A House of Gentlefolk, by Ivan Turgenev

Chapter XIII

Varvara Pavlovna’s father, Pavel Petrovitch Korobyin, a retired general-major, had spent his whole time on duty in Petersburg. He had had the reputation in his youth of a good dancer and driller. Through poverty, he had served as adjutant to two or three generals of no distinction, and had married the daughter of one of them with a dowry of twenty-five thousand roubles. He mastered all the science of military discipline and manoeuvres to the minutest niceties, he went on in harness, till at last, after twenty-five years’ service, he received the rank of a general and the command of a regiment. Then he might have relaxed his efforts and have quietly secured his pecuniary position. Indeed this was what he reckoned upon doing, but he managed things a little incautiously. He devised a new method of speculating with public funds — the method seemed an excellent one in itself — but he neglected to bribe in the right place, and was consequently informed against, and a more than unpleasant, a disgraceful scandal followed. The general got out of the affair somehow, but his career was ruined; he was advised to retire from active duty. For two years he lingered on in Petersburg, hoping to drop into some snug berth in the civil service, but no such snug berth came in his way. His daughter had left school, his expenses were increasing every day. Resigning himself to his fate, he decided to remove to Moscow for the sake of the greater cheapness of living, and took a tiny low-pitched house in the Old Stables Road, with a coat of arms seven feet long on the roof, and there began the life of a retired general at Moscow on an income of 2750 roubles a year. Moscow is a hospitable city, ready to welcome all stray comers, generals by preference. Pavel Petrovitch’s heavy figure, which was not quite devoid of martial dignity, however, soon began to be seen in the best drawing-rooms in Moscow. His bald head with its tufts of dyed hair, and the soiled ribbon of the Order of St. Anne which he wore over a cravat of the colour of a raven’s wing, began to be familiar to all the pale and listless young men who hang morosely about the card-tables while dancing is going on. Pavel Petrovitch knew how to gain a footing in society; he spoke little, but from old habit, condescendingly — though, of course, not when he was talking to persons of a higher rank than his own. He played cards carefully; ate moderately at home, but consumed enough for six at parties. Of his wife there is scarcely anything to be said. Her name was Kalliopa Karlovna. There was always a tear in her left eye, on the strength of which Kalliopa Karlovna (she was, one must add, of German extraction) considered herself a woman of great sensibility. She was always in a state of nervous agitation, seemed as though she were ill-nourished, and wore a tight velvet dress, a cap, and tarnished hollow bracelets. The only daughter of Pavel Petrovitch and Kalliopa Karlovna, Varvara Pavlovna, was only just seventeen when she left the boarding-school, in which she had been reckoned, if not the prettiest, at least the cleverest pupil and the best musician, and where she had taken a decoration. She was not yet nineteen, when Lavretsky saw her for the first time.


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