A House of Gentlefolk, by Ivan Turgenev

Chapter XII

After burying his father and intrusting to the unchanged Glafira Petrovna the management of his estate and superintendence of his bailiffs, young Lavretsky went to Moscow, whither he felt drawn by a vague but strong attraction. He recognised the defects of his education, and formed the resolution, as far as possible, to regain lost ground. In the last five years he had read much and seen something; he had many stray ideas in his head; any professor might have envied some of his acquirements, but at the same time he did not know much that every schoolboy would have learnt long ago. Lavretsky was aware of his limitations; he was secretly conscious of being eccentric. The Anglomaniac had done his son an ill turn; his whimsical education had produced its fruits. For long years he had submitted unquestioningly to his father; when at last he began to see through him, the evil was already done, his habits were deeply-rooted. He could not get on with people; at twenty-three years old, with an unquenchable thirst for love in his shy heart, he had never yet dared to look one woman in the face. With his intellect, clear and sound, but somewhat heavy, with his tendencies to obstinacy, contemplation, and indolence he ought from his earliest years to have been thrown into the stream of life, and he had been kept instead in artificial seclusion. And now the magic circle was broken, but he continued to remain within it, prisoned and pent up within himself. It was ridiculous at his age to put on a student’s dress, but he was not afraid of ridicule; his Spartan education had at least the good effect of developing in him a contempt for the opinion of others, and he put on, without embarrassment, the academical uniform. He entered the section of physics and mathematics. Robust, rosy-cheeked, bearded, and taciturn, he produced a strange impression on his companions; they did not suspect that this austere man, who came so punctually to the lectures in a wide village sledge with a pair of horses, was inwardly almost a child. He appeared to them to be a queer kind of pedant; they did not care for him, and made no overtures to him, and he avoided them. During the first two years he spent in the university, he only made acquaintance with one student, from whom he took lessons in Latin. This student Mihalevitch by name, an enthusiast and a poet, who loved Lavretsky sincerely, by chance became the means of bringing about an important change in his destiny.

One day at the theatre — Motchalov was then at the height of his fame and Lavretsky did not miss a single performance — he saw in a box in the front tier a young girl, and though no woman ever came near his grim figure without setting his heart beating, it had never beaten so violently before. The young girl sat motionless, leaning with her elbows on the velvet of the box; the light of youth and life played in every feature of her dark, oval, lovely face; subtle intelligence was expressed in the splendid eyes which gazed softly and attentively from under her fine brows, in the swift smile on her expressive lips, in the very pose of her head, her hands, her neck. She was exquisitely dressed. Beside her sat a yellow and wrinkled woman of forty-five, with a low neck, in a black headdress, with a toothless smile on her intently-preoccupied and empty face, and in the inner recesses of the box was visible an elderly man in a wide frock-coat and high cravat, with an expression of dull dignity and a kind of ingratiating distrustfulness in his little eyes, with dyed moustache and whiskers, a large meaningless forehead and wrinkled cheeks, by every sign a retired general. Lavretsky did not take his eyes off the girl who had made such an impression on him; suddenly the door of the box opened and Mihalevitch went in. The appearance of this man, almost his one acquaintance in Moscow, in the society of the one girl who was absorbing his whole attention, struck him as curious and significant. Continuing to gaze into the box, he observed that all the persons in it treated Mihalevitch as an old friend. The performance on the stage ceased to interest Lavretsky, even Motchalov, though he was that evening in his “best form,” did not produce the usual impression on him. At one very pathetic part, Lavretsky involuntarily looked at his beauty: she was bending forward, her cheeks glowing under the influence of his persistent gaze, her eyes, which were fixed on the stage, slowly turned and rested on him. All night he was! haunted by those eyes. The skillfully constructed barriers were broken down at last; he was in a shiver and a fever, and the next day he went to Mihalevitch. From him he learnt that the name of the beauty was Varvara Pavlovna Korobyin; that the old people sitting with her in the box were her father and mother; and that he, Mihalevitch, had become acquainted with them a year before, while he was staying at Count N.‘s, in the position of a tutor, near Moscow. The enthusiast spoke in rapturous praise of Varvara Pavlovna. “My dear fellow,” he exclaimed with the impetuous ring in his voice peculiar to him, “that girl is a marvelous creature, a genius, an artist in the true sense of the word, and she is very good too.” Noticing from Lavretsky’s inquiries the impression Varvara Pavlovna had made on him, he himself proposed to introduce him to her, adding that he was like one of the family with them; that the general was not at all proud, and the mother was so stupid she could not say “Bo” to a goose. Lavretsky blushed, muttered something unintelligible, and ran away. For five whole days he was struggling with his timidity; on the sixth day the young Spartan got into a new uniform and placed himself at Mihalevitch’s disposal. The latter being his own valet, confined himself to combing his hair — and both betook themselves to the Korobyins.


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