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- Rudin - 30/32 -


'Now, then,' he began, 'tell me all that has happened to you since I saw you last'

Rudin looked at Lezhnyov.

'Good God!' thought Lezhnyov, 'how he has changed, poor fellow!'

Rudin's features had undergone little change since we saw him last at the posting-station, though approaching old age had had time to set its mark upon them; but their expression had become different. His eyes had a changed look; his whole being, his movements, which were at one time slow, at another abrupt and disconnected, his crushed, benumbed manner of speaking, all showed an utter exhaustion, a quiet and secret dejection, very different from the half-assumed melancholy which he had affected once, as it is generally affected by youth, when full of hopes and confident vanity.

'Tell you all that has happened to me?' he said; 'I could not tell you all, and it is not worth while. I am worn out; I have wandered far--in spirit as well as in flesh. What friends I have made--good God! How many things, how many men I have lost faith in! Yes, how many!' repeated Rudin, noticing that Lezhnyov was looking in his face with a kind of special sympathy. 'How many times have my own words grown hateful to me! I don't mean now on my own lips, but on the lips of those who had adopted my opinions! How many times have I passed from the petulance of a child to the dull insensibility of a horse who does not lash his tail when the whip cuts him! . . . How many times I have been happy and hopeful, and have made enemies and humbled myself for nothing! How many times I have taken flight like an eagle--and returned crawling like a snail whose shell has been crushed! . . . Where have I not been! What roads have I not travelled! . . . And the roads are often dirty,' added Rudin, slightly turning away. 'You know . . .' he was continuing. . . . 'Listen,' interrupted Lezhnyov. 'We used once to say "Dmitri and Mihail" to one another. Let us revive the old habit, . . . will you? Let us drink to those days!'

Rudin started and drew himself up a little, and there was a gleam in his eyes of something no word can express.

'Let us drink to them,' he said. 'I thank you, brother, we will drink to them!'

Lezhnyov and Rudin drained their glasses.

'You know, Mihail,' Rudin began again with a smile and a stress on the name, 'there is a worm in me which gnaws and worries me and never lets me be at peace till the end. It brings me into collision with people,--at first they fall under my influence, but afterwards . . .'

Rudin waved his hand in the air.

'Since I parted from you, Mihail, I have seen much, have experienced many changes. . . . I have begun life, have started on something new twenty times--and here--you see!'

'You had no stability,' said Lezhnyov, as though to himself.

'As you say, I had no stability. I never was able to construct anything; and it's a difficult thing, brother, to construct when one has to create the very ground under one's feet, to make one's own foundation for one's self! All my adventures--that is, speaking accurately, all my failures, I will not describe. I will tell of two or three incidents--those incidents of my life when it seemed as if success were smiling on me, or rather when I began to hope for success--which is not altogether the same thing . . .'

Rudin pushed back his grey and already sparse locks with the same gesture which he used once to toss back his thick, dark curls.

'Well, I will tell you, Mihail,' he began. 'In Moscow I came across a rather strange man. He was very wealthy and was the owner of extensive estates. His chief and only passion was love of science, universal science. I have never yet been able to arrive at how this passion arose in him! It fitted him about as well as a saddle on a cow. He managed with difficulty to maintain himself at his mental elevation, he was almost without the power of speech, he only rolled his eyes with expression and shook his head significantly. I never met, brother, a poorer and less gifted nature than his. . . . In the Smolensk province there are places like that--nothing but sand and a few tufts of grass which no animal can eat. Nothing succeeded in his hands; everything seemed to slip away from him; but he was still mad on making everything plain complicated. If it had depended on his arrangements, his people would have eaten standing on their heads. He worked, and wrote, and read indefatigably. He devoted himself to science with a kind of stubborn perseverance, a terrible patience; his vanity was immense, and he had a will of iron. He lived alone, and had the reputation of an eccentric. I made friends with him . . . and he liked me. I quickly, I must own, saw through him; but his zeal attracted me. Besides, he was the master of such resources; so much good might be done, so much real usefulness through him. . . . I was installed in his house and went with him to the country. My plans, brother, were on a vast scale; I dreamed of various reforms, innovations . . .'

'Just as at the Lasunsky's, do you remember, Dmitri?' responded Lezhnyov, with an indulgent smile.

'Ah, but then I knew in my heart that nothing would come of my words; but this time . . . an altogether different field of activity lay open before me. . . . I took with me books on agriculture . . . to tell the truth, I did not read one of them through. . . . Well, I set to work. At first it did not progress as I had expected; but afterwards it did get on in a way. My new friend looked on and said nothing; he did not interfere with me, at least not to any noticeable extent. He accepted my suggestions, and carried them out, but with a stubborn sullenness, a secret want of faith; and he bent everything his own way. He prized extremely every idea of his own. He got to it with difficulty, like a ladybird on a blade of grass, and he would sit and sit upon it, as though pluming his wings and getting ready for a flight, and suddenly he would fall off and begin crawling again. . . . Don't be surprised at these comparisons; at that time they were always crowding on my imagination. So I struggled on there for two years. The work did not progress much in spite of all my efforts. I began to be tired of it, my friend bored me; I had come to sneer at him, and he stifled me like a featherbed; his want of faith had changed into a dumb resentment; a feeling of hostility had laid hold of both of us; we could scarcely now speak of anything; he quietly but incessantly tried to show me that he was not under my influence; my arrangements were either set aside or altogether transformed. I realised, at last, that I was playing the part of a toady in the noble landowner's house by providing him with intellectual amusement. It was very bitter to me to have wasted my time and strength for nothing, most bitter to feel that I had again and again been deceived in my expectations. I knew very well what I was losing if I went away; but I could not control myself, and one day after a painful and revolting scene of which I was a witness, and which showed my friend in a most disadvantageous light, I quarrelled with him finally, went away, and threw up this newfangled pedant, made of a queer compound of our native flour kneaded up with German treacle.'

'That is, you threw up your daily bread, Dmitri,' said Lezhnyov, laying both hands on Rudin's shoulders.

'Yes, and again I was turned adrift, empty-handed and penniless, to fly whither I listed. Ah! let us drink!'

'To your health!' said Lezhnyov, getting up and kissing Rudin on the forehead. 'To your health and to the memory of Pokorsky. He, too, knew how to be poor.'

'Well, that was number one of my adventures,' began Rudin, after a short pause. 'Shall I go on?'

'Go on, please.'

'Ah! I have no wish for talking. I am tired of talking, brother. . . . However, so be it. After knocking about in various parts--by the way, I might tell you how I became the secretary of a benevolent dignitary, and what came of that; but that would take me too long. . . . After knocking about in various parts, I resolved to become at last--don't smile, please--a practical business man. The opportunity came in this way. I became friendly with--he was much talked of at one time--a man called Kurbyev.'

'Oh, I never heard of him. But, really, Dmitri, with your intelligence, how was it you did not suspect that to be a business man was not the business for you?'

'I know, brother, that it was not; but, then, what is the business for me? But if you had seen Kurbyev! Do not, pray, fancy him as some empty-headed chatterer. They say I was eloquent once. I was simply nothing beside him. He was a man of wonderful learning and knowledge,--an intellect, brother, a creative intellect, for business and commercial enterprises. His brain seemed seething with the boldest, the most unexpected schemes. I joined him and we decided to turn our powers to a work of public utility.'

'What was it, may I know?'

Rudin dropped his eyes.

'You will laugh at it, Mihail.

'Why should I? No, I will not laugh.'

'We resolved to make a river in the K---- province fit for navigation,' said Rudin with an embarrassed smile.

'Really! This Kurbyev was a capitalist, then?'

'He was poorer than I,' responded Rudin, and his grey head sank on his breast.

Lezhnyov began to laugh, but he stopped suddenly and took Rudin by the hand.

'Pardon me, brother, I beg,' he said, 'but I did not expect that. Well, so I suppose your enterprise did not get further than paper?'

'Not so. A beginning was made. We hired workmen, and set to work. But then we were met by various obstacles. In the first place the millowners would not meet us favourably at all; and more than that, we could not turn the water out of its course without machinery, and we had not money enough for machinery. For six months we lived in mud huts. Kurbyev lived on dry bread, and I, too, had not much to eat. However, I don't complain of that; the scenery there is something magnificent. We struggled and struggled on, appealing to merchants, writing letters and circulars. It ended in my spending my last farthing on the project.'


Rudin - 30/32

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