On the Eve, by Ivan Turgenev

Chapter XXX

Meanwhile the storm gathering in the East was breaking. Turkey had declared war on Russia; the time fixed for the evacuation of the Principalities had already expired, the day of the disaster of Sinope was not far off. The last letters received by Insarov summoned him urgently to his country. His health was not yet restored; he coughed, suffered from weakness and slight attacks of fever, but he was scarcely ever at home. His heart was fired, he no longer thought of his illness. He was for ever rushing about Moscow, having secret interviews with various persons, writing for whole nights, disappearing for whole days; he had informed his landlord that he was going away shortly, and had presented him already with his scanty furniture. Elena too on her side was getting ready for departure. One wet evening she was sitting in her room, and listening with involuntary depression to the sighing of the wind, while she hemmed handkerchiefs. Her maid came in and told her that her father was in her mother’s room and sent for her there. ‘Your mamma is crying,’ she whispered after the retreating Elena, ‘and your papa is angry.’

Elena gave a slight shrug and went into Anna Vassflyevna’s room. Nikolai Artemyevitch’s kind-hearted spouse was half lying on a reclining chair, sniffing a handkerchief steeped in eau de Cologne; he himself was standing at the hearth, every button buttoned up, in a high, hard cravat, with a stiffly starched collar; his deportment had a vague suggestion of some parliamentary orator. With an orator’s wave of the arm he motioned his daughter to a chair, and when she, not understanding his gesture, looked inquiringly at him, he brought out with dignity, without turning his head: ‘I beg you to be seated.’ Nikolai Artemyevitch always used the formal plural in addressing his wife, but only on extraordinary occasions in addressing his daughter.

Elena sat down.

Anna Vassilyevna blew her nose tearfully. Nikolai Artemyevitch thrust his fingers between his coat-buttons.

‘I sent for you, Elena Nikolaevna,’ he began after a protracted silence, ‘in order to have an explanation with you, or rather in order to ask you for an explanation. I am displeased with you — or no — that is too little to say: your behaviour is a pain and an outrage to me — to me and to your mother — your mother whom you see here.’

Nikolai Artemyevitch was giving vent only to the few bass notes in his voice. Elena gazed in silence at him, then at Anna Vassilyevna and turned pale.

‘There was a time,’ Nikolai Artemyevitch resumed, ‘when daughters did not allow themselves to look down on their parents — when the parental authority forced the disobedient to tremble. That time has passed, unhappily: so at least many persons imagine; but let me tell you, there are still laws which do not permit — do not permit — in fact there are still laws. I beg you to mark that: there are still laws ——’

‘But, papa,’ Elena was beginning.

‘I beg you not to interrupt me. Let us turn in thought to the past. I and Anna Vassilyevna have performed our duty. I and Anna Vassilyevna have spared nothing in your education: neither care nor expense. What you have gained from our care — is a different question; but I had the right to expect — I and Anna Vassilyevna had the right to expect that you would at least hold sacred the principles of morality which we have — que nous avons inculques, which we have instilled into you, our only daughter. We had the right to expect that no new “ideas” could touch that, so to speak, holy shrine. And what do we find? I am not now speaking of frivolities characteristic of your sex, and age, but who could have anticipated that you could so far forget yourself ——’

‘Papa,’ said Elena, ‘I know what you are going to say ———’

‘No, you don’t know what I am going to say!’ cried Nikolai Artemyevitch in a falsetto shriek, suddenly losing the majesty of his oratorical pose, the smooth dignity of his speech, and his bass notes. ‘You don’t know, vile hussy!’

‘For mercy’s sake, Nicolas,’ murmured Anna Vassilyevna, ‘vous me faites mourir?’

‘Don’t tell me que je vous fais mourir, Anna Vassilyevna! You can’t conceive what you will hear directly! Prepare yourself for the worst, I warn you!’

Anna Vassilyevna seemed stupefied.

‘No,’ resumed Nikolai Artemyevitch, turning to Elena, ‘you don’t know what I am going to say!’

‘I am to blame towards you ——’ she began.

‘Ah, at last!’

‘I am to blame towards you,’ pursued Elena, ‘for not having long ago confessed ——’

‘But do you know,’ Nikolai Artemyevitch interrupted, ‘that I can crush you with one word?’

Elena raised her eyes to look at him.

‘Yes, madam, with one word! It’s useless to look at me!’ (He crossed his arms on his breast.) ‘Allow me to ask you, do you know a certain house near Povarsky? Have you visited that house?’ (He stamped.) ‘Answer me, worthless girl, and don’t try to hide the truth. People, people, servants, madam, de vils laquais have seen you, as you went in there, to your ——’

Elena was crimson, her eyes were blazing.

‘I have no need to hide anything,’ she declared. ‘Yes, I have visited that house.’

‘Exactly! Do you hear, do you hear, Anna Vassilyevna? And you know, I presume, who lives there?’

‘Yes, I know; my husband.’

Nikolai Artemyevitch’s eyes were starting out of his head.

‘Your ——’

‘My husband,’ repeated Elena; ‘I am married to Dmitri Nikanorovitch Insarov.’

‘You? — married?’— was all Anna Vassilyevna could articulate.

‘Yes, mamma. . . . Forgive me. A fortnight ago, we were secretly married.’

Anna Vassilyevna fell back in her chair; Nikolai Artemyevitch stepped two paces back.

‘Married! To that vagrant, that Montenegrin! the daughter of Nikolai Stahov of the higher nobility married to a vagrant, a nobody, without her parents’ sanction! And you imagine I shall let the matter rest, that I shall not make a complaint, that I will allow you — that you — that —— To the nunnery with you, and he shall go to prison, to hard labour! Anna Vassilyevna, inform her at once that you will cut off her inheritance!’

‘Nikolai Artemyevitch, for God’s sake,’ moaned Anna Vassilyevna.

‘And when and how was this done? Who married you? where? how? Good God! what will all our friends think, what will the world say! And you, shameless hypocrite, could go on living under your parents’ roof after such an act! Had you no fear of — the wrath of heaven?’

‘Papa’ said Elena (she was trembling from head to foot but her voice was steady), ‘you are at liberty to do with me as you please, but you need not accuse me of shamelessness, and hypocrisy. I did not want — to give you pain before, but I should have had to tell you all myself in a few days, because we are going away — my husband and I— from here next week.’

‘Going away? Where to?’

‘To his own country, to Bulgaria.’

‘To the Turks!’ cried Anna Vassilyevna and fell into a swoon.

Elena ran to her mother.

‘Away!’ clamoured Nikolai Artemyevitch, seizing his daughter by the arm, ‘away, unworthy girl!’

But at that instant the door of the room opened, and a pale face with glittering eyes appeared: it was the face of Shubin.

‘Nikolai Artemyevitch!’ he shouted at the top of his voice, ‘Augustina Christianovna is here and is asking for you!’

Nikolai Artemyevitch turned round infuriated, threatening Shubin with his fist; he stood still a minute and rapidly went out of the room.

Elena fell at her mother’s feet and embraced her knees.

Uvar Ivanovitch was lying on his bed. A shirt without a collar, fastened with a heavy stud enfolded his thick neck and fell in full flowing folds over the almost feminine contours of his chest, leaving visible a large cypress-wood cross and an amulet. His ample limbs were covered with the lightest bedclothes. On the little table by the bedside a candle was burning dimly beside a jug of kvas, and on the bed at Uvar ivanovitch’s feet was sitting Shubin in a dejected pose.

‘Yes,’ he was saying meditatively, ‘she is married and getting ready to go away. Your nephew was bawling and shouting for the benefit of the whole house; he had shut himself up for greater privacy in his wife’s bedroom, but not merely the maids and the footmen, the coachman even could hear it all! Now he’s just tearing and raving round; he all but gave me a thrashing, he’s bringing a father’s curse on the scene now, as cross as a bear with a sore head; but that’s of no importance. Anna Vassilyevna’s crushed, but she’s much more brokenhearted at her daughter leaving her than at her marriage.’

Uvar Ivanovitch flourished his fingers.

‘A mother,’ he commented, ‘to be sure.’

‘Your nephew,’ resumed Shubin, ‘threatens to lodge a complaint with the Metropolitan and the General-Governor and the Minister, but it will end by her going. A happy thought to ruin his own daughter! He’ll crow a little and then lower his colours.’

‘They’d no right,’ observed Uvar Ivanovitch, and he drank out of the jug.

‘To be sure. But what a storm of criticism, gossip, and comments will be raised in Moscow! She’s not afraid of them. . . . Besides she’s above them. She’s going away . . . and it’s awful to think where she’s going — to such a distance, such a wilderness! What future awaits her there? I seem to see her setting off from a posting station in a snow-storm with thirty degrees of frost. She’s leaving her country, and her people; but I understand her doing it. Whom is she leaving here behind her? What people has she seen? Kurnatovsky and Bersenyev and our humble selves; and these are the best she’s seen. What is there to regret about it? One thing’s bad; I’m told her husband — the devil, how that word sticks in my throat! — Insarov, I’m told, is spitting blood; that’s a bad lookout. I saw him the other day: his face — you could model Brutus from it straight off. Do you know who Brutus was, Uvar Ivanovitch?’

‘What is there to know? a man to be sure.’

‘Precisely so: he was a “man.” Yes he’s a wonderful face, but unhealthy, very unhealthy.’

‘For fighting . . . it makes no difference,’ observed Uvar Ivanovitch.

‘For fighting it makes no difference, certainly; you are pleased to express yourself with great justice to-day; but for living it makes all the difference. And you see she wants to live with him a little while.’

‘A youthful affair,’ responded Uvar Ivanovitch.

‘Yes, a youthful, glorious, bold affair. Death, life, conflict, defeat, triumph, love, freedom, country. . . . Good God, grant as much to all of us! That’s a very different thing from sitting up to one’s neck in a bog, and pretending it’s all the same to you, when in fact it really is all the same. While there — the strings are tuned to the highest pitch, to play to all the world or to break!’

Shubin’s head sank on to his breast.

‘Yes,’ he resumed, after a prolonged silence, ‘Insarov deserves her. What nonsense, though! No one deserves her . . . Insarov . . . Insarov . . . What’s the use of pretended modesty? We’ll own he’s a fine fellow, he stands on his own feet, though up to the present he has done no more than we poor sinners; and are we such absolutely worthless dirt? Am I such dirt, Uvar Ivanovitch? Has God been hard on me in every way? Has He given me no talents, no abilities? Who knows, perhaps, the name of Pavel Shubin will in time be a great name? You see that bronze farthing there lying on your table. Who knows; some day, perhaps in a century, that bronze will go to a statue of Pavel Shubin, raised in his honour by a grateful posterity!’

Uvar Ivanovitch leaned on his elbow and stared at the enthusiastic artist.

‘That’s a long way off,’ he said at last with his usual gesture; ‘we’re speaking of other people, why bring in yourself?’

‘O great philosopher of the Russian world!’ cried Shubin, ‘every word of yours is worth its weight in gold, and it’s not to me but to you a statue ought to be raised, and I would undertake it. There, as you are lying now, in that pose; one doesn’t know which is uppermost in it, sloth or strength! That’s how I would cast you in bronze. You aimed a just reproach at my egoism and vanity! Yes! yes! it’s useless talking of one’s-self; it’s useless bragging. We have no one yet, no men, look where you will. Everywhere — either small fry, nibblers, Hamlets on a small scale, self-absorbed, or darkness and subterranean chaos, or idle babblers and wooden sticks. Or else they are like this: they study themselves to the most shameful detail, and are for ever feeling the pulse of every sensation and reporting to themselves: “That’s what I feel, that’s what I think.” A useful, rational occupation! No, if we only had some sensible men among us, that girl, that delicate soul, would not have run away from us, would not have slipped off like a fish to the water! What’s the meaning of it, Uvar Ivanovitch? When will our time come? When will men be born among us?’

‘Give us time,’ answered Uvar Ivanovitch; ‘they will be ——’

‘They will be? soil of our country! force of the black earth! thou hast said: they will be. Look, I will write down your words. But why are you putting out the candle?’

‘I’m going to sleep; good-bye.’


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