FATHERS AND SONS
“So here you are, a graduate at last — and home again,” said Nikolai Petrovich, touching Arkady now on the shoulder, now on the knee. “At last!”
“And how is uncle? Is he well?” asked Arkady, who in spite of the genuine, almost childish joy which filled him, wanted as soon as possible to turn the conversation from an emotional to a more commonplace level.
“Quite well. He wanted to come with me to meet you, but for some reason he changed his mind.”
“And did you have a long wait for me?” asked Arkady.
“Oh, about five hours.”
“You dear old daddy!”
Arkady turned round briskly to his father and gave him a resounding kiss on the cheek. Nikolai Petrovich laughed quietly.
“I’ve got a splendid horse for you,” he began. “You will see for yourself. And your room has been freshly papered.”
“And is there a room ready for Bazarov?”
“We will find one all right.”
“Please, Daddy, be kind to him. I can’t tell you how much I value his friendship.”
“You met him only recently?”
“That’s how I didn’t see him last winter. What is he studying?”
“His chief subject is — natural science. But he knows everything. Next year he wants to take his doctor’s degree.”
“Ah! he’s in the medical faculty,” remarked Nikolai Petrovich, and fell silent. “Pyotr,” he went on, stretching out his hand, “aren’t those our peasants driving along?”
Pyotr looked aside to where his master was pointing. A few carts, drawn by unbridled horses, were rolling rapidly along a narrow side-track. In each cart were seated one or two peasants in unbuttoned sheepskin coats.
“Just so, sir,” replied Pyotr.
“Where are they going — to the town?”
“To the town, I suppose — to the pub,” Pyotr added contemptuously, and half turned towards the coachman as if including him in the reproach. But the latter did not turn a hair; he was a man of the old type and did not share the latest views of the younger generation.
“The peasants have given me a lot of trouble this year,” went on Nikolai Petrovich, turning to his son. “They won’t pay their rent. What is one to do?”
“And are you satisfied with your hired laborers?”
“Yes,” said Nikolai Petrovich between his teeth. “But they’re being set against me, that’s the worst of it, and they don’t really work properly; they spoil the tools. However, they’ve managed to plough the land. We shall manage somehow — there will be enough flour to go round. Are you starting to be interested in agriculture?”
“What a pity you have no shade,” remarked Arkady, without answering the last question.
“I have had a big awning put up on the north side over the veranda,” said Nikolai Petrovich; “now we can even have dinner in the open air.”
“Won’t it be rather too like a summer villa? . . . But that’s a minor matter. What air there is here! How wonderful it smells. Really it seems to me no air in the world is so sweetly scented as here! And the sky too . . .” Arkady suddenly stopped, cast a quick look behind him and did not finish his sentence.
“Naturally,” observed Nikolai Petrovich, “you were born here, so everything is bound to strike you with a special — ”
“Really, Daddy, it makes absolutely no difference where a person is born.”
“Still — ”
“No, it makes no difference at all.”
Nikolai Petrovich glanced sideways at his son, and the carriage went on half a mile farther before their conversation was renewed.
“I forget if I wrote to you,” began Nikolai Petrovich, “that your old nurse Yegorovna has died.”
“Really? Poor old woman! And is Prokovich still alive?”
“Yes, and not changed a bit. He grumbles as much as ever. Indeed, you won’t find many changes at Maryino.”
“Have you still the same bailiff?”
“Well, I have made a change there. I decided it was better not to keep around me any freed serfs who had been house servants; at least not to entrust them with any responsible jobs.” Arkady glanced towards Pyotr.“Il est libre en effet,” said Nikolai Petrovich in an undertone, “but as you see, he’s only a valet. My new bailiff is a townsman — he seems fairly efficient. I pay him 250 rubles a year. But,” added Nikolai Petrovich, rubbing his forehead and eyebrows with his hand (which was always with him a sign of embarrassment), “I told you just now you would find no changes at Maryino, . . . That’s not quite true . . . I think it my duty to tell you in advance, though . . . .”
He hesitated for a moment and then went on in French.
“A severe moralist would consider my frankness improper, but in the first place I can’t conceal it, and then, as you know, I have always had my own particular principles about relations between father and son. Of course you have a right to blame me. At my age . . . To cut a long story short, that — that girl about whom you’ve probably heard . . . .”
“Fenichka?” inquired Arkady casually.
Nikolai Petrovich blushed.
“Don’t mention her name so loudly, please . . . Well, yes . . . she lives with me now. I have installed her in the house . . . there were two small rooms available. Of course, all that can be altered.”
“But why, Daddy; what for?’
“Your friend will be staying with us . . . it will be awkward.”
“Please don’t worry about Bazarov. He’s above all that.”
“Well, but you too,” added Nikolai Petrovich. “Unfortunately the little side-wing is in such a bad state.”
“For goodness’ sake, Daddy,” interposed Arkady. “You needn’t apologize. Are you ashamed?”
“Of course, I ought to be ashamed,” answered Nikolai Petrovich, turning redder and redder.
“Enough of that, Daddy, please don’t . . .” Arkady smiled affectionately. “What a thing to apologize for,” he thought to himself, and his heart was filled with a feeling of indulgent tenderness for his kind, soft-hearted father, mixed with a sense of secret superiority. “Please stop that,” he repeated once more, instinctively enjoying the awareness of his own more emancipated outlook.
Nikolai Petrovich looked at his son through the fingers of the hand with which he was again rubbing his forehead, and a pang seized his heart . . . but he immediately reproached himself for it.
“Here are our own meadows at last,” he remarked after a long silence.
“And that is our forest over there, isn’t it?” asked Arkady.
“Yes. But I have sold it. This year they will cut it down for timber.”
“Why did you sell it?”
“We need the money; besides, that land will be taken over by the peasants.”
“Who don’t pay their rent?”
“That’s their affair; anyhow they will pay it some day.”
“It’s a pity about the forest,” said Arkady, and began to look around him.
The country through which they were driving could not possibly be called picturesque. Field after field stretched right up to the horizon, now gently sloping upwards, then slanting down again; in some places woods were visible and winding ravines, planted with low scrubby bushes, vividly reminiscent of the way in which they were represented on the old maps of Catherine’s times. They passed by little streams with hollow banks and ponds with narrow dams, small villages with low huts under dark and often crumbling roofs, and crooked barns with walls woven out of dry twigs and with gaping doorways opening on to neglected threshing floors; and churches, some brick-built with the stucco covering peeling off in patches, others built of wood, near crosses fallen crooked in the overgrown graveyards. Gradually Arkady’s heart began to sink. As if to complete the picture, the peasants whom they met were all in rags and mounted on the most wretched-looking little horses; the willows, with their broken branches and trunks stripped of bark, stood like tattered beggars along the roadside; lean and shaggy cows, pinched with hunger, were greedily tearing up grass along the ditches. They looked as if they had just been snatched out of the clutches of some terrifying murderous monster; and the pitiful sight of these emaciated animals in the setting of that gorgeous spring day conjured up, like a white ghost, the vision of interminable joyless winter with its storms, frosts and snows . . . “No,” thought Arkady, “this country is far from rich, and the people seem neither contented nor industrious; we just can’t let things go on like this; reforms are indispensable . . . but how are we to execute them, how should we begin?”
Such were Arkady’s thoughts . . . but even while he was thinking, the spring regained its sway. All around lay a sea of golden green — everything, trees, bushes and grass, vibrated and stirred in gentle waves under the breath of the warm breeze; from every side the larks were pouring out their loud continuous trills; the plovers were calling as they glided over the low-lying meadows or noiselessly ran over the tufts of grass; the crows strutted about in the low spring corn, looking picturesquely black against its tender green; they disappeared in the already whitening rye, only from time to time their heads peeped out from among its misty waves. Arkady gazed and gazed and his thoughts grew slowly fainter and died away . . . He flung off his overcoat and turned round with such a bright boyish look that his father hugged him once again.
“We’re not far away now,” remarked Nikolai Petrovich. “As soon as we get to the top of this hill the house will be in sight. We shall have a fine life together, Arkasha; you will help me to farm the land, if only it doesn’t bore you. We must draw close to each other now and get to know each other better, mustn’t we?”
“Of course,” murmured Arkady. “But what a wonderful day it is!”
“To welcome you home, my dear one. Yes, this is spring in all its glory. Though I agree with Pushkin — do you remember, in Evgeny Onegin,
“‘To me how sad your coming is,
“Arkady,” shouted Bazarov’s voice from the tarantass, “give me a match. I’ve got nothing to light my pipe with.”
Nikolai Petrovich fell silent, while Arkady, who had been listening to him with some surprise but not without sympathy, hurriedly pulled a silver matchbox out of his pocket and told Pyotr to take it over to Bazarov.
“Do you want a cigar?” shouted Bazarov again.
“Thanks,” answered Arkady.
Pyotr came back to the carriage and handed him, together with the matchbox, a thick black cigar, which Arkady started to smoke at once, spreading around him such a strong and acrid smell of cheap tobacco that Nikolai Petrovich, who had never been a smoker, was forced to turn away his head, which he did unobtrusively, to avoid hurting his son’s feelings.
A quarter of an hour later both carriages drew up in front of the porch of a new wooden house, painted grey, with a red iron roof. This was Maryino, also known as New Hamlet, or as the peasants had nicknamed it, Landless Farm.