governor’s house.”

Sipiagin jumped up a second time.

“What . . . what did you say?” he blurted out, not at all in his accustomed ministerial baritones, but in an extremely undignified manner.

“I said that your brother-in-law has been seized and is in chains. As soon as I heard of it, I procured horses and came straight away to tell you. I thought that I might be rendering a service to you and to the unfortunate man whom you may be able to save!”

“I am extremely grateful to you,” Sipiagin said in the same feeble tone of voice, and violently pressing a bell, shaped like a mushroom, he filled the whole house with its clear metallic ring. “I am extremely grateful to you,” he repeated more sharply, “but I must tell you that a man who can bring himself to trample under foot all laws, human and divine, were he a hundred times related to me — is in my eyes not unfortunate; he is a criminal!”

A footman came in quickly.

“Your orders, sir?

“The carriage! the carriage and four horses this minute! I am going to town. Philip and Stepan are to come with me!” The footman disappeared. “Yes, sir, my brother-in-law is a criminal! I am going to town not to save him! Oh, no!”

“But, your excellency —”

“Such are my principles, my dear sir, and I beg you not to annoy me by your objections!”

Sipiagin began pacing up and down the room, while Paklin stared with all his might. “Ugh! you devil!” he thought, “I heard that you were a liberal, but you’re just like a hungry lion!”

The door was flung open and Valentina Mihailovna came into the room with hurried steps, followed by Kollomietzev.

“What is the matter, Boris? Why have you ordered the carriage? Are you going to town? What has happened?”

Sipiagin went up to his wife and took her by the arm, between the elbow and wrist. “Il faut vous armer de courage, ma chere. Your brother has been arrested.”

“My brother? Sergai? What for?”

He has been preaching socialism to the peasants.” (Kollomietzev gave a faint little scream.) “Yes! preaching revolutionary ideas, making propaganda! They seized him — and gave him up. He is now under arrest in the town.”

“Madman! But who told you?”

“This Mr . . . Mr . . . what’s his name? Mr. Konopatin brought the news.”

Valentina Mihailovna glanced at Paklin; the latter bowed dejectedly. (“What a glorious woman!” he thought. Even in such difficult moments . . . alas! how susceptible Paklin was to feminine beauty!)

“And you want to go to town at this hour?”

“I think the governor will still be up.”

“I always said it would end like this,” Kollomietzev put in. “It couldn’t have been otherwise! But what dears our peasants are really! Pardon, madame, c’est votre frere! Mais la verite avant tout!”

“Do you really intend going to town, Boris? “ Valentina Mihailovna asked.

“I feel absolutely certain,” Kollomietzev continued, “that that tutor, Mr. Nejdanov, is mixed up in this. J’en mettrais ma main au feu. It’s all one gang! Haven’t they seized him? Don’t you know?”

Sipiagin waved his wrist again.

“I don’t know — and don’t want to know! By the way,” he added, turning to his wife, “ il parait qu’il sont maries.”

“Who said so? That same gentleman?” Valentina Mihailovna looked at Paklin again, this time with half-closed eyes.

“Yes.”

“In that case,” Kollomietzev put in, “he must know where they are. Do you know where they are? Do you know? Eh? Do you know?”

Kollomietzev took to walking up and down in front of Paklin as if to cut off his way, although the latter had not betrayed the slightest inclination of wanting to run away. “Why don’t you speak? Answer me! Do you know, eh? Do you know?”

“Even if I knew,” Paklin began, annoyed; his wrath had risen up in him at last and his eyes flashed fire: “even if I knew I would not tell you.”

“Oh . . . oh . . .” Kollomietzev muttered. “Do you hear? Do you hear? This one too — this one too is of their gang!”

“The carriage is ready!” a footman announced loudly. Sipiagin with a quick graceful movement seized his hat, but Valentina Mihailovna was so insistent in her persuasions for him to put off the journey until the morning and brought so many convincing arguments to bear — such as: that it was pitch dark outside, that everybody in town would be asleep, that he would only upset his nerves and might catch cold — that Sipiagin at length came to agree with her.

“I obey!” he exclaimed, and with the same graceful gesture, not so rapid this time, replaced his hat on the table.

“I shall not want the carriage now,” he said to the footman, “but see that it’s ready at six o’clock in the morning! Do you hear? ‘You can go now! But stay! See that the gentleman’s carriage is sent off and the driver paid . . . I What? Did you say anything, Mr. Konopatin? I am going to take you to town with me tomorrow, Mr. Konopatin! What did you say? I can’t hear . . . Do you take vodka? Give Mr. Konopatin some vodka! No? You don’t drink? In that case . . . Feodor! take the gentleman into the green room! Goodnight, Mr. Kono-”

Paklin lost all patience.

“Paklin!” he shouted, “my name is Paklin!”

“Oh, yes . . . it makes no difference. A bit alike, you know. What a powerful voice you have for your spare build! Till tomorrow, Mr. Paklin. . . . Have I got it right this time? Simeon, vous viendrez. avec nous?”

“Je crois bien!”

Paklin was conducted into the green room and locked in. He distinctly heard the key turned in the English lock as he got into bed. He scolded himself severely for his “brilliant idea” and slept very badly.

He was awakened early the next morning at half-past five and given coffee. As he drank it a footman with striped shoulder- knots stood over him with the tray in his hand, shifting from one leg to the other as though he were saying, “Hurry up! the gentlemen are waiting!” He was taken downstairs. The carriage was already waiting at the door. Kollomietzev’s open carriage was also there. Sipiagin appeared on the steps in a cloak made of camel’s hair with a round collar. Such cloaks had long ago ceased to be worn except by a certain important dignitary whom Sipiagin pandered to and wished to imitate. On important official occasions he invariably put on this cloak.

Sipiagin greeted Paklin affably, and with an energetic movement of the hand pointed to the carriage and asked him to take his seat. “Mr. Paklin, you are coming with me, Mr. Paklin! Put your bag on the box, Mr. Paklin! I am taking Mr. Paklin,” he said, emphasising the word “Paklin” with special stress on the letter a. “You have an awful name like that and get insulted when people change it for you — so here you are then! Take your fill of it! Mr. Paklin! Paklin!” The unfortunate name rang out clearly in the cool morning air. It was so keen as to make Kollomietzev, who came out after Sipiagin, exclaim several times in French . . .

“Brrr! brrr! brrr!” He wrapped his cloak more closely about him and seated himself in his elegant carriage with the hood thrown back. (Had his poor friend Michael Obrenovitch, the Servian prince, seen it, he would certainly have bought one like it at Binder’s. . . . “Vous savez Binder, le grand carrossier des Champs Elysees?”)

Valentina Mihailovna, still in her night garments, peeped out from behind the half-open shutters of her bedroom. Sipiagin waved his hand to her from the carriage.

“Are you quite comfortable, Mr. Paklin? Go on!”

“Je vous recommande mon frere, epargnez-le!” Valentina Mihailovna said.

“Soyez tranquille!” Kollomietzev exclaimed, glancing up at her quickly from under the brim of his travelling cap — one of his own special design with a cockade in it —“C’est surtout l’autre, qu’il faut pincer!”

“Go on!” Sipiagin exclaimed again. “You are not cold, Mr. Paklin? Go on!”

The two carriages rolled away.

For about ten minutes neither Sipiagin nor Paklin pronounced a single word. The unfortunate Sila, in his shabby little coat and crumpled cap, looked even more wretched than usual in contrast to the rich background of dark blue silk with which the carriage was upholstered. He looked around in silence at the delicate pale blue blinds, which flew up instantly at the mere press of a button, at the soft white sheep-skin rug at their feet, at the mahogany box in front with a movable desk for letters and even a shelf for books. (Boris Andraevitch never worked in his carriage, but he liked people to think that he did, after the manner of Thiers, who always worked when travelling.) Paklin felt shy. Sipiagin glanced at him once or twice over his clean-shaven cheek, and with a pompous deliberation pulled out of a side- pocket a silver cigar-case with a curly monogram and a Slavonic band and offered him . . . really offered him a cigar, holding it gently between the second and third fingers of a hand neatly clad in an English glove of yellow dogskin.

“I don’t smoke,” Paklin muttered.

“Really!” Sipiagin exclaimed and lighted the cigar himself, an excellent regalia.

“I must tell you . . . my dear Mr. Paklin,” he began, puffing gracefully at his cigar and sending out delicate rings of delicious smoke, “that I am . . . really . . . very grateful to you. I might have . . . seemed . . . a little severe . . . last night . . . which does not really . . . do justice to my character . . . believe me.” (Sipiagin purposely hesitated over his speech.) “But just put yourself in my place, Mr. Paklin!” (Sipiagin rolled the cigar from one corner of his mouth to the other.) “The position I occupy places me . . . so to speak . . . before the public eye, and suddenly, without any warning . . . my wife’s brother . . . compromises himself . . . and me, in this impossible way! Well, Mr. Paklin? But perhaps you think that it’s nothing?”

“I am far from thinking that, your excellency.”

“You don’t happen to know exactly why . . . and where he was arrested?”

“I heard that he was arrested in T. district.”

“Who told you so?”

“A certain person.”

“Of course it could hardly have been a bird. But who was this person?”

“An assistant . . . of the director of the governor’s office —”

“What’s his name?”

“The director’s?”

No, the assistant’s.”

“His name is . . . Ulyashevitch. He is a very honest man, your excellency. As soon as I heard of the affair, I hastened to tell you.”

“Yes, yes. I am very grateful to you indeed. But what utter madness! downright madness! Don’t you think so, Mr. Paklin?”

“Utter madness!” Paklin exclaimed, while the perspiration rolled down his back in a hot stream. “it just shows,” he continued, “the folly of not understanding the peasant. Mr. Markelov, so far as I know him, has a very kind and generous heart, but he has no conception of what the Russian peasant is really like.” (Paklin glanced at Sipiagin who sat slightly turned towards him, gazing at him with a cold, though not unfriendly, light in his eyes.) “The Russian peasant can never be induced to revolt except by taking advantage of that devotion of his to some high authority, some tsar. Some sort of legend must be invented — you remember Dmitrius the pretender — some sort of royal sign must be shown him, branded on the breast.”

“Just like Pugatchev,” Sipiagin interrupted him in a tone of voice which seemed to imply that he had not yet forgotten his history and that it was really not necessary for Paklin to go on. “What madness! what madness! “he added, and became wrapped in the contemplation of the rings of smoke as they rose quickly one after another from the end of his cigar.

“Your excellency,” Paklin began apologetically, “I have just said that I didn’t smoke . . . but it was not true. I do smoke and your cigar smells so nice —”

“Eh? What?” Sipiagin asked as if waking up; and without giving Paklin time to repeat his request, he proved in the most unmistakable manner that he had heard every word, and had merely asked his questions for the sake of dignity, by offering him his cigar-case.

Paklin took a cigar gratefully and lighted it with care.

“Here’s a good opportunity,” he thought, but Sipiagin had anticipated him.

“I remember your saying . . .” he began carelessly, stopping to look at his cigar and pulling his hat lower over his forehead, “you spoke . . . of . . . of that friend of yours, who married my . . . niece. Do you ever see them? They’ve settled not far from here, eh?”

(“Take care! be on your guard, Sila!” Paklin thought.)

“I have only seen them once, your excellency. They are living . . . certainly . . . not very far from here.”

“You quite understand, I hope,” Sipiagin continued in the same tone, “that I can take no further serious interest — as I explained to you — either in that frivolous girl or in your friend. Heaven knows that I have no prejudices, but really, you will agree with me, this is too much! So foolish, you know. However, I suppose they were more drawn together by politics . . .” (“politics!” he repeated, shrugging his shoulders) “than by any other feeling!”

“I think so too, your excellency!”

“Yes, Mr. Nejdanov was certainly revolutionary. To do him justice he made no secret of his opinions.”

“Nejdanov,” Paklin ventured, “may have been carried away, but his heart —”

“Is good,” Sipiagin put in; “I know, like Markelov’s. They all have good hearts. He has no doubt also been mixed up in this affair . . . and will be implicated. . . . I suppose I shall have to intercede for him too!”

Paklin clasped his hands to his breast.

Oh, your excellency! Extend your protection to him! He fully . . . deserves . . . your sympathy.”

Sipiagin snorted.

“You think so?”

“At any rate if not for him . . . for your niece’s sake; for his wife!” (“Heavens! What lies I’m telling,” Paklin thought.)

Sipiagin half-closed his eyes.

“I see that you’re a very devoted friend. That’s a very good quality, very praiseworthy, young man. And so you said they lived in this neighbourhood?”

“Yes, your excellency; in a large establishment —” Here Paklin bit his tongue.

“Why, of course, at Solomin’s! that’s where they are! However, I knew it all along. I’ve been told so; I’ve already been informed.” (Mr. Sipiagin did not know this in the least, and no one had told him, but recollecting Solomin’s visit and their midnight interview, he promptly threw out this bait, which caught Paklin at once.)

“Since you know that,” he began and bit his tongue a second time . . . But it was already too late. A single glance at Sipiagin made him realise that he had been playing with him as a cat plays with a mouse.

“I must say, your excellency,” the unfortunate Paklin stammered out; “I must say, that I really know nothing —”

“But I ask you no questions! Really! What do you take me and yourself for?” Sipiagin asked haughtily, and promptly withdrew into his ministerial heights.

And Paklin again felt himself a mean little ensnared creature. Until that moment he had kept the cigar in the corner of his mouth away from Sipiagin and puffed at it quietly, blowing the smoke to one side; now he took it out of his mouth and ceased smoking altogether.

“My God!” he groaned inwardly, while the perspiration streamed down his back more and more, “what have I done? I have betrayed everything and everybody . . . I have been duped, been bought over by a good cigar!! I am a traitor! What shall I do now to help matters? 0h God!”

But there was nothing to be done. Sipiagin dozed off in a haughty, dignified, ministerial manner, enveloped in his stately cloak.

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