A House of Gentlefolk, by Ivan Turgenev

Chapter XIV

The young Spartan’s legs shook under him when Mihalevitch conducted him into the rather shabbily furnished drawing-room of the Korobyins, and presented him to them. But his overwhelming feeling of timidity soon disappeared. In the general the good-nature innate in all Russians was intensified by that special kind of geniality which is peculiar to all people who have done something disgraceful; the general’s lady was as it were overlooked by every one; and as for Varvara Pavlovna, she was so self-possessed and easily cordial that every one at once felt at home in her presence; besides, about all her fascinating person, her smiling eyes, her faultlessly sloping shoulders and rosy-tinged white hands, her light and yet languid movements, the very sound of her voice, slow and sweet, there was an impalpable, subtle charm, like a faint perfume, voluptuous, tender, soft, though still modest, something which is hard to translate into words, but which moved and kindled — and timidity! was not the feeing it kindled. Lavretsky turned the conversation on the theater, on the performance of the previous day; she at once began herself to discuss Motchalov, and did not confine herself to sighs and interjections only, but uttered a few true observations full of feminine insight in regard to his acting. Mihalevitch spoke about music; she sat down without ceremony to the piano, and very correctly played some of Chopin’s mazurkas, which were then just coming into fashion. Dinner-time came; Lavretsky would have gone away, but they made him stay: at dinner the general regaled him with excellent Lafitte, which the general’s lackey hurried off in a street-sledge to Dupre’s to fetch. Late in the evening Lavretsky returned home; for a long while he sat without undressing, covering his eyes with his hands in the stupefaction of enchantment. It seemed to him that now for the first time he understood what made life worth living; all his previous assumptions, all his plans, all that rubbish and nonsense had vanished into nothing! at once; all his soul was absorbed in one feeling, in one desire — in the desire of happiness, of possession, of love, the sweet love of a woman. From that day he began to go often to the Korobyins. Six months later he spoke to Varvara Pavlovna, and offered her his hand. His offer was accepted; the general had long before, almost on the eve of Lavretsky’s first visit, inquired of Mihalevitch how many serfs Lavretsky owned; and indeed Varvara Pavlovna, who through the whole time of the young man’s courtship, and even at the very moment of his declaration, had preserved her customary composure and clearness of mind — Varvara Pavlovna too was very well aware that her suitor was a wealthy man; and Kalliopa Karlovna thought “meine Tochter macht eine schone Partie,” and bought herself a new cap.


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