“You don’t recognise me,” he said, taking off his hat, “but I recognise you in spite of its being seven years since I saw you last. You were a child then. I am Lavretsky. Is your mother at home? Can I see her?”
“Mamma will be glad to see you,” replied Lisa; “she had heard of your arrival.”
“Let me see, I think your name is Elisaveta?” said Lavretsky, as he went up the stairs.
“I remember you very well; you had even then a face one doesn’t forget. I used to bring you sweets in those days.”
Lisa blushed and thought what a queer man. Lavretsky stopped for an instant in the hall. Lisa went into the drawing-room, where Panshin’s voice and laugh could be heard; he had been communicating some gossip of the town to Marya Dmitrievna, and Gedeonovksy, who by this time had come in from the garden, and he was himself laughing aloud at the story he was telling. At the name of Lavretsky, Marya Dmitrievna was all in a flutter. She turned pale and went up to meet him.
“How do you do, how do you do, my dear cousin?” she cried in a plaintive and almost tearful voice, “how glad I am to see you!”
“How are you, cousin?” replied Lavretsky, with a friendly pressure of her out-stretched hand; “how has Providence been treating you?”
“Sit down, sit down, my dear Fedor Ivanitch. Ah, how glad I am! But let me present my daughter Lisa to you.”
“I have already introduced myself to Lisaveta Mihalovna,” interposed Lavretsky.
“Monsier Panshin . . . Sergei Petrovitch Gedeonovsky . . . Please sit down. When I look at you, I can hardly believe my eyes. How are you?”
“As you see, I”m flourishing. And you, too, cousin — no ill-luck to you! — have grown no thinner in eight years.”
“To think how long it is since we met!” observed Marya Dmitrievna dreamily. “Where have you come from now? Where did you leave . . . that is, I meant to say,” she put in hastily, “I meant to say, are you going to be with us for long?”
“I have come now from Berlin,” replied Lavretsky, “and to-morrow I shall go into the country — probably for a long time.”
“You will live at Lavriky, I suppose?”
“No, not at Lavriky; I have a little place twenty miles from here: I am going there.”
“Is that the little estate that came to you from Glafira Petrovna?”
“Really, Fedor Ivanitch! You have such a magnificent house at Lavriky.”
Lavretsky knitted his brows a little.
“Yes . . . but there’s a small lodge in this little property, and I need nothing more for a time. That place is the most convenient for me now.”
Marya Dmitrievna was again thrown into such a state of agitation that she became quite stiff, and her hands hung lifeless by her sides. Panshin came to her support by entering into conversation with Lavretsky. Marya Dmitrievna regained her composure, she leaned back in her arm-chair and now and then put in a word. But she looked all the while with such sympathy at her guest, sighed so significantly, and shook her head so dejectedly, that the latter at last lost patience and asked her rather sharply if she was unwell.
“Thank God, no,” replied Marya Dmitrievna; “why do you ask?”
“Oh, I fancied you didn’t seem to be quite yourself.”
Marya Dmitrievna assumed a dignified and somewhat offended air. “If that’s how the land lies,” she thought, “it’s absolutely no matter to me; I see, my good fellow, it’s all like water on a duck’s back for you; any other man would have wasted away with grief, but you’ve grown fat on it.” Marya Dmitrievna did not mince matters in her own mind; she expressed herself with more elegance aloud.
Lavretsky certainly did not look like the victim of fate. His rosy-cheeked typical Russian face, with its large white brow, rather thick nose, and wide straight lips seemed breathing with the wild health of the steppes, with vigorous primaeval energy. He was splendidly well-built, and his fair curly hair stood up on his head like a boy’s. It was only in his blue eyes, with their overhanging brows and somewhat fixed look, that one could trace an expression, not exactly of melancholy, nor exactly of weariness, and his voice had almost too measured a cadence.
Panshin meanwhile continued to keep up the conversation. He turned it upon the profits of sugar-boiling, on which he had lately read two French pamphlets, and with modest composure undertook to expound their contents, without mentioning, however, a single word about the source of his information.
“Good God, it is Fedya!” came through the half-opened door the voice of Marfa Timofyevna in the next room. “Fedya himself!” and the old woman ran hurriedly into the room. Lavretsky had not time to get up from his seat before she had him in her arms. “Let me have a look at you,” she said, holding his face off at arm’s length. “Ah! what a splendid fellow you are! You’ve grown older a little, but not a bit changed for the worse, upon my word! But why are you kissing my hands — kiss my face if you’re not afraid of my wrinkled cheeks. You never asked after me — whether your aunt was alive — I warrant: and you were in my arms as soon as you were born, you great rascal! Well, that is nothing to you, I suppose; why should you remember me? But it was a good idea of yours to come back. And pray,” she added, turning to Marya Dmitrievna, “have you offered him something to eat?”
“I don’t want anything,” Lavretsky hastened to declare.
“Come, you must at least have some tea, my dear. Lord have mercy on us! He has come from I don’t know where, and they don’t even give him a cup of tea! Lisa, run and stir them up, and make haste. I remember he was dreadfully greedy when he was a little fellow, and he likes good things now, I daresay.”
“My respects, Marfa Timofyevna,” said Panshin, approaching the delighted old lady from one side with a low bow.
“Pardon me, sir,” replied Marfa Timofyevna, “for not observing you in my delight. You have grown like your mother, the poor darling,” she went on turning again to Lavretsky, “but your nose was always your father’s, and your father’s it has remained. Well, and are you going to be with us for long?”
“I am going to-morrow, aunt.”
“Home to Vassilyevskoe.”
“Well, if to-morrow it must be. God bless you — you know best. Only mind you come and say good-bye to me.” The old woman patted his cheek. “I did not think I should be here to see you; not that I have made up my mind to die yet a while — I shall last another ten years, I daresay: all we Pestovs live long; your late grandfather used to say we had two lives; but you see there was no telling how much longer you were going to dangle about abroad. Well, you’re a fine lad, a fine lad; can you lift twenty stone with one hand as you used to do, eh? Your late pap was fantastical in some things, if I may say so; but he did well in having that Swiss to bring you up; do you remember you used to fight with your fists with him? — gymnastics, wasn’t it they called it? But there, why I am gabbling away like this; I have only been hindering Mr. PanSHIN (she never pronounced his name PANshin as was correct) from holding forth. Besides, we’d better go and have tea; yes, let’s go on to the terrace, my boy, and drink it there; we have some real cream, not like what you get in your Londons and Parises. Come along, come along, and you, Fedusha, give me your arm. Oh! but what an arm it is! Upon my word, no fear of my stumbling with you!”
Every one got up and went out on to the terrace, except Gedeonovsky, who quietly took his departure. During the whole of Lavretsky’s conversation with Marya Dmitrievna, Panshin, and Marfa Timofyevna, he sat in a corner, blinking attentively, with an open mouth of childish curiosity; now he was in haste to spread the news of the new arrival through the town.
At eleven o’clock on the evening of the same day, this is what was happening in Madame Kalitin’s house. Downstairs, Vladimir Nikolaitch, seizing a favourable moment, was taking leave of Lisa at the drawing-room door, and saying to her, as he held her hand, “You know who it is draws me here; you know why I am constantly coming to your house; what need of words when all is clear as it is?” Lisa did not speak, and looked on the ground, without smiling, with her brows slightly contracted, and a flush on her cheek, but she did not draw away her hands. While up-stairs, in Marfa Timofyevna’s room, by the light of a little lamp hanging before the tarnished old holy images, Lavretsky was sitting in a low chair, his elbows on his knees and his face buried in his hands; the old woamn, standing before him, now and then silently stroked his hair. He spent more than an hour with her, after taking leave of his hostess; he had scarcely said anything to his kind old friend, and she did not question him . . . . Indeed, what need to speak, what was there to ask? Without that she understood all, and felt for everything of which his heart was full.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01