Smoke, by Ivan Turgenev

Chapter 22

“BETTER not think now, really,” Litvinov repeated, as he strode along the street, feeling that the inward riot was rising up again in him. “The thing’s decided. She will keep her promise, and it only remains for me to take all necessary steps. . . . Yet she hesitates, it seems.” . . . He shook his head. His own designs struck even his own imagination in a strange light; there was a smack of artificiality, of unreality about them. One cannot dwell long upon the same thoughts; they gradually shift like the bits of glass in a kaleidoscope . . . one peeps in, and already the shapes before one’s eyes are utterly different. A sensation of intense weariness overcame Litvinov. . . . If he could for one short hour but rest! . . . But Tanya? He started, and, without reflecting even, turned submissively homewards, merely struck by the idea, that this day was tossing him like a ball from one to the other.

No matter; he must make an end. He went back to his hotel, and with the same submissiveness, insensibility, numbness, without hesitation or delay, he went to see Tatyana.

He was met by Kapitolina Markovna. From the first glance at her, he knew that she knew about it all; the poor maiden lady’s eyes were swollen with weeping, and her flushed face, fringed with her dishevelled white locks, expressed dismay and an agony of indignation, sorrow, and boundless amazement. She was on the point of rushing up to Litvinov, but she stopped short, and, biting her quivering lips, she looked at him as though she would supplicate him, and kill him, and assure herself that it was a dream, a senseless, impossible thing, wasn’t it?

“Here you . . . you are come,” she began . . . The door from the next room opened instantaneously, and with a light tread Tatyana came in; she was of a transparent pallor, but she was quite calm.

She gently put one arm round her aunt and made her sit down beside her.

“You sit down too, Grigory Mihalitch,” she said to Litvinov, who was standing like one distraught at the door. “I am very glad to see you once more. I have informed auntie of your decision, our common decision; she fully shares it and approves of it. . . . Without mutual love there can be no happiness, mutual esteem alone is not enough” (at the word “esteem” Litvinov involuntarily looked down) “and better to separate now, than to repent later. Isn’t it, aunt?”

“Yes, of course,” began Kapitolina Markovna, “of course, Tanya, darling, the man who does not know how to appreciate you . . . who could bring himself —”

“Aunt, aunt,” Tatyana interrupted, “remember what you promised me. You always told me yourself: truth, Tatyana, truth before everything — and independence. Well, truth’s not always sweet, nor independence either; or else where would be the virtue of pendence either; or else where would be the virtue of it?”

She kissed Kapitolina Markovna on her white hair, and turning to Litvinov, she went on:

“We propose, aunt and I, leaving Baden. . . . I think it will be more comfortable so for all of us.”

“When do you think of going?” Litvinov said thickly. He remembered that Irina had said the very same words to him not long before. Kapitolina Markovna was darting forward, but Tatyana held her back, with a caressing touch on her shoulder.

“Probably soon, very soon.”

“And will you allow me to ask where you intend going?” Litvinov said in the same voice.

“First to Dresden, then probably to Russia.”

“But what can you want to know that for now, Grigory Mihalitch?” . . . cried Kapitolina Markovna.

“Aunt, aunt,” Tatyana interposed again. A brief silence followed.

“Tatyana Petrovna,” began Litvinov, “you know how agonizingly painful and bitter my feelings must be at this instant.”

Tatyana got up.

“Grigory Mihalitch,” she said, “we will not talk about that . . . if you please, I beg you for my sake, if not for your own. I have known you long enough, and I can very well imagine what you must be feeling now. But what’s the use of talking, of touching a sore” (she stopped; it was clear she wanted to stem the emotion rushing upon her, to swallow the rising tears; she succeeded)—“why fret a sore we cannot heal? Leave that to time. And now I have to ask a service of you, Grigory Mihalitch; if you will be so good, I will give you a letter directly: take it to the post yourself, it is rather important, but aunt and I have no time now. . . . I shall be much obliged to you. Wait a minute. . . . I will bring it directly . . . .” In the doorway Tatyana glanced uneasily at Kapitolina Markovna; but she was sitting with such dignity and decorum, with such a severe expression on her knitted brows and tightly compressed lips, that Tatyana merely gave her a significant nod and went out.

But scarcely had the door closed behind her. when every trace of dignity and severity instantaneously vanished from Kapitolina Markovna’s face; she got up, ran on tiptoe up to Litvinov, and all hunched together and trying to look him in the face, she began in a quaking tearful whisper:

“Good God,” she said, “Grigory Mihalitch, what does it mean? is it a dream or what? You give up Tanya, you tired of her, you breaking your word! You doing this, Grigory Mihalitch, you on whom we all counted as if you were a stone wall! You? you? you, Grisha?” . . . Kapitolina Markovna stopped. “Why, you will kill her, Grigory Mihalitch,” she went on, without waiting for an answer, while her tears fairly coursed in fine drops over her cheeks. “You mustn’t judge by her bearing up now, you know her character! She never complains; she does not think of herself, so others must think of her! She keeps saying to me, ‘Aunt, we must save our dignity!’ but what’s dignity, when I foresee death, death before us?” . . . Tatyana’s chair creaked in the next room. “Yes, I foresee death,” the old lady went on, still more softly. “And how can such a thing have come about? Is it witchcraft, or what? It’s not long since you were writing her the tenderest letters. And, in fact, can an honest man act like this? I’m a woman, free, as you know, from prejudice of any sort, esprit fort, and I have given Tanya, too, the same sort of education, she, too, has a free mind . . . .”

“Aunt!” came Tatyana’s voice from the next room.

“But one’s word of honor is a duty, Grigory Mihalitch, especially for people of your, of my principles! If we’re not going to recognize duty, what is left us? This cannot be broken off in this way, at your whim, without regard to what may happen to another! It’s unprincipled . . . yes, it’s a crime; a strange sort of freedom!”

“Aunt, come here please,” was heard again. “I’m coming, my love, I’m coming . . .” Kapitolina Markovna clutched at Litvinov’s hand. —“I see you are angry Grigory Milhalitch.” . .. . (“Me! me angry?” he wanted to exclaim, but his tongue was dumb.) “I don’t want to make you angry — oh, really, quite the contrary! I’ve come even to entreat you; think again while there is time; don’t destroy her, don’t destroy your own happiness, she will still trust you, Grisha, she will believe in you, nothing is lost yet; why, she loves you as no one will ever love you! Leave this hateful Baden-Baden, let us go away together, only throw off this enchantment, and, above all, have pity, have pity —”

“Aunt!” called Tatyana, with a shade of impatience in her voice.

But Kapitolina Markovna did not hear her.

“Only say ‘yes,’” she repeated to Litvinov; “and I will still make everything smooth. . . . You need only nod your head to me, just one little nod like this.”

Litvinov would gladly, he felt, have died at that instant; but the word “yes” he did not utter, and he did not nod his head.

Tatyana reappeared with a letter in her hand. Kapitolina Markovna at once darted away from Litvinov, and, averting her face, bent low over the table, as though she were looking over the bills and papers that lay on it.

Tatyana went up to Litvinov.

“Here,” she said, “is the letter I spoke of. . . . You will go to the post at once with it, won’t you?”

Litvinov raised his eyes. . . . Before him, really, stood his judge. Tatyana struck him as taller, slenderer; her face, shining with unwonted beauty, had the stony grandeur of a statute’s; her bosom did not heave, and her gown, of one color and straight as a Greek chiton, fell in the long, unbroken folds of marble drapery to her feet, which were hidden by it. Tatyana was looking straight before her, only at Litvinov; her cold, calm gaze, too, was the gaze of a statue. He read his sentence in it; he bowed, took a letter from the hand held out so immovably to him, and silently withdrew.

Kapitolina Markovna ran to Tatyana; but the latter turned off her embraces and dropped her eyes; a flush of color spread over her face, and with the words, “and now, the sooner the better,” she went into the bedroom. Kapitolina Markovna followed her with hanging head.

The letter, entrusted to Litvinov by Tatyana, was addressed to one of her Dresden friends — a German lady — who let small furnished apartments. Litvinov dropped the letter into the post-box, and it seemed to him as though with that tiny scrap of paper he was dropping all his past, all his life into the tomb. He went out of the town, and strolled a long time by narrow paths between vineyards; he could not shake off the persistent sensation of contempt for himself, like the importunate buzzing of flies in summer: an unenviable part, indeed, he had played in the last interview. . . . And when he went back to his hotel, and after a little time inquired about the ladies, he was told that immediately after he had gone out, they had given orders to be driven to the railway station, and had departed by the mail train — to what destination was not known. Their things had been packed and their bills paid ever since the morning. Tatyana had asked Litvinov to take her letter to the post, obviously with the object of getting him out of the way. He ventured to ask the hall-porter whether the ladies had left any letters for him, but the porter replied in the negative, and looked amazed, even; it was clear that this sudden exit from rooms taken for a week struck him, too, as strange and dubious. Litvinov turned his back on him, and locked himself up in his room.

He did not leave it till the following day: the greater part of the night he was sitting at the table, writing, and tearing what he had written. . . . The dawn was already beginning when he finished his task — it was a letter to Irina.

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Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01