A House of Gentlefolk, by Ivan Turgenev

Chapter XLII

Lisa had written to Lavretsky the day before, to tell him to come in the evening; but he first went home to his lodgings. He found neither his wife nor his daughter at home; from the servants he learned that she had gone with the child to the Kalitins’. This information astounded and maddened him. “Varvara Pavlovna has made up her mind not to let me live at all, it seems,” he thought with a passion of hatred in his heart. He began to walk up and down, and his hands and feet were constantly knocking up against child’s toys, books and feminine belongings; he called Justine and told her to clear away all this “litter.” “Oui, monsieur,” she said with a grimace, and began to set the room in order, stooping gracefully, and letting Lavretsky feel in every movement that she regarded him as an unpolished bear.

He looked with aversion at her faded, but still “piquante,” ironical, Parisian face, at her white elbow-sleeves, her silk apron, and little light cap. He sent her away at last, and after long hesitation (as Varvara Pavlovna still did not return) he decided to go to the Kalitins’— not to see Marya Dmitrievna (he would not for anything in the world have gone into that drawing-room, the room where his wife was), but to go up to Marfa Timofyevna’s. He remembered that the back staircase from the servants’ entrance led straight to her apartment. He acted on this plan; fortune favoured him; he met Shurotchka in the court-yard; she conducted him up to Marfa Timofyevna’s. He found her, contrary to her usual habit, alone; she was sitting without a cap in a corner, bent, and her arms crossed over her breast. The old lady was much upset on seeing Lavretsky, she got up quickly and began to move to and fro in the room as if she were looking for her cap.

“Ah, it’s you,” she began, fidgeting about and avoiding meeting his eyes, “well, how do you do? Well, well, what’s to be done! Where were you yesterday? Well, she has come, so there, there! Well, it must . . . one way or another.”

Lavretsky dropped into a chair.

“Well, sit down, sit down,” the old lady went on. “Did you come straight up-stairs? Well, there, of course. So . . . you came to see me? Thanks.”

The old lady was silent for a little; Lavretsky did not know what to say to her; but she understood him.

“Lisa . . . yes, Lisa was here just now,” pursued Marfa Timofyevna, tying and untying the tassels of her reticule. “She was not quite well. Shurotchka, where are you? Come here, my girl; why can’t you sit still a little? My head aches too. It must be the effect of the singing and music.”

“What singing, auntie?”

“Why, we have been having those — upon my word, what do you call them — duets here. And all in Italian: chi-chi — and cha-cha — like magpies for all the world with their long drawn-out notes as if they’d pull your very soul out. That’s Panshin, and your wife too. And how quickly everything was settled; just as though it were all among relations, without ceremony. However, one may well say, even a dog will try to find a home; and won’t be lost so long as folks don’t drive it out.”

“Still, I confess I did not expect this,” rejoined Lavretsky; “there must be great effrontery to do this.”

“No, my darling, it’s not effrontery, it’s calculation, God forgive her! They say you are sending her off to Lavriky; is it true?”

“Yes, I am giving up that property to Varvara Pavlovna.”

“Has she asked you for money?”

“Not yet.”

“Well, that won’t be long in coming. But I have only now got a look at you. Are you quite well?”


“Shurotchka!” cried Marfa Timofyevna suddenly, “run and tell Lisaveta Mihalovna — at least, no, ask her . . . is she down-stairs?”


“Well, then; ask her where she put my book? she will know.”

“Very well.”

The old lady grew fidgety again and began opening a drawer in the chest. Lavretsky sat still without stirring in his place.

All at once light footsteps were heard on the stairs — and Lisa came in.

Lavretsky stood up and bowed; Lisa remained at the door.

“Lisa, Lisa, darling,” began Marfa Timofyevna eagerly, “where is my book? where did you put my book?”

“What book, auntie?”

“Why, goodness me, that book! But I didn’t call you though . . . There, it doesn’t matter. What are you doing down-stairs? Here Fedor Ivanitch has come. How is your head?”

“It’s nothing.”

“You keep saying it’s nothing. What have you going on down-stairs — music?”

No-they are playing cards.”

“Well, she’s ready for anything. Shurotchka, I see you want a run in the garden — run along.”

“Oh, no, Marfa Timofyevna.”

“Don’t argue, if you please, run along. Nastasya Karpovna has gone out into the garden all by herself; you keep her company. You must treat the old with respect.”— Shurotchka departed —“But where is my cap? Where has it got to?”

“Let me look for it,” said Lisa.

“Sit down, sit down; I have still the use of my legs. It must be inside in my bedroom.”

And flinging a sidelong glance in Lavretsky’s direction, Marfa Timofyevna went out. She left the door open; but suddenly she came back to it and shut it.

Lisa leant back against her chair and quietly covered her face with her hands; Lavretsky remained where he was.

“This is how we were to meet again!” he brought out at last.

Lisa took her hands from her face.

“Yes,” she said faintly: “we were quickly punished.”

“Punished,” said Lavretsky . . . . “What had you done to be punished?”

Lisa raised her eyes to him. There was neither sorrow or disquiet expressed in them; they seemed smaller and dimmer. Her face was pale; and pale too her slightly parted lips.

Lavretsky’s heart shuddered for pity and love.

“You wrote to me; all is over,” he whispered, “yes, all is over — before it had begun.”

“We must forget all that,” Lisa brought out; “I am glad that you have come; I wanted to write to you, but it is better so. Only we must take advantage quickly of these minutes. It is left for both of us to do our duty. You, Fedor Ivanitch, must be reconciled with your wife.”


“I beg you to do so; by that alone can we expiate . . . all that has happened. You will think about it — and will not refuse me.”

“Lisa, for God’s sake — you are asking what is impossible. I am ready to do everything you tell me; but to be reconciled to her now! . . . I consent to everything, I have forgotten everything; but I cannot force my heart . . . . Indeed, this is cruel!

“I do not even ask of you . . . what you say; do not live with her, if you cannot; but be reconciled,” replied Lisa and again she hid her eyes in her hand . —“remember your little girl; do it for my sake.”

“Very well,” Lavretsky muttered between his teeth: “I will do that, I suppose in that I shall fulfill my duty. But you-what does your duty consist in?”

“That I know myself.”

Lavretsky started suddenly.

“You cannot be making up your mind to marry Panshin?” he said.

Lisa gave an almost imperceptible smile.

“Oh, no!” she said.

“Ah, Lisa, Lisa!” cried Lavretsky, “how happy you might have been!”

Lisa looked at him again.

“Now you see yourself, Fedor Ivanitch, that happiness does not depend on us, but on God.”

“Yes, because you —”

The door from the adjoining room opened quickly and Marfa Timofyevna came in with her cap in her hand.

“I have found it at last, she said, standing between Lavretsky and Lisa; “I had laid it down myself. That’s what age does for one, alack — though youth’s not much better.”

“Well, and are you going to Lavriky yourself with your wife?” she added, turning to Lavretsky.

“To Lavriky with her? I don’t know,” he said, after a moment’s hesitation.

“You are not going down-stairs.”

“To-day — no, I’m not.”

“Well, well, you know best; but you, Lisa, I think, ought to go down. Ah, merciful powers, I have forgotten to feed my bullfinch. There, stop a minute, I’ll soon —” And Marfa Timofyevna ran off without putting on her cap.

Lavretsky walked quickly up to Lisa.

“Lisa,” he began in a voice of entreaty, “we are parting for ever, my heart is torn — give me your hand at parting.”

Lisa raised her head, her wearied eyes, their light almost extinct, rested upon him . . . . “No,” she uttered, and she drew back the hand she was holding out. “No, Lavretsky (it was the first time she had used this name), I will not give you my hand. What is the good? Go away, I beseech you. You know I love you . . . yes, I love you,” she added with an effort; “but no . . . no.”

She pressed her handkerchief to her lips.

“Give me, at least, that handkerchief.”

The door creaked . . . the handkerchief slid on to Lisa’s lap. Lavretsky snatched it before it had time to fall to the floor, thrust it quickly into a side pocket, and turning round met Marfa Timofyevna’s eyes.

“Lisa, darling, I fancy your mother is calling you,” the old lady declared.

Lisa at once got up and went away.

Marfa Timofyevna sat down again in her corner. Lavretsky began to take leave of her.

“Fedor,” she said suddenly.

“What is it?”

“Are you an honest man?”


“I ask you, are you an honest man?”

“I hope so.”

“H’m. But give me your word of honour that you will be an honest man.”

“Certainly. But why?”

“I know why. And you too, my dear friend, if you think well, you’re no fool — will understand why I ask it of you. And now, good-bye, my dear. Thanks for your visit; and remember you have given your word, Fedya, and kiss me. Oh, my dear, it’s hard for you, I know; but there, it’s not easy for any one. Once I used to envy the flies; I thought it’s for them it’s good to be alive but one night I heard a fly complaining in a spider’s web — no, I think, they too have their troubles. There’s no help, Fedya; but remember your promise all the same. Good-bye.”

Lavretsky went down the back staircase, and had reached the gates when a man-servant overtook him.

“Marya Dmitrievna told me to ask you to go in to her,” he commenced to Lavretsky.

“Tell her, my boy, that just now I can’t —” Fedor Ivanitch was beginning.

“Her excellency told me to ask you very particularly,” continued the servant. “She gave orders to say she was at home.”

“Have the visitors gone?” asked Lavretsky.

“Certainly, sir,” replied the servant with a grin.

Lavretsky shrugged his shoulders and followed him.


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