Smoke, by Ivan Turgenev

Chapter 27

STOPPING neither at Petersburg nor at Moscow, Litvinov went back to his estate. He was dismayed when he saw his father; the latter was so weak and failing. The old man rejoiced to have his son, as far as a man can rejoice who is just at the close of life; he at once gave over to him the management of everything, which was in great disorder, and lingering on a few weeks longer, he departed from this earthly sphere. Litvinov was left alone in his ancient little manor-house, and with a heavy heart, without hope, without zeal, and without money, he began to work the land. Working the land is a cheerless business, as many know too well; we will not enlarge on how distasteful it seemed to Litvinov. As for reforms and innovations, there was, of course, no question even of them; the practical application of the information he had gathered abroad was put off for an indefinite period; poverty forced him to make shift from day to day, to consent to all sorts of compromises — both material and moral. The new had “begun ill,” the old had lost all power; ignorance jostled up against dishonesty; the whole agrarian organization was shaken and unstable as quagmire bog, and only one great word, “freedom,” was wafted like the breath of God over the waters. Patience was needed before all things, and a patience not passive, but active, persistent, not without tact and cunning at times. . . . For Litvinov, in his frame of mind, it was doubly hard. He had but little will to live left in him. . . . Where was he to get the will to labor and take trouble?

But a year passed, after it another passed, the third was beginning. The mighty idea was being realized by degrees, was passing into flesh and blood, the young shoot had sprung up from the scattered seed, and its foes, both open and secret, could not stamp it out now. Litvinov himself, though he had ended by giving up the greater part of his land to the peasants on the half-profit system, that’s to say, by returning to the wretched primitive methods, had yet succeeded in doing something; he had restored the factory, set up a tiny farm with five free hired laborers — he had had at different times fully forty — and had paid his principal private debts. . . . And his spirit had gained strength; he had begun to be like the old Litvinov again. It’s true, a deeply buried melancholy never left him, and he was too quiet for his years; he shut himself up in a narrow circle and broke off all his old connections . . . but the deadly indifference had passed, and among the living he moved and acted as a living man again. The last traces, too, had vanished of the enchantment in which he had been held; all that had passed at Baden appeared to him dimly as in a dream. . . . And Irina? even she had paled and vanished, too, and Litvinov only had a faint sense of something dangerous behind the mist that gradually enfolded her image. Of Tatyana news reached him from time to time: he knew that she was living with her aunt on her estate, a hundred and sixty miles from him, leading a quiet life, going out little, and scarcely receiving any guests — cheerful and well, however. It happened on one fine May day, that he was sitting in his study, listlessly turning over the last number of a Petersburg paper; a servant came to announce the arrival of an old uncle. This uncle happened to be a cousin of Kapitolina Markovna and had been recently staying with her. He had bought an estate in Litvinov’s vicinity and was on his way thither. He stayed twenty-four hours with his nephew and told him a great deal about Tatyana’s manner of life. The next day after his departure Litvinov sent her a letter, the first since their separation. He begged for permission to renew her acquaintance, at least by correspondence, and also desired to learn whether he must for ever give up all idea of some day seeing her again? Not without emotion he awaited the answer . . . the answer came at last. Tatyana responded cordially to his overture. “If you are disposed to pay us a visit,” she finished up, “we hope you will come; you know the saying, ‘even the sick are easier together than apart.’” Kapitolina Markovna joined in sending her regards. Litvinov was as happy as a child; it was long since his heart had beaten with such delight over anything. He felt suddenly light and bright. . . . Just as when the sun rises and drives away the darkness of night, a light breeze flutters with the sun’s rays over the face of the reviving earth. All that day Litvinov kept smiling, even while he went about his farm and gave his orders. He at once began making arrangements for the journey, and a fortnight later he was on his way to Tatyana.

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