Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev (1818-1883) was a great Russian novelist and playwright. His novel Fathers and Sons is regarded as one of major works of 19th-century fiction. After the standard schooling for a child of a gentleman's family, He studied for one year at the University of Moscow and then moved to the University of St Petersburg, focusing on the classics, Russian literature and philology. Turgenev was impressed with German Central-European society, and believed that Russia could best improve itself by imitating the West.
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THE SONG OF TRIUMPHANT LOVE [MDXLII]
POEMS IN PROSE
IN THE SPRING OF 1878 there was living in Moscow, in a small wooden house in Shabolovka, a young man of five-and-twenty, called Yakov Aratov. With him lived his father’s sister, an elderly maiden lady, over fifty, Platonida Ivanovna. She took charge of his house, and looked after his household expenditure, a task for which Aratov was utterly unfit. Other relations he had none. A few years previously, his father, a provincial gentleman of small property, had moved to Moscow together with him and Platonida Ivanovna, whom he always, however, called Platosha; her nephew, too, used the same name. On leaving the country-place where they had always lived up till then, the elder Aratov settled in the old capital, with the object of putting his son to the university, for which he had himself prepared him; he bought for a trifle a little house in one of the outlying streets, and established himself in it, with all his books and scientific odds and ends. And of books and odds and ends he had many—for he was a man of some considerable learning ... ‘an out-and-out eccentric,’ as his neighbours said of him. He positively passed among them for a sorcerer; he had even been given the title of an ‘insectivist.’ He studied chemistry, mineralogy, entomology, botany, and medicine; he doctored patients gratis with herbs and metallic powders of his own invention, after the method of Paracelsus. These same powders were the means of his bringing to the grave his pretty, young, too delicate wife, whom he passionately loved, and by whom he had an only son. With the same powders he fairly ruined his son’s health too, in the hope and intention of strengthening it, as he detected anæmia and a tendency to consumption in his constitution inherited from his mother. The name of ‘sorcerer’ had been given him partly because he regarded himself as a descendant—not in the direct line, of course—of the great Bruce, in honour of whom he had called his son Yakov, the Russian form of James.
He was what is called a most good-natured man, but of melancholy temperament, pottering, and timid, with a bent for everything mysterious and occult.... A half-whispered ah! was his habitual exclamation; he even died with this exclamation on his lips, two years after his removal to Moscow.
His son, Yakov, was in appearance unlike his father, who had been plain, clumsy, and awkward; he took more after his mother. He had the same delicate pretty features, the same soft ash-coloured hair, the same little aquiline nose, the same pouting childish lips, and great greenish-grey languishing eyes, with soft eyelashes. But in character he was like his father; and the face, so unlike the father’s face, wore the father’s expression; and he had the triangular-shaped hands and hollow chest of the old Aratov, who ought, however, hardly to be called old, since he never reached his fiftieth year. Before his death, Yakov had already entered the university in the faculty of physics and mathematics; he did not, however, complete his course; not through laziness, but because, according to his notions, you could learn no more in the university than you could studying alone at home; and he did not go in for a diploma because he had no idea of entering the government service. He was shy with his fellow-students, made friends with scarcely any one, especially held aloof from women, and lived in great solitude, buried in books. He held aloof from women, though he had a heart of the tenderest, and was fascinated by beauty.... He had even obtained a sumptuous English keepsake, and (oh shame!) gloated adoringly over its ‘elegantly engraved’ representations of the various ravishing Gulnaras and Medoras.... But his innate modesty always kept him in check. In the house he used to work in what had been his father’s study, it was also his bedroom, and his bed was the very one in which his father had breathed his last.
The mainstay of his whole existence, his unfailing friend and companion, was his aunt Platosha, with whom he exchanged barely a dozen words in the day, but without whom he could not stir hand or foot. She was a long-faced, long-toothed creature, with pale eyes, and a pale face, with an invariable expression, half of dejection, half of anxious dismay. For ever garbed in a grey dress and a grey shawl, she wandered about the house like a spirit, with noiseless steps, sighed, murmured prayers—especially one favourite one, consisting of three words only, ‘Lord, succour us!’—and looked after the house with much good sense, taking care of every halfpenny, and buying everything herself. Her nephew she adored; she was in a perpetual fidget over his health—afraid of everything—not for herself but for him; and directly she fancied the slightest thing wrong, she would steal in softly, and set a cup of herb tea on his writing-table, or stroke him on the spine with her hands, soft as wadding. Yakov was not annoyed by these attentions—though the herb tea he left untouched—he merely nodded his head approvingly. However, his health was really nothing to boast of. He was very impressionable, nervous, fanciful, suffered from palpitations of the heart, and sometimes from asthma; like his father, he believed that there are in nature and in the soul of man, mysteries which may sometimes be divined, but to which one can never penetrate; he believed in the existence of certain powers and influences, sometimes beneficent, but more often malignant,... and he believed too in science, in its dignity and importance. Of late he had taken a great fancy to photography. The smell of the chemicals used in this pursuit was a source of great uneasiness to his old aunt—not on her own account again, but on Yasha’s, on account of his chest; but for all the softness of his temper, there was not a little obstinacy in his composition, and he persisted in his favourite pursuit. Platosha gave in, and only sighed more than ever, and murmured, ‘Lord, succour us!’ whenever she saw his fingers stained with iodine.
Yakov, as we have already related, had held aloof from his fellow-students; with one of them he had, however, become fairly intimate, and saw him frequently, even after the fellow-student had left the university and entered the service, in a position involving little responsibility. He had, in his own words, got on to the building of the Church of our Saviour, though, of course, he knew nothing whatever of architecture. Strange to say, this one solitary friend of Aratov’s, by name Kupfer, a German, so far Russianised that he did not know one word of German, and even fell foul of ‘the Germans,’ this friend had apparently nothing in common with him. He was a black-haired, red-cheeked young man, very jovial, talkative, and devoted to the feminine society Aratov so assiduously avoided. It is true Kupfer both lunched and dined with him pretty often, and even, being a man of small means, used to borrow trifling sums of him; but this was not what induced the free and easy German to frequent the humble little house in Shabolovka so diligently. The spiritual purity, the idealism of Yakov pleased him, possibly as a contrast to what he was seeing and meeting every day; or possibly this very attachment to the youthful idealist betrayed him of German blood after all. Yakov liked Kupfer’s simple-hearted frankness; and besides that, his accounts of the theatres, concerts, and balls, where he was always in attendance—of the unknown world altogether, into which Yakov could not make up his mind to enter—secretly interested and even excited the young hermit, without, however, arousing any desire to learn all this by his own experience. And Platosha made Kupfer welcome; it is true she thought him at times excessively unceremonious, but instinctively perceiving and realising that he was sincerely attached to her precious Yasha, she not only put up with the noisy guest, but felt kindly towards him.
At the time with which our story is concerned, there was in Moscow a certain widow, a Georgian princess, a person of somewhat dubious, almost suspicious character. She was close upon forty; in her youth she had probably bloomed with that peculiar Oriental beauty, which fades so quickly; now she powdered, rouged, and dyed her hair yellow. Various reports, not altogether favourable, nor altogether definite, were in circulation about her; her husband no one had known, and she had never stayed long in any one town. She had no children, and no property, yet she kept open house, in debt or otherwise; she had a salon, as it is called, and received a rather mixed society, for the most part young men. Everything in her house from her own dress, furniture, and table, down to her carriage and her servants, bore the stamp of something shoddy, artificial, temporary,... but the princess herself, as well as her guests, apparently desired nothing better. The princess was reputed a devotee of music and literature, a patroness of artists and men of talent, and she really was interested in all these subjects, even to the point of enthusiasm, and an enthusiasm not altogether affected. There was an unmistakable fibre of artistic feeling in her. Moreover she was very approachable, genial, free from presumption or pretentiousness, and, though many people did not suspect it, she was fundamentally good-natured, soft-hearted, and kindly disposed.... Qualities rare—and the more precious for their rarity—precisely in persons of her sort! ‘A fool of a woman!’ a wit said of her: ‘but she’ll get into heaven, not a doubt of it! Because she forgives everything, and everything will be forgiven her.’ It was said of her too that when she disappeared from a town, she always left as many creditors behind as persons she had befriended. A soft heart readily turned in any direction.
Kupfer, as might have been anticipated, found his way into her house, and was soon on an intimate—evil tongues said a too intimate—footing with her. He himself always spoke of her not only affectionately but with respect; he called her a heart of gold—say what you like! and firmly believed both in her love for art and her comprehension of art! One day after dinner at the Aratovs’, in discussing the princess and her evenings, he began to persuade Yakov to break for once from his anchorite seclusion, and to allow him, Kupfer, to present him to his friend. Yakov at first would not even hear of it. ‘But what do you imagine?’ Kupfer cried at last: ‘what sort of presentation are we talking about? Simply, I take you, just as you are sitting now, in your everyday coat, and go with you to her for an evening. No sort of etiquette is necessary there, my dear boy! You’re learned, you know, and fond of literature and music’—(there actually was in Aratov’s study a piano on which he sometimes struck minor chords)—‘and in her house there’s enough and to spare of all those goods!... and you’ll meet there sympathetic people, no nonsense about them! And after all, you really can’t at your age, with your looks (Aratov dropped his eyes and waved his hand deprecatingly), yes, yes, with your looks, you really can’t keep aloof from society, from the world, like this! Why, I’m not going to take you to see generals! Indeed, I know no generals myself!... Don’t be obstinate, dear boy! Morality is an excellent thing, most laudable.... But why fall a prey to asceticism? You’re not going in for becoming a monk!’
Aratov was, however, still refractory; but Kupfer found an unexpected ally in Platonida Ivanovna. Though she had no clear idea what was meant by the word asceticism, she too was of opinion that it would be no harm for dear Yasha to take a little recreation, to see people, and to show himself.
‘Especially,’ she added, ‘as I’ve perfect confidence in Fyodor Fedoritch! He’ll take you to no bad place!...’ ‘I’ll bring him back in all his maiden innocence,’ shouted Kupfer, at which Platonida Ivanovna, in spite of her confidence, cast uneasy glances upon him. Aratov blushed up to his ears, but ceased to make objections.
It ended by Kupfer taking him next day to spend an evening at the princess’s. But Aratov did not remain there long. To begin with, he found there some twenty visitors, men and women, sympathetic people possibly, but still strangers, and this oppressed him, even though he had to do very little talking; and that, he feared above all things. Secondly, he did not like their hostess, though she received him very graciously and simply. Everything about her was distasteful to him: her painted face, and her frizzed curls, and her thickly-sugary voice, her shrill giggle, her way of rolling her eyes and looking up, her excessively low-necked dress, and those fat, glossy fingers with their multitude of rings!... Hiding himself away in a corner, he took from time to time a rapid survey of the faces of all the guests, without even distinguishing them, and then stared obstinately at his own feet. When at last a stray musician with a worn face, long hair, and an eyeglass stuck into his contorted eyebrow sat down to the grand piano and flinging his hands with a sweep on the keys and his foot on the pedal, began to attack a fantasia of Liszt on a Wagner motive, Aratov could not stand it, and stole off, bearing away in his heart a vague, painful impression; across which, however, flitted something incomprehensible to him, but grave and even disquieting.
Kupfer came next day to dinner; he did not begin, however, expatiating on the preceding evening, he did not even reproach Aratov for his hasty retreat, and only regretted that he had not stayed to supper, when there had been champagne! (of the Novgorod brand, we may remark in parenthesis). Kupfer probably realised that it had been a mistake on his part to disturb his friend, and that Aratov really was a man ‘not suited’ to that circle and way of life. On his side, too, Aratov said nothing of the princess, nor of the previous evening. Platonida Ivanovna did not know whether to rejoice at the failure of this first experiment or to regret it. She decided at last that Yasha’s health might suffer from such outings, and was comforted. Kupfer went away directly after dinner, and did not show himself again for a whole week. And it was not that he resented the failure of his suggestion, the good fellow was incapable of that, but he had obviously found some interest which was absorbing all his time, all his thoughts; for later on, too, he rarely appeared at the Aratovs’, had an absorbed look, spoke little and quickly vanished.... Aratov went on living as before; but a sort of—if one may so express it—little hook was pricking at his soul. He was continually haunted by some reminiscence, he could not quite tell what it was himself, and this reminiscence was connected with the evening he had spent at the princess’s. For all that he had not the slightest inclination to return there again, and the world, a part of which he had looked upon at her house, repelled him more than ever. So passed six weeks.
And behold one morning Kupfer stood before him once more, this time with a somewhat embarrassed countenance. ‘I know,’ he began with a constrained smile, ‘that your visit that time was not much to your taste; but I hope for all that you’ll agree to my proposal ... that you won’t refuse me my request!’
‘What is it?’ inquired Aratov.
‘Well, do you see,’ pursued Kupfer, getting more and more heated: ‘there is a society here of amateurs, artistic people, who from time to time get up readings, concerts, even theatrical performances for some charitable object.’
‘And the princess has a hand in it?’ interposed Aratov.
‘The princess has a hand in all good deeds, but that’s not the point. We have arranged a literary and musical matinée ... and at this matinée you may hear a girl ... an extraordinary girl! We cannot make out quite yet whether she is to be a Rachel or a Viardot ... for she sings exquisitely, and recites and plays.... A talent of the very first rank, my dear boy! I’m not exaggerating. Well then, won’t you take a ticket? Five roubles for a seat in the front row.’
‘And where has this marvellous girl sprung from?’ asked Aratov.
Kupfer grinned. ‘That I really can’t say.... Of late she’s found a home with the princess. The princess you know is a protector of every one of that sort.... But you saw her, most likely, that evening.’
Aratov gave a faint inward start ... but he said nothing.
‘She has even played somewhere in the provinces,’ Kupfer continued, ‘and altogether she’s created for the theatre. There! you’ll see for yourself!’
‘What’s her name?’ asked Aratov.
‘Clara?’ Aratov interrupted a second time. ‘Impossible!’
‘Why impossible? Clara ... Clara Militch; it’s not her real name ... but that’s what she’s called. She’s going to sing a song of Glinka’s ... and of Tchaykovsky’s; and then she’ll recite the letter from Yevgeny Oniegin. Well; will you take a ticket?’
‘And when will it be?’
‘To-morrow ... to-morrow, at half-past one, in a private drawing-room, in Ostozhonka.... I will come for you. A five-rouble ticket?... Here it is ... no, that’s a three-rouble one. Here ... and here’s the programme.... I’m one of the stewards.’
Aratov sank into thought. Platonida Ivanovna came in at that instant, and glancing at his face, was in a flutter of agitation at once. ‘Yasha,’ she cried, ‘what’s the matter with you? Why are you so upset? Fyodor Fedoritch, what is it you’ve been telling him?’
Aratov did not let his friend answer his aunt’s question, but hurriedly snatching the ticket held out to him, told Platonida Ivanovna to give Kupfer five roubles at once.
She blinked in amazement.... However, she handed Kupfer the money in silence. Her darling Yasha had ejaculated his commands in a very imperative manner.
‘I tell you, a wonder of wonders!’ cried Kupfer, hurrying to the door. ‘Wait till to-morrow.’
‘Has she black eyes?’ Aratov called after him.
‘Black as coal!’ Kupfer shouted cheerily, as he vanished.
Aratov went away to his room, while Platonida Ivanovna stood rooted to the spot, repeating in a whisper, ‘Lord, succour us! Succour us, Lord!’
The big drawing-room in the private house in Ostozhonka was already half full of visitors when Aratov and Kupfer arrived. Dramatic performances had sometimes been given in this drawing-room, but on this occasion there was no scenery nor curtain visible. The organisers of the matinée had confined themselves to fixing up a platform at one end, putting upon it a piano, a couple of reading-desks, a few chairs, a table with a bottle of water and a glass on it, and hanging red cloth over the door that led to the room allotted to the performers. In the first row was already sitting the princess in a bright green dress. Aratov placed himself at some distance from her, after exchanging the barest of greetings with her. The public was, as they say, of mixed materials; for the most part young men from educational institutions. Kupfer, as one of the stewards, with a white ribbon on the cuff of his coat, fussed and bustled about busily; the princess was obviously excited, looked about her, shot smiles in all directions, talked with those next her ... none but men were sitting near her. The first to appear on the platform was a flute-player of consumptive appearance, who most conscientiously dribbled away—what am I saying?—piped, I mean—a piece also of consumptive tendency; two persons shouted bravo! Then a stout gentleman in spectacles, of an exceedingly solid, even surly aspect, read in a bass voice a sketch of Shtchedrin; the sketch was applauded, not the reader; then the pianist, whom Aratov had seen before, came forward and strummed the same fantasia of Liszt; the pianist gained an encore. He bowed with one hand on the back of the chair, and after each bow he shook back his hair, precisely like Liszt! At last after a rather long interval the red cloth over the door on to the platform stirred and opened wide, and Clara Militch appeared. The room resounded with applause. With hesitating steps, she moved forward on the platform, stopped and stood motionless, clasping her large handsome ungloved hands in front of her, without a courtesy, a bend of the head, or a smile.
She was a girl of nineteen, tall, rather broad-shouldered, but well-built. A dark face, of a half-Jewish half-gipsy type, small black eyes under thick brows almost meeting in the middle, a straight, slightly turned-up nose, delicate lips with a beautiful but decided curve, an immense mass of black hair, heavy even in appearance, a low brow still as marble, tiny ears ... the whole face dreamy, almost sullen. A nature passionate, wilful—hardly good-tempered, hardly very clever, but gifted—was expressed in every feature.
For some time she did not raise her eyes; but suddenly she started, and passed over the rows of spectators a glance intent, but not attentive, absorbed, it seemed, in herself.... ‘What tragic eyes she has!’ observed a man sitting behind Aratov, a grey-headed dandy with the face of a Revel harlot, well known in Moscow as a prying gossip and writer for the papers. The dandy was an idiot, and meant to say something idiotic ... but he spoke the truth. Aratov, who from the very moment of Clara’s entrance had never taken his eyes off her, only at that instant recollected that he really had seen her at the princess’s; and not only that he had seen her, but that he had even noticed that she had several times, with a peculiar insistency, gazed at him with her dark intent eyes. And now too—or was it his fancy?—on seeing him in the front row she seemed delighted, seemed to flush, and again gazed intently at him. Then, without turning round, she stepped away a couple of paces in the direction of the piano, at which her accompanist, a long-haired foreigner, was sitting. She had to render Glinka’s ballad: ‘As soon as I knew you ...’ She began at once to sing, without changing the attitude of her hands or glancing at the music. Her voice was soft and resonant, a contralto; she uttered the words distinctly and with emphasis, and sang monotonously, with little light and shade, but with intense expression. ‘The girl sings with conviction,’ said the same dandy sitting behind Aratov, and again he spoke the truth. Shouts of ‘Bis!’ ‘Bravo!’ resounded over the room; but she flung a rapid glance on Aratov, who neither shouted nor clapped—he did not particularly care for her singing—gave a slight bow, and walked out without taking the hooked arm proffered her by the long-haired pianist. She was called back ... not very soon, she reappeared, with the same hesitating steps approached the piano, and whispering a couple of words to the accompanist, who picked out and put before him another piece of music, began Tchaykovsky’s song: ‘No, only he who knows the thirst to see.’... This song she sang differently from the first—in a low voice, as though she were tired ... and only at the line next the last, ‘He knows what I have suffered,’ broke from her in a ringing, passionate cry. The last line, ‘And how I suffer’ ... she almost whispered, with a mournful prolongation of the last word. This song produced less impression on the audience than the Glinka ballad; there was much applause, however.... Kupfer was particularly conspicuous; folding his hands in a peculiar way, in the shape of a barrel, at each clap he produced an extraordinarily resounding report. The princess handed him a large, straggling nosegay for him to take it to the singer; but she, seeming not to observe Kupfer’s bowing figure, and outstretched hand with the nosegay, turned and went away, again without waiting for the pianist, who skipped forward to escort her more hurriedly than before, and when he found himself so unjustifiably deserted, tossed his hair as certainly Liszt himself had never tossed his!
During the whole time of the singing, Aratov had been watching Clara’s face. It seemed to him that her eyes, through the drooping eyelashes, were again turned upon him; but he was especially struck by the immobility of the face, the forehead, the eyebrows; and only at her outburst of passion he caught through the hardly-parted lips the warm gleam of a close row of white teeth. Kupfer came up to him.
‘Well, my dear boy, what do you think of her?’ he asked, beaming all over with satisfaction.
‘It’s a fine voice,’ replied Aratov; ‘but she doesn’t know how to sing yet; she’s no real musical knowledge.’ (Why he said this, and what conception he had himself of ‘musical knowledge,’ the Lord only knows!)
Kupfer was surprised. ‘No musical knowledge,’ he repeated slowly.... ‘Well, as to that ... she can acquire that. But what soul! Wait a bit, though; you shall hear her in Tatiana’s letter.’
He hurried away from Aratov, while the latter said to himself, ‘Soul! with that immovable face!’ He thought that she moved and held herself like one hypnotised, like a somnambulist. And at the same time she was unmistakably ... yes! unmistakably looking at him.
Meanwhile the matinée went on. The fat man in spectacles appeared again; in spite of his serious exterior, he fancied himself a comic actor, and recited a scene from Gogol, this time without eliciting a single token of approbation. There was another glimpse of the flute-player; another thunder-clap from the pianist; a boy of twelve, frizzed and pomaded, but with tear-stains on his cheeks, thrummed some variations on a fiddle. What seemed strange was that in the intervals of the reading and music, from the performers’ room, sounds were heard from time to time of a French horn; and yet this instrument never was brought into requisition. In the sequel it appeared that the amateur, who had been invited to perform on it, had lost courage at the moment of facing the public. At last Clara Militch made her appearance again.
She held a volume of Pushkin in her hand; she did not, however, glance at it once during her recitation.... She was obviously nervous, the little book shook slightly in her fingers. Aratov observed also the expression of weariness which now overspread all her stern features. The first line, ‘I write to you ... what more?’ she uttered exceedingly simply, almost naïvely, and with a naïve, genuine, helpless gesture held both hands out before her. Then she began to hurry a little; but from the beginning of the lines: ‘Another! no! To no one in the whole world I have given my heart!’ she mastered her powers, gained fire; and when she came to the words, ‘My whole life has but been a pledge of a meeting true with thee,’ her hitherto thick voice rang out boldly and enthusiastically, while her eyes just as boldly and directly fastened upon Aratov. She went on with the same fervour, and only towards the end her voice dropped again; and in it, and in her face, the same weariness was reflected again. The last four lines she completely ‘murdered,’ as it is called; the volume of Pushkin suddenly slid out of her hand, and she hastily withdrew.
The audience fell to applauding desperately, encoring.... One Little-Russian divinity student bellowed in so deep a bass, ‘Mill-itch! Mill-itch!’ that his neighbour civilly and sympathetically advised him, ‘to take care of his voice, it would be the making of a protodeacon.’ But Aratov at once rose and made for the door. Kupfer overtook him.... ‘I say, where are you off to?’ he called; ‘would you like me to present you to Clara?’ ‘No, thanks,’ Aratov returned hurriedly, and he went homewards almost at a run.
He was agitated by strange sensations, incomprehensible to himself. In reality, Clara’s recitation, too, had not been quite to his taste ... though he could not quite tell why. It disturbed him, this recitation; it struck him as crude and inharmonious.... It was as though it broke something within him, forced itself with a certain violence upon him. And those fixed, insistent, almost importunate looks—what were they for? what did they mean?
Aratov’s modesty did not for one instant admit of the idea that he might have made an impression on this strange girl, that he might have inspired in her a sentiment akin to love, to passion!... And indeed, he himself had formed a totally different conception of the still unknown woman, the girl to whom he was to give himself wholly, who would love him, be his bride, his wife.... He seldom dwelt on this dream—in spirit as in body he was virginal; but the pure image that arose at such times in his fancy was inspired by a very different figure, the figure of his dead mother, whom he scarcely remembered, but whose portrait he treasured as a sacred relic. The portrait was a water-colour, painted rather unskilfully by a lady who had been a neighbour of hers; but the likeness, as every one declared, was a striking one. Just such a tender profile, just such kind, clear eyes and silken hair, just such a smile and pure expression, was the woman, the girl, to have, for whom as yet he scarcely dared to hope....
But this swarthy, dark-skinned creature, with coarse hair, dark eyebrows, and a tiny moustache on her upper lip, she was certainly a wicked, giddy ... ‘gipsy’ (Aratov could not imagine a harsher appellation)—what was she to him?
And yet Aratov could not succeed in getting out of his head this dark-skinned gipsy, whose singing and reading and very appearance were displeasing to him. He was puzzled, he was angry with himself. Not long before he had read Sir Walter Scott’s novel, St. Ronan’s Well (there was a complete edition of Sir Walter Scott’s works in the library of his father, who had regarded the English novelist with esteem as a serious, almost a scientific, writer). The heroine of that novel is called Clara Mowbray. A poet who flourished somewhere about 1840, Krasov, wrote a poem on her, ending with the words:
‘Unhappy Clara! poor frantic Clara!
Unhappy Clara Mowbray!’
Aratov knew this poem also.... And now these words were incessantly haunting his memory.... ‘Unhappy Clara! Poor, frantic Clara!’ ... (This was why he had been so surprised when Kupfer told him the name of Clara Militch.)
Platosha herself noticed, not a change exactly in Yasha’s temper—no change in reality took place in it—but something unsatisfactory in his looks and in his words. She cautiously questioned him about the literary matinée at which he had been present; muttered, sighed, looked at him from in front, from the side, from behind; and suddenly clapping her hands on her thighs, she exclaimed: ‘To be sure, Yasha; I see what it is!’
‘Why? what?’ Aratov queried.
‘You’ve met for certain at that matinée one of those long-tailed creatures’—this was how Platonida Ivanovna always spoke of all fashionably-dressed ladies of the period—‘with a pretty dolly face; and she goes prinking this way ... and pluming that way’—Platonida presented these fancied manoeuvres in mimicry—‘and making saucers like this with her eyes’—and she drew big, round circles in the air with her forefinger—‘You’re not used to that sort of thing. So you fancied ... but that means nothing, Yasha ... no-o-thing at all! Drink a cup of posset at night ... it’ll pass off!... Lord, succour us!’
Platosha ceased speaking, and left the room.... She had hardly ever uttered such a long and animated speech in her life.... While Aratov thought, ‘Auntie’s right, I dare say.... I’m not used to it; that’s all ...’—it actually was the first time his attention had ever happened to be drawn to a person of the female sex ... at least he had never noticed it before—‘I mustn’t give way to it.’
And he set to work on his books, and at night drank some lime-flower tea; and positively slept well that night, and had no dreams. The next morning he took up his photography again as though nothing had happened....
But towards evening his spiritual repose was again disturbed.
And this is what happened. A messenger brought him a note, written in a large irregular woman’s hand, and containing the following lines:
‘If you guess who it is writes to you, and if it is not a bore to you, come to-morrow after dinner to the Tversky boulevard—about five o’clock—and wait. You shall not be kept long. But it is very important. Do come.’
There was no signature. Aratov at once guessed who was his correspondent, and this was just what disturbed him. ‘What folly,’ he said, almost aloud; ‘this is too much. Of course I shan’t go.’ He sent, however, for the messenger, and from him learnt nothing but that the note had been handed him by a maid-servant in the street. Dismissing him, Aratov read the letter through and flung it on the ground.... But, after a little while, he picked it up and read it again: a second time he cried, ‘Folly!’—he did not, however, throw the note on the floor again, but put it in a drawer. Aratov took up his ordinary occupations, first one and then another; but nothing he did was successful or satisfactory. He suddenly realised that he was eagerly expecting Kupfer! Did he want to question him, or perhaps even to confide in him?... But Kupfer did not make his appearance. Then Aratov took down Pushkin, read Tatiana’s letter, and convinced himself again that the ‘gipsy girl’ had not in the least understood the real force of the letter. And that donkey Kupfer shouts: Rachel! Viardot! Then he went to his piano, as it seemed, unconsciously opened it, and tried to pick out by ear the melody of Tchaykovsky’s song; but he slammed it to again directly in vexation, and went up to his aunt to her special room, which was for ever baking hot, smelled of mint, sage, and other medicinal herbs, and was littered up with such a multitude of rugs, side-tables, stools, cushions, and padded furniture of all sorts, that any one unused to it would have found it difficult to turn round and oppressive to breathe in it. Platonida Ivanovna was sitting at the window, her knitting in her hands (she was knitting her darling Yasha a comforter, the thirty-eighth she had made him in the course of his life!), and was much astonished to see him. Aratov rarely went up to her, and if he wanted anything, used always to call, in his delicate voice, from his study: ‘Aunt Platosha!’ However, she made him sit down, and sat all alert, in expectation of his first words, watching him through her spectacles with one eye, over them with the other. She did not inquire after his health nor offer him tea, as she saw he had not come for that. Aratov was a little disconcerted ... then he began to talk ... talked of his mother, of how she had lived with his father and how his father had got to know her. All this he knew very well ... but it was just what he wanted to talk about. Unluckily for him, Platosha did not know how to keep up a conversation at all; she gave him very brief replies, as though she suspected that was not what Yasha had come for.
‘Eh!’ she repeated, hurriedly, almost irritably plying her knitting-needles. ‘We all know: your mother was a darling ... a darling that she was.... And your father loved her as a husband should, truly and faithfully even in her grave; and he never loved any other woman’: she added, raising her voice and taking off her spectacles.
‘And was she of a retiring disposition?’ Aratov inquired, after a short silence.
‘Retiring! to be sure she was. As a woman should be. Bold ones have sprung up nowadays.’
‘And were there no bold ones in your time?’
‘There were in our time too ... to be sure there were! But who were they? A pack of strumpets, shameless hussies. Draggle-tails—for ever gadding about after no good.... What do they care? It’s little they take to heart. If some poor fool comes in their way, they pounce on him. But sensible folk looked down on them. Did you ever see, pray, the like of such in our house?’
Aratov made no reply, and went back to his study. Platonida Ivanovna looked after him, shook her head, put on her spectacles again, and again took up her comforter ... but more than once sank into thought, and let her knitting-needles fall on her knees.
Aratov up till very night kept telling himself, no! no! but with the same irritation, the same exasperation, he fell again into musing on the note, on the ‘gipsy girl,’ on the appointed meeting, to which he would certainly not go! And at night she gave him no rest. He was continually haunted by her eyes—at one time half-closed, at another wide open—and their persistent gaze fixed straight upon him, and those motionless features with their dominating expression....
The next morning he again, for some reason, kept expecting Kupfer; he was on the point of writing a note to him ... but did nothing, however,... and spent most of the time walking up and down his room. He never for one instant admitted to himself even the idea of going to this idiotic rendezvous ... and at half-past three, after a hastily swallowed dinner, suddenly throwing on his cloak and thrusting his cap on his head, he dashed out into the street, unseen by his aunt, and turned towards the Tversky boulevard.
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