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- A House of Gentlefolk - 10/35 -


immediately after their wedding, he traveled alone with his wife in the comfortable carriage, bought by her, to Lavriky. How carefully everything with which he was surrounded had been thought of, devised and provided beforehand by Varvara Pavlovna! What charming knick-knacks appeared from various snug corners, what fascinating toilet-cases and coffee-pots, and how delightfully Varvara Pavlovna herself made the coffee in the morning! Lavretsky, however, was not at that time disposed to be observant; he was blissful, drunk with happiness; he gave himself up to it like a child. Indeed he was as innocent as a child, this young Hercules. Not in vain was the whole personality of his young wife breathing with fascination; not in vain was her promise to the senses of a mysterious luxury of untold bliss; her fulfillment was richer than her promise. When she reached Lavriky in the very height of the summer, she found the house dark and dirty, the servants absurd and old-fashioned, but she did not think it necessary even to hint at this to her husband. If she had proposed to establish herself at Lavriky, she would have changed everything in it, beginning of course with the house; but the idea of staying in that out-of-the-way corner of the steppes never entered her head for an instant; she lived as in a tent, good-temperedly putting up with all its inconveniences, and indulgently making merry over then. Marfa Timofyevna came to pay a visit to her former charge; Varvara Pavlovna liked her very much, but she did not like Varvara Pavlovna. The new mistress did not get on with Glafira Petrovna either; she would have left her in peace, but old Korobyin wanted to have a hand in the management of his son-in-law's affairs; to superintend the property of such a near relative, he said, was not beneath the dignity of even a general. One must add that Pavel Petrovitch would not have been above managing the property even of a total stranger. Varvara Pavlovna conducted her attack very skillfully, without taking any step in advance, apparently completely absorbed in the bliss of the honeymoon, in the peaceful life of the country, in music and reading, she gradually worked Glafira up to such a point that she rushed one morning, like one possessed, into Lavretsky's study, and throwing a bunch of keys on the table, she declared that she was not equal to undertaking the management any longer, and did not want to stop in the place. Lavretsky, having been suitably prepared beforehand, at once agreed to her departure. This Glafira Petrovna had not anticipated. "Very well," she said, and her face darkened, "I see that I am not wanted here! I know who is driving me out of the home of my fathers. Only you mark my words, nephew; you will never make a home anywhere, you will come to be a wanderer for ever. That is my last word to you." The same day she went away to her own little property, and in a week General Korobyin was there, and with a pleasant melancholy in his looks and movements he took the superintendence of the whole property into his hands.

In the month of September, Varvara Pavlovna carried her husband off to Petersburg. She passed two winters in Petersburg (for the summer she went to stay at Tsarskoe Selo), in a splendid, light, artistically- furnished flat; they made many acquaintances among the middle and even higher ranks of society; went out and entertained a great deal, and gave the most charming dances and musical evenings. Varvara Pavlovna attracted guests as a fire attracts moths. Fedor Ivanitch did not altogether like such a frivolous life. His wife advised him to take some office under government; but from old association with his father, and also through his own ideas, he was unwilling to enter government service, still he remained in Petersburg for Varvara Pavlovna's pleasure. He soon discovered, however, that no one hindered him from being alone; that it was not for nothing that he had the quietest and most comfortable study in all Petersburg; that his tender wife was even ready to aid him to! be alone; and from that time forth all went well. He again applied himself to his own, as he considered, unfinished education; he began again to read, and even began to learn English. It was a strange sight to see his powerful, broad-shouldered figure for ever bent over his writing table, his full-bearded ruddy face half buried in the pages of a dictionary or note-book. Every morning he set to work, then had a capital dinner (Varvara Pavlovna was unrivaled as a housekeeper), and in the evenings he entered an enchanted world of light and perfume, peopled by gay young faces, and the centre of this world was also the careful housekeeper, his wife. She rejoiced his heart by the birth of a son, but the poor child did not live long; it died in the spring, and in the summer, by the advice of the doctors, Lavretsky took his wife abroad to a watering-place. Distraction was essential for her after such a trouble, and her health, too, required a warm climate. The summer and autumn they spent in Germany and Switzerland, and for the winter, as one would naturally expect, they went to Paris. In Paris, Varvara Pavlovna bloomed like a rose, and was able to make herself a little nest as quickly and cleverly as in Petersburg. She found very pretty apartments in one of the quiet but fashionable streets in Paris; she embroidered her husband such a dressing-gown as he had never worn before; engaged a coquettish waiting maid, an excellent cook, and a smart footman, procured a fascinating carriage, and an exquisite piano. Before a week had passed, she crossed the street, wore her shawl, opened her parasol, and put on her gloves in a manner equal to the most true-born Parisian. And she soon drew round herself acquaintances. At first, only Russians visited her, afterwards Frenchmen too, very agreeable, polite, and unmarried, with excellent manners and well-sounding names; they all talked a great deal and very fast, bowed easily, grimaced agreeably; their white teeth flashed under their rosy lips--and how they could smile! All! of them brought their friends, and la belle Madame de Lavretsky was soon known from Chausee d'Antin to Rue de Lille. In those days--it was in 1836--there had not yet arisen the tribe of journalists and reporters who now swarm on all sides like ants in an ant-hill; but even then there was seen in Varvara Pavlovna's salon a certain M. Jules, a gentleman of unprepossessing exterior, with a scandalous reputation, insolent and mean, like all duelists and men who have been beaten. Varvara Pavlovna felt a great aversion to this M. Jules, but she received him because he wrote for various journals, and was incessantly mentioning her, calling her at one time Madame de L-----tski, at another Madame de -----, cette grande dame russe si distinguee, qui demeure rue de P----- and telling all the world, that is, some hundreds of readers who had nothing to do with Madame de L-----tski, how charming and delightful this lady was; a true Frenchwoman in intelligence (une vraie francaise par l'esprit)-- Frenchmen have no higher praise than this--what an extraordinary musician she was, and how marvelously she waltzed (Varvara Pavlovna did in fact waltz so that she drew all her hearts to the hem of her light flying skirts)--in a word, he spread her fame through the world, and, whatever one may say, that is pleasant. Mademoiselle Mars had already left the stage, and Mademoiselle Rachel had not yet made her appearance; nevertheless, Varvara Pavlovna was assiduous in visiting the theatres. She went into raptures over Italian music, yawned decorously at the Comedie Francaise, and wept at the acting of Madame Dorval in some ultra romantic melodrama; and a great thing--Liszt played twice in her salon, and was so kind, so simple--it was charming! In such agreeable sensations was spent the winter, at the end of which Varvara Pavlovna was even presented at court. Fedor Ivanitch, for his part, was not bored, though his life, at times, weighed rather heavily on him--because it was empty. He read the papers, listened to the lectures at the Sorbonne and the College de France, followed the debates in the Chambers, and set to work on a translation of a well-known scientific treatise on irrigation. "I am not wasting my time," he thought, "it is all of use; but next winter I must, without fail, return to Russia and set to work." It is difficult to say whether he had any clear idea of precisely what this work would consist of; and there is no telling whether he would have succeeded in going to Russia in the winter; in the meantime, he was going with his wife to Baden . . An unexpected incident broke up all his plans.

Chapter XVI

Happening to go one day in Varvara Pavlovna's absence into her boudoir, Lavretsky saw on the floor a carefully folded little paper. He mechanically picked it up, unfolded it, and read the following note, written in French:

"Sweet angel Betsy (I never can make up my mind to call you Barbe or Varvara), I waited in vain for you at the corner of the boulevard; come to our little room at half-past one to-morrow. Your stout good-natured husband (ton gros bonhomme de mari) is usually buried in his books at that time; we will sing once more the song of your poet Pouskine (de botre poete Pouskine) that you taught me: 'Old husband, cruel husband!' A thousand kisses on your little hands and feet. I await you.

Ernest."

Lavretsky did not at once understand what he had read; he read it a second time, and his head began to swim, the ground began to sway under his feet like the deck of a ship in a rolling sea. He began to cry out and gasp and weep all at the same instant.

He was utterly overwhelmed. He had so blindly believed in his wife; the possibility of deception, of treason, had never presented itself to his mind. This Ernest, his wife's lover, was a fair-haired pretty boy of three-and-twenty, with a little turned-up nose and refined little moustaches, almost the most insignificant of all her acquaintances. A few minutes passed, half an hour passed, Lavretsky still stood, crushing the fatal note in his hands, and gazing senselessly at the floor; across a kind of tempest of darkness pale shapes hovered about him; his heart was numb with anguish; he seemed to be falling, falling--and a bottomless abyss was opening at his feet. A familiar light rustle of a silk dress roused him from his numbness; Varvara Pavlovna in her hat and shawl was returning in haste from her walk. Lavretsky trembled all over and rushed away; he felt that at that instant he was capable of tearing her to pieces, beating her to death, as a peasant might do, strangling her with his own hands. Varvara Pavlovna in amazement tried to stop him; he could only whisper, "Betsy,"--and ran out of the house.

Lavretsky took a cab and ordered the man to drive him out of town. All the rest of the day and the whole night he wandered about, constantly stopping short and wringing his hands, at one moment he was mad, and the next he was ready to laugh, was even merry after a fashion. By the morning he grew calm through exhaustion, and went into a wretched tavern in the outskirts, asked for a room and sat down on a chair before the window. He was overtaken by a fit of convulsive yawning. He could scarcely stand upright, his whole body was worn out, and he did not even feel fatigue, though fatigue began to do its work; he sat and gazed and comprehended nothing; he did not understand what had happened to him, why he found himself alone, with his limbs stiff, with a taste of bitterness in his mouth, with a load on his heart, in an empty unfamiliar room; he did not understand what had impelled her, his Varya, to give herself to this Frenchman, and how, knowing herself unfaithful, she could go on being just as calm, just as affectionate, as confidential with him as before! "I cannot understand it!" his parched lips whispered. "Who can guarantee now that even in Petersburg" . . . And he did not finish the question, and yawned again, shivering and shaking all over. Memories--bright and gloomy--fretted him alike; suddenly it crossed his mind how some days before she had sat down to the piano and sung before him and Ernest the song, "Old husband, cruel husband!" He recalled the expression of her face, the strange light in her eyes, and the colour on her cheeks--and he got up from his seat, he would have liked to go to them, to tell them: "You were wrong to play your tricks on me; my great-grandfather used to hang the peasants up by their ribs, and my grandfather was himself a peasant," and to kill them both. Then all at once it seemed to him as if all that was happening was a dream, scarcely even a dream, but some kind of foolish joke; that he need only shake himself and look round . . . He looked round, and like


A House of Gentlefolk - 10/35

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