FATHERS AND SONS
Bazarov came back, sat down at the table and began to drink tea hurriedly. Both brothers watched him in silence, and Arkady glanced furtively from one to the other.
“Did you walk far this morning?” asked Nikolai Petrovich at last.
“To where you’ve got a little marsh near an aspen wood. I scared away five snipe. You might shoot them, Arkady.”
“So you’re not a sportsman yourself?”
“Isn’t physics your special subject?” asked Pavel Petrovich in his turn.
“Yes, physics, and natural science in general.”
“They say the Teutons have lately had great success in that line.”
“Yes, the Germans are our teachers in it,” Bazarov answered carelessly.
Pavel Petrovich had used the word “Teutons” instead of “Germans” with an ironical intention, which, however, no one noticed.
“Have you such a high opinion of Germans?” asked Pavel Petrovich with exaggerated politeness. He was beginning to feel a concealed irritation. Bazarov’s complete nonchalance disgusted his aristocratic nature. This surgeon’s son was not only self-assured, he even answered abruptly and unwillingly and there was something coarse and almost insolent in the tone of his voice.
“Their scientists are a clever lot.”
“Ah, yes. I expect you hold a less flattering opinion about Russian scientists.”
“That is very praiseworthy self-denial,” said Pavel Petrovich, drawing himself up and throwing back his head. “But how is it that Arkady Nikolaich was telling us just now that you acknowledge no authorities? Don’t you even believe in them?”
“Why should I acknowledge them, or believe in them? If they tell me the truth, I agree — that’s all.”
“And do all Germans tell the truth?” murmured Pavel Petrovich, and his face took on a distant, detached expression, as if he had withdrawn to some misty height.
“Not all,” answered Bazarov with a short yawn, obviously not wanting to prolong the discussion.
Pavel Petrovich looked at Arkady, as if he wanted to say, “How polite your friend is.”
“As far as I’m concerned,” he began again with some effort, “I plead guilty of not liking Germans. There’s no need to mention Russian Germans, we all know what sort of creatures they are. But even German Germans don’t appeal to me. Formerly there were a few Germans here and there; well, Schiller for instance, or Goethe — my brother is particularly fond of them — but nowadays they all seem to have turned into chemists and materialists . . .”
“A decent chemist is twenty times more useful than any poet,” interrupted Bazarov.
“Oh, indeed!” remarked Pavel Petrovich, and as if he were falling asleep he slightly raised his eyebrows. “So you don’t acknowledge art?”
“The art of making money or of advertising pills!” cried Bazarov, with a contemptuous laugh.
“Ah, just so; you like joking, I see. So you reject all that Very well. So you believe in science only?”
“I have already explained to you that I don’t believe in anything; and what is science — science in the abstract? There are sciences, as there are trades and professions, but abstract science just doesn’t exist.”
“Excellent. Well, and do you maintain the same negative attitude towards other traditions which have become generally accepted for human conduct?”
“What is this, a cross-examination?” asked Bazarov.
Pavel Petrovich turned a little pale . . . Nikolai Petrovich felt that the moment had come for him to intervene in the conversation.
“Sometime we should discuss this subject with you in greater detail, my dear Evgeny Vassilich; we will hear your views and express our own. I must say I’m personally very glad you are studying natural science. I heard that Liebig made some wonderful discoveries about improving the soil. You can help me in my agricultural work and give me some useful advice.”
“I’m at your service, Nikolai Petrovich, but Liebig is quite above our heads. We must first learn the alphabet and only then begin to read, and we haven’t yet grasped the a b c.”
“You are a nihilist all right,” thought Nikolai Petrovich, and added aloud, “All the same I hope you will let me apply to you occasionally. And now, brother, I think it’s time for us to go and have our talk with the bailiff.”
Pavel Petrovich rose from his seat. “Yes,” he said, without looking at anyone; “it’s sad to have lived like this for five years in the country, far from mighty intellects! You turn into a fool straight away. You try not to forget what you have learned — and then one fine day it turns out to be all rubbish, and they tell you that experienced people have nothing to do with such nonsense, and that you, if you please, are an antiquated old simpleton. What’s to be done? Obviously young people are cleverer than we.”
Pavel Petrovich turned slowly on his heels and went out; Nikolai Petrovich followed him.
“Is he always like that?” Bazarov coolly asked Arkady directly the door had closed behind the two brothers.
“I must say, Evgeny, you were unnecessarily rude to him,” remarked Arkady. “You hurt his feelings.”
“Well, am I to humor them, these provincial aristocrats? Why, it’s all personal vanity, smart habits, and foppery. He should have continued his career in Petersburg if that’s his turn of mind . . . But enough of him! I’ve found a rather rare specimen of water beetle, Dytiscus marginatus — do you know it? I’ll show you.”
“I promised to tell you his story . . .” began Arkady.
“The story of the beetle?”
“Come, come, Evgeny — the story of my uncle. You’ll see he’s not the kind of man you take him for. He deserves pity rather than ridicule.”
“I don’t dispute, but why do you worry about him?”
“One should be just, Evgeny.”
“How does that follow?”
“No, listen . . .”
And Arkady told him his uncle’s story. The reader will find it in the following chapter.