FATHERS AND SONS
Pavel Petrovich did not stay long at his brother’s interview with the bailiff, a tall, thin man with the soft voice of a consumptive and cunning eyes, who to all Nikolai Petrovich’s remarks answered, “Indeed, certainly, sir,” and tried to show up the peasants as thieves and drunkards. The estate had only just started to be run on the new system, whose mechanism still creaked like an ungreased wheel and cracked in places like homemade furniture of raw, unseasoned wood. Nikolai Petrovich did not lose heart but he often sighed and felt discouraged; he realized that things could not be improved without more money, and his money was almost all spent. Arkady had spoken the truth; Pavel Petrovich had helped his brother more than once; several times, seeing him perplexed, racking his brains, not knowing which way to turn, Pavel Petrovich had moved towards the window, and with his hands thrust into his pockets had muttered between his teeth, “Mais je puis vous donner de l’argent,” and gave him money; but today he had none left himself and he preferred to go away. The petty disputes of agricultural management wearied him; besides, he could not help feeling that Nikolai Petrovich, with all his zeal and hard work, did not set about things in the right way, although he could not point out exactly what were his brother’s mistakes. “My brother is not practical enough,” he would say to himself; “they cheat him.” On the other hand, Nikolai Petrovich had the highest opinion of Pavel Petrovich’s practical capacity and was always asking for his advice. “I’m a mild, weak person, I’ve spent my life in the depths of the country,” he used to say, “while you haven’t seen so much of the world for nothing; you understand people, you see through them with an eagle’s eye.” In answer to such words, Pavel Petrovich only turned aside but did not contradict his brother.
Leaving Nikolai Petrovich in the study, he walked along the corridor which separated the front portion of the house from the back; on reaching a low door he stopped and hesitated for a moment, then, pulling at his mustache, he knocked on it.
“Who is there? Come in,” called out Fenichka’s voice.
“It is me,” said Pavel Petrovich, and opened the door. Fenichka jumped up from the chair on which she was sitting with her baby, and putting him into the arms of a girl who at once carried him out of the room, she hastily straightened her kerchief.
“Excuse me for disturbing you,” began Pavel Petrovich without looking at her; “I only wanted to ask you . . . as they are sending into the town today . . . to see that they buy some green tea for me.”
“Certainly,” answered Fenichka, “how much tea do you want?”
“Oh, half a pound will be enough, I should think. I see you have made some changes here,” he added, casting a rapid look around and at Fenichka’s face. “Those curtains,” he went on, seeing that she did not understand him.
“Oh, yes, the curtains; Nikolai Petrovich kindly gave them to me, but they’ve been hung up for quite a long time.”
“Yes, and I haven’t been to see you for a long time. Now it is all very nice here.”
“Thanks to Nikolai Petrovich’s kindness,” murmured Fenichka.
“You are more comfortable here than in the little side-wing where you used to be?” inquired Pavel Petrovich politely but without any trace of a smile.
“Certainly, it is better here.”
“Who has been put in your place now?”
“The laundrymaids are there now.”
Pavel Petrovich was silent. “Now he will go,” thought Fenichka; but he did not go and she stood in front of him rooted to the spot, moving her fingers nervously.
“Why did you send your little one away?” said Pavel Petrovich at last. “I love children; do let me see him.”
Fenichka blushed all over with confusion and joy. She was frightened of Pavel Petrovich; he hardly ever spoke to her.
“Dunyasha,” she called. “Will you bring Mitya, please?” (Fenichka was polite to every member of the household.) “But wait a moment; he must have a frock on.” Fenichka was going towards the door.
“That doesn’t matter,” remarked Pavel Petrovich.
“I shall be back in a moment,” answered Fenichka, and she went out quickly.
Pavel Petrovich was left alone and this time he looked round with special attention. The small, low room in which he found himself was very clean and cosy. It smelt of the freshly painted floor and of camomile flowers. Along the walls stood chairs with lyre-shaped backs, bought by the late General Kirsanov in Poland during a campaign; in one corner was a little bedstead under a muslin canopy alongside a chest with iron clamps and a curved lid. In the opposite corner a little lamp was burning in front of a big, dark picture of St. Nicholas the Miracle-Worker; a tiny porcelain egg hung over the saint’s breast suspended by a red ribbon from his halo; on the window sills stood carefully tied greenish glass jars filled with last year’s jam; Fenichka had herself written in big letters on their paper covers the word “Gooseberry;” it was the favorite jam of Nikolai Petrovich. A cage containing a short-tailed canary hung on a long cord from the ceiling; he constantly chirped and hopped about, and the cage kept on swinging and shaking, while hemp seeds fell with a light tap onto the floor. On the wall just above a small chest of drawers hung some rather bad photographs of Nikolai Petrovich taken in various positions; there, too, was a most unsuccessful photograph of Fenichka; it showed an eyeless face smiling with effort in a dingy frame — nothing more definite could be distinguished — and above Fenichka, General Yermolov, in a Caucasian cloak, scowled menacingly at distant mountains, from under a little silk shoe for pins which fell right over his forehead.
Five minutes passed; a sound of rustling and whispering could be heard in the next room. Pavel Petrovich took from the chest of drawers a greasy book, an odd volume of Masalsky’s Musketeer, and turned over a few pages . . . The door opened and Fenichka came in with Mitya in her arms. She bad dressed him in a little red shirt with an embroidered collar, had combed his hair and washed his face; he was breathing heavily, his whole body moved up and down, and he waved his little hands in the air as all healthy babies do; but his smart shirt obviously impressed him and his plump little person radiated delight. Fenichka had also put her own hair in order and rearranged her kerchief; but she might well have remained as she was. Indeed, is there anything more charming in the world than a beautiful young mother with a healthy child in her arms?
“What a chubby little fellow,” said Pavel Petrovich, graciously tickling Mitya’s double chin with the tapering nail of his forefinger; the baby stared at the canary and laughed.
“That’s uncle,” said Fenichka, bending her face over him and slightly rocking him, while Dunyasha quietly set on the window sill a smoldering candle, putting a coin under it.
“How many months old is he?” asked Pavel Petrovich.
“Six months, it will be seven on the eleventh of this month.”
“Isn’t it eight, Fedosya Nikolayevna?” Dunyasha interrupted timidly.
“No, seven. What an idea!”
The baby laughed again, stared at the chest and suddenly seized his mother’s nose and mouth with all his five little fingers. “Naughty little one,” said Fenichka without drawing her face away.
“He’s like my brother,” said Pavel Petrovich.
“Who else should he be like?” thought Fenichka.
“Yes,” continued Pavel Petrovich as though speaking to himself. “An unmistakable likeness.” He looked attentively, almost sadly at Fenichka.
“That’s uncle,” she repeated, this time in a whisper.
“Ah, Pavel, there you are!” suddenly resounded the voice of Nikolai Petrovich.
Pavel Petrovich turned hurriedly round with a frown on his face, but his brother looked at him with such delight and gratitude that he could not help responding to his smile.
“You’ve got a splendid little boy,” he said, and looked at his watch. “I came in here to ask about some tea . . .”
Then, assuming an expression of indifference, Pavel Petrovich at once left the room.
“Did he come here of his own accord?” Nikolai Petrovich asked Fenichka.
“Yes, he just knocked and walked in.”
“Well, and has Arkasha come to see you again?”
“No. Hadn’t I better move into the side-wing again, Nikolai Petrovich?”
“Why should you?”
“I wonder whether it wouldn’t be better just at first.”
“No,” said Nikolai Petrovich slowly, and rubbed his forehead. “We should have done it sooner . . . How are you, little balloon?” he said, suddenly brightening, and went up to the child and kissed him on the cheek; then he bent lower and pressed his lips to Fenichka’s hand, which lay white as milk on Mitya’s little red shirt.
“Nikolai Petrovich, what are you doing?” she murmured, lowering her eyes, then quietly looked up again; her expression was charming as she peeped from under her eyelids and smiled tenderly and rather stupidly.
Nikolai Petrovich had made Fenichka’s acquaintance in the following way. Three years ago he had once stayed the night at an inn in a remote provincial town. He was pleasantly surprised by the cleanliness of the room assigned to him and the freshness of the bed linen; surely there must be a German woman in charge, he thought at first; but the housekeeper turned out to be a Russian, a woman of about fifty, neatly dressed, with a good-looking, sensible face and a measured way of talking. He got into conversation with her at tea and liked her very much. Nikolai Petrovich at that time had only just moved into his new home, and not wishing to keep serfs in the house, he was looking for wage servants; the housekeeper at the inn complained about the hard times and the small number of visitors to that town; he offered her the post of housekeeper in his home and she accepted it. Her husband had long been dead; he had left her with an only daughter, Fenichka. Within a fortnight Arina Savishna (that was the new housekeeper’s name) arrived with her daughter at Maryino and was installed in the side-wing. Nikolai Petrovich had made a good choice. Arina brought order into the household. No one talked about Fenichka, who was then seventeen, and hardly anyone saw her; she lived in quiet seclusion and only on Sundays Nikolai Petrovich used to notice the delicate profile of her pale face somewhere in a corner of the church. Thus another year passed.
One morning Arina came into his study, and after bowing low as usual, asked him if he could help her daughter, as a spark from the stove had flown into her eye. Nikolai Petrovich, like many homeloving country people, had studied simple remedies and had even procured a homeopathic medicine chest. He at once told Arina to bring the injured girl to him. Fenichka was much alarmed when she heard that the master had sent for her, but she followed her mother. Nikolai Petrovich led her to the window and took her head between his hands. After thoroughly examining her red and swollen eye, he made up a poultice at once, and tearing his handkerchief in strips showed her how it should be applied. Fenichka listened to all he said and turned to go out. “Kiss the master’s hand, you silly girl,” said Arina. Nikolai Petrovich did not hold out his hand and in confusion himself kissed her bent head on the parting of the hair. Fenichka’s eye soon healed, but the impression she had made on Nikolai Petrovich did not pass away so quickly. He had constant visions of that pure, gentle, timidly raised face; he felt that soft hair under the palms of his hands, and saw those innocent, slightly parted lips, through which pearly teeth gleamed with moist brilliance in the sunshine. He began to watch her very attentively in church and tried to get into conversation with her. At first she was extremely shy with him, and one day, meeting him towards evening on a narrow footpath crossing a rye field, she ran into the tall, thick rye, overgrown with cornflowers and wormwood, to avoid meeting him face to face. He caught sight of her small head through the golden network of ears of rye, from which she was peering out like a wild animal, and called out to her affectionately, “Good evening, Fenichka. I won’t bite.”
“Good evening,” murmured Fenichka, without emerging from her hiding place.
By degrees she began to feel more at ease with him, but she was still a shy girl when suddenly her mother, Arina, died of cholera. What was to become of Fenichka? She had inherited from her mother a love of order, tidiness and regularity, but she was so young, so alone in the world; Nikolai Petrovich was so genuinely kind and considerate . . . There is no need to describe what followed . . .
“So my brother came to see you?” Nikolai Petrovich asked her. “He just knocked and came in?”
“Well, that’s good. Let me give Mitya a swing.”
And Nikolai Petrovich began to toss him almost up to the ceiling, to the vast delight of the baby, and to the considerable anxiety of his mother, who each time he flew upwards stretched out her arms towards his little bare legs.
Meanwhile Pavel Petrovich had gone back to his elegant study, which was decorated with handsome blue wallpaper, and with weapons hanging from a multicolored Persian carpet fixed to the wall; it had walnut furniture, upholstered in dark green velvet, a Renaissance bookcase of ancient black oak, bronze statuettes on the magnificent writing desk, an open hearth . . . He threw himself on the sofa, clasped his hands behind his head and remained motionless, looking at the ceiling with an expression verging on despair. Perhaps because he wanted to hide even from the walls whatever was reflected in his face, or for some other reason, he rose, drew the heavy window curtains and again threw himself on the sofa.