Smoke, by Ivan Turgenev

Chapter 26

WE happened once to go into the hut of a peasant-woman who had just lost her only, passionately loved son, and to our considerable astonishment we found her perfectly calm, almost cheerful. “Let her be,” said her husband, to whom probably our astonishment was apparent, “she is gone numb now.” And Litvinov had in the same way “gone numb.” The same sort of calm came over him during the first few hours of the journey. Utterly crushed, hopelessly wretched as he was, still he was at rest, at rest after the agonies and sufferings of the last few weeks, after all the blows which had fallen one after another upon his head. They had been the more shattering for him that he was little fitted by nature for such tempests. Now he really hoped for nothing, and tried not to remember, above all not to remember. He was going to Russia . . . he had to go somewhere; but he was making no kind of plans regarding his own personality. He did not recognize himself, he did not comprehend his own actions, he had positively lost his real identity, and, in fact, he took very little interest in his own identity. Sometimes it seemed to him that he was taking his own corpse home, and only the bitter spasms of irremediable spiritual pain passing over him from time to time brought him back to a sense of still being alive. At times it struck him as incomprehensible that a man — a man! — could let a woman, let love, have such power over him . . . “Ignominious weakness!” he muttered, and shook back his cloak, and sat up more squarely; as though to say, the past is over, let’s begin fresh. . . . a moment, and he could only smile bitterly and wonder at himself. He fell to looking out of the window. It was gray and damp; there was no rain, but the fog still hung about; and low clouds trailed across the. sky. The wind blew facing the train; whitish clouds of steam, some singly, others mingled with other darker clouds of smoke, whirled in endless file past the window at which Litvinov was sitting. He began to watch this steam, this smoke. Incessantly mounting, rising and falling, twisting and hooking on to the grass, to the bushes as though in sportive antics, lengthening out, and hiding away, clouds upon clouds flew by . . . they were for ever changing and stayed still the same in their monotonous, hurrying, wearisome sport! Sometimes the wind changed, the line bent to right or left, and suddenly the whole mass vanished, and at once reappeared at the opposite window; then again the huge tail was flung out, and again it veiled Litvinov’s view of the vast plain of the Rhine. He gazed and gazed, and a strange reverie came over him. . . . He was alone in the compartment; there was no one to disturb him. “Smoke, smoke,” he repeated several times; and suddenly it all seemed as smoke to him, everything, his own life, Russian life — everything human, especially everything Russian. All smoke and steam, he thought; all seems for ever changing, on all sides new forms, phantoms flying after phantoms, while in reality it is all the same and the same again; everything hurrying, flying towards something, and everything vanishing without a trace, attaining to nothing; another wind blows, and all is dashing in the opposite direction, and there again the same untiring, restless — and useless gambols! He remembered much that had taken place with clamor and flourish before his eyes in the last few years. . “Smoke,” he whispered, “smoke”; he remembered the hot disputes, the wrangling, the clamor at Gubaryov’s, and in other sets of men, of high and low degree, advanced and reactionist, old and young. . . . “Smoke,” he repeated, “smoke and steam”; he remembered, too, the fashionable picnic, and he remembered various opinions and speeches of other political personages — even all Potugin’s sermonizing. . . . “Smoke, smoke, nothing but smoke.” And what of his own struggles and passions and agonies and dreams? He could only reply with a gesture of despair.

And meanwhile the train dashed on and on; by now Rastadt, Carlsruhe, and Bruchsal had long been left far behind; the mountains on the right side of the line swerved aside, retreated into the distance, then moved up again, but not so high, and more thinly covered with trees. . . . The train made a sharp turn . . . and there was Heidelberg. The carriage rolled in under the cover of the station; there was the shouting of newspaper-boys, selling papers of all sorts, even Russian; passengers began bustling in their seats, getting out on to the platform, but Litvinov did not leave his corner, and still sat on with downcast head. Suddenly some one called him by name: he raised his eyes; Bindasov’s ugly phiz was thrust in at the window; and behind him — or was he dreaming, no, it was really so — all the familiar Baden faces; there was Madame Suhantchikov, there was Voroshilov, and Bambaev, too; they all rushed up to him, while Bindasov bellowed:

“But where’s Pishtchalkin? We were expecting him; but it’s all the same, hop out, and we’ll be off to Gubaryov’s.” “Yes, my boy, yes, Gubaryov’s expecting us,” Bambaev confirmed, making way for him, “hop out.”

Litvinov would have flown into a rage, but for a dead load lying on his heart. He glanced at Bindasov and turned away without speaking. “I tell you Gubaryov’s here,” shrieked Madame Suhantchikov, her eyes fairly starting out of her head.

Litvinov did not stir a muscle.

“Come, do listen, Litvinov,” Bambaev began at last, “there’s not only Gubaryov here, there’s a whole phalanx here of the most splendid, most intellectual young fellows, Russians — and all studying the natural sciences, all of the noblest convictions! Really you must stop here, if it’s only for them. Here, for instance, there’s a certain . . . there, I’ve forgotten his surname, but he’s a genius! simply!” “Oh, let him be, let him be, Rostislav Ardalionovitch,” interposed Madame Suhantchikov, “let him be! You see what sort of a fellow he is; and all his family are the same. He has an aunt; at first she struck me as a sensible woman, but the day before yesterday I went to see her here — she had only just before gone to Baden and was back here again before you could look round — well, I went to see her; began questioning her . . . Would you believe me, I couldn’t get a word out of the stuck-up thing. Horrid aristocrat!”

Poor Kapitolina Markova  an aristocrat! Could she ever have anticipated such a humiliation?

But Litvinov still held his peace, turned away, and pulled his cap over his eyes. The train started at last.

“Well, say something at parting at least, you stony-hearted man!” shouted Bambaev, “this is really too much!”

“Rotten milksop!” yelled Bindasov. The carriages were moving more and more rapidly, and he could vent his abuse with impunity. “Niggardly stick-in-the-mud.” Whether Bindasov invented this last appellation on the spot, or whether it had come to him second-hand, it apparently gave great satisfaction to two of the noble young fellows studying natural science, who happened to be standing by, for only a few days later it appeared in the Russian periodical sheet, published at that time at Heidelberg under the title: A tout venant je crache! or, “We don’t care a hang for anybody!”

But Litvinov repeated again, “Smoke, smoke, smoke! Here,” he thought, “in Heidelberg now are over a hundred Russian students; they’re all studying chemistry, physics, physiology — they won’t even hear of anything else . . . but in five or six years’ time there won’t be fifteen at the lectures by the same celebrated professors; the wind will change, the smoke will be blowing . . . in another quarter . . . smoke . . . smoke!” *

Towards nightfall he passed by Cassel. With the darkness intolerable anguish pounced like a hawk upon him, and he wept, burying himself in the corner of the carriage. For a long time his tears flowed, not easing his heart, but torturing him with a sort of gnawing bitterness; while at the same time, in one of the hotels of Cassel, Tatyana was lying in bed feverishly ill. Kapitolina Markovna was sitting beside her. “Tanya,” she was saying, “for God’s sake, let me send a telegram to Grigory Mihalitch, do let me, Tanya!”

“No, aunt,” she answered; “you mustn’t; don’t be frightened, give me some water: it will soon pass.”

And a week later she did, in fact, recover, and the two friends continued their journey.

 

* Litvinov’s presentiments came true. In 1866 there were in Heidelberg thirteen Russian students entered for the summer, and twelve for the winter session.

https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/turgenev/ivan/smoke/chapter26.html

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