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A House of Gentlefolk

by Ivan Turgenev

Chapter I
A BRIGHT spring day was fading into evening. High overhead in the clear heavens small rosy clouds seemed hardly to move across the sky but to be sinking into its depths of blue.
In a handsome house in one of the outlying streets of the government town of O-- (it was in the year 1842) two women were sitting at an open window; one was about fifty, the other an old lady of seventy.
The name of the former was Marya Dmitrievna Kalitin. Her husband, a shrewd determined man of obstinate bilious temperament, had been dead for ten years. He had been a provincial public prosecutor, noted in his own day as a successful man of business. He had received a fair education and had been to the university; but having been born in narrow circumstances he realised early in life the necessity of pushing his own way in the world and making money. It had been a love-match on Marya Dmitrievna's side. He was not bad-looking, was clever and could be very agreeable when he chose. Marya Dmitrievna Pestov--that was her maiden name--had lost her parents in childhood. She spent some years in a boarding-school in Moscow, and after leaving school, lived on the family estate of Pokrovskoe, about forty miles from O--, with her aunt and her elder brother. This brother soon after obtained a post in Petersburg, and made them a scanty allowance. He treated his aunt and sister very shabbily till his sudden death cut short his career. Marya Dmitrievna inherited Pokrovskoe, but she did not live there long. Two years after her marriage with Kalitin, who succeeded in winning her heart in a few days, Pokrovskoe was exchanged for another estate, which yielded a much larger income, but was utterly unattractive and had no house. At the same time Kalitin took a house in the town of O--, in which he and his wife took up their permanent abode. There was a large garden round the house, which on one side looked out upon the open country away from the town.
'And so,' decided Kalitin, who had a great distaste for the quiet of country life, 'there would be no need for them to he dragging themselves off into the country.' In her heart Marya Dmitrievna more than once regretted her pretty Pokrovskoe, with its babbling brook, its wide meadows, and green copses; but she never opposed her husband in anything and had the greatest veneration for his wisdom and knowledge of the world. When after fifteen years of married life he died leaving her with a son and two daughters, Marya Dmitrievna had grown so accustomed to her house and to town life that she had no inclination to leave O--.
In her youth Marya Dmitrievna had always been spoken of as a pretty blonde; and at fifty her features had not lost all charm, though they were somewhat coarser and less delicate in outline. She was more sentimental than kind-hearted; and even at her mature age, she retained the manners of the boarding-school. She was self-indulgent and easily put out, even moved to tears when she was crossed in any of her habits. She was, however, very sweet and agreeable when all her wishes were carried out and none opposed her. Her house was among the pleasantest in the town. She had a considerable fortune, not so much from her own property as from her husband's savings. Her two daughters were living with her; her son was being educated in one of the best government schools in Petersburg.
The old lady sitting with Marya Dmitrievna at the window was her father's sister, the same aunt with whom she had once spent some solitary years in Pokrovskoe. Her name was Marfa Timofyevna Pestov. She had a reputation for eccentricity as she was a woman of an independent character, told every one the truth to his face, and even in the most straitened circumstances behaved just as if she had a fortune at her disposal. She could not endure Kalitin, and directly her niece married him, she removed to her little property, where for ten whole years she lived in a smoky peasants' hut. Marya Dmitrievna was a little afraid of her. A little sharp-nosed woman with black hair and keen eyes even in her old age, Marfa Timofyevna walked briskly, held herself upright and spoke quickly and clearly in a sharp ringing voice. She always wore a white cap and a white dressing-jacket.
'What's the matter with you?' she asked Marya Dmitrievna suddenly. 'What are you sighing about, pray?'
'Nothing,' answered the latter. 'What exquisite clouds!'
'You feel sorry for them, eh?'
Marya Dmitrievna made no reply.
'Why is it Gedeonovsky does not come?' observed Marfa Timofyevna, moving her knitting needles quickly. (She was knitting a large woollen scarf.) 'He would have sighed with you--or at least he'd have had some fib to tell you.'
'How hard you always are on him! Sergei Petrovitch is a worthy man.'
'Worthy!' repeated the old lady scornfully.
'And how devoted he was to my poor husband!' observed Marya Dmitrievna; 'even now he cannot speak of him without emotion.'
'And no wonder! it was he who picked him out of the gutter,' muttered Marfa Timofyevna, and her knitting needles moved faster than ever.
'He looks so meek and mild,' she began again, 'with his grey head, but he no sooner opens his mouth than out comes a lie or a slander. And to think of his having the rank of a councillor! To be sure, though, he's only a village priest's son.'
'Every one has faults, auntie; that is his weak point, no doubt. Sergei Petrovitch has had no education: of course he does not speak French, still, say what you like, he is an agreeable man.'
'Yes, he is always ready to kiss your hands. He does not speak French--that's no great loss. I am not over strong in the French lingo myself. It would be better if he could not speak at all; he would not tell lies then. But here he is--speak of the devil,' added Marfa Timofyevna looking into the street. 'Here comes your agreeable man striding along. What a lanky creature he is, just like a stork!'
Marya Dmitrievna began to arrange her curls. Marfa Timofyevna looked at her ironically.
'What's that, not a grey hair surely? You must speak to your Palashka, what can she be thinking about?'
'Really, auntie, you are always so . . .' muttered Marya Dmitrievna in a tone of vexation, drumming on the arm of her chair with her finger-tips.
'Sergei Petrovitch Gedeonovsky!' was announced in a shrill piping voice, by a rosy-cheeked little page who made his appearance at the door.
Chapter II
A TALL man entered, wearing a tidy overcoat, rather short trousers, grey doeskin gloves, and two neck-ties--a black one outside, and a white one below it. There was an air of decorum and propriety in everything about him, from his prosperous countenance and smoothly brushed hair, to his low-heeled, noiseless boots. He bowed first to the lady of the house, then to Marfa Timofyevna, and slowly drawing off his gloves, he advanced to take Marya Dmitrievna's hand. After kissing it respectfully twice he seated himself with deliberation in an arm-chair, and rubbing the very tips of his fingers together, he observed with a smile--
'And is Elisaveta Mihalovna quite well?'
'Yes,' replied Marya Dmitrievna, 'she's in the garden.'
'And Elena Mihalovna?'
'Lenotchka's in the garden too. Is there no news?'
'There is indeed!' replied the visitor, slowly blinking his eyes and pursing up his mouth. 'Hm! . . . yes, indeed, there is a piece of news, and very surprising news too. Lavretsky--Fedor Ivanitch is here.'
'Fedya!' cried Marfa Timofyevna. 'Are you sure you are not romancing, my good man?'
'No, indeed, I saw him myself.'
'Well, that does not prove it.'
'Fedor Ivanitch looked much more robust,' continued Gedeonovsky, affecting not to have heard Marfa Timofyevna's last remark. 'Fedor Ivanitch is broader and has quite a colour.'
'He looked more robust,' said Marya Dmitrievna, dwelling on each syllable. 'I should have thought he had little enough to make him look robust.'
'Yes, indeed,' observed Gedeonovsky; 'any other man in Fedor Ivanitch's position would have hesitated to appear in society.'
'Why so, pray?' interposed Marfa Timofyevna. 'What nonsense are you talking! The man's come back to his home--where would you have him go? And has he been to blame, I should like to know!'
'The husband is always to blame, madam, I venture to assure you, when a wife misconducts herself.'
'You say that, my good sir, because you have never been married yourself.' Gedeonovsky listened with a forced smile.
'If I may be so inquisitive,' he asked, after a short pause, 'for whom is that pretty scarf intended?'
Marfa Timofyevna gave him a sharp look.
'It's intended,' she replied, 'for a man who does not talk scandal, nor play the hypocrite, nor tell lies, if there's such a man to be found in the world. I know Fedya well; he was only to blame in being too good to his wife. To be sure, he married for love, and no good ever comes of those love-matches,' added the old lady, with a sidelong glance at Marya Dmitrievna, as she got up from her place. 'And now, my good sir, you may attack any one you like, even me if you choose; I'm going, I will not hinder you.' And Marfa Timofyevna walked away.
'That's always how she is,' said Marya Dmitrievna, following her aunt with her eyes.
'We must remember your aunt's age . . . there's no help for it,' replied Gedeonovsky. 'She spoke of a man not playing the hypocrite. But who is not hypocritical nowadays? It's the age we live in. One of my friends, a most worthy man, and, I assure you, a man of no mean position, used to say, that nowadays the very hens can't pick up a grain of corn without hypocrisy--they always approach it from one side. But when I look at you, dear lady--your character is so truly angelic; let me kiss your little snow-white hand!'
Marya Dmitrievna with a faint smile held out her plump hand to him with the little finger held apart from the rest. He pressed his lips to it, and she drew her chair nearer to him, and bending a little towards him, asked in an undertone--
'So you saw him? Was he really--all right--quite well and cheerful?'
'Yes, he was well and cheerful,' replied Gedeonovsky in a whisper.
'You haven't heard where his wife is now?'
'She was lately in Paris; now, they say, she has gone away to Italy.'
'It is terrible, indeed--Fedya's position; I wonder how he can bear it. Every one, of course, has trouble; but he, one may say, has been made the talk of all Europe.'
Gedeonovsky sighed.
'Yes, indeed, yes, indeed. They do say, you know that she associates with artists and musicians, and as the saying is, with strange creatures of all kinds. She has lost all sense of shame completely.'
'I am deeply, deeply grieved,' said Marya Dmitrievna. 'On account of our relationship; you know, Sergei Petrovitch, he's my cousin many times removed.'
'Of course, of course. Don't I know everything that concerns your family? I should hope so, indeed.'
'Will he come to see us--what do you think?'
'One would suppose so; though, they say, he is intending to go home to his country place.'
Marya Dmitrievna lifted her eyes to heaven.
'Ah, Sergei Petrovitch, Sergei Petrovitch, when I think how careful we women ought to be in our conduct!'
'There are women and women, Marya Dmitrievna. There are unhappily such . . . of flighty character . . . and at a certain age too, and then they are not brought up in good principles.' (Sergei Petrovitch drew a blue checked handkerchief out of his pocket and began to unfold it.) 'There are such women, no doubt.' (Sergei Petrovitch applied a corner of the handkerchief first to one and then to the other eye.) 'But speaking generally, if one takes into consideration, I mean . . . the dust in the town is really extraordinary to-day,' he wound up.
'Maman, maman,' cried a pretty little girl of eleven running into the room, 'Vladimir Nikolaitch is coming on horseback!'
Marya Dmitrievna got up; Sergei Petrovitch also rose and made a bow. 'Our humble respects to Elena Mihalovna,' he said, and turning aside into a corner for good manners, he began blowing his long straight nose.
'What a splendid horse he has!' continued the little girl. 'He was at the gate just now, he told Lisa and me he would dismount at the steps.'
The sound of hoofs was heard; and a graceful young man, riding a beautiful bay horse, was seen in the street, and stopped at the open window.
Chapter III
'HOW do you do, Marya Dmitrievna?' cried the young man in a pleasant, ringing voice. 'How do you like my new purchase?'
Marya Dmitrievna went up to the window.
'How do you do, Woldemar! Ah, what a splendid horse! Where did you buy it?'
'I bought it from the army contractor.. . . He made me pay for it too, the brigand!'
'What's its name?'
'Orlando.. . . But it's a stupid name; I want to change it . . . Eh bien, eh bien, mon garcon.. . . What a restless beast it is!' The horse snorted, pawed the ground, and shook the foam off the bit.
'Lenotchka, stroke him, don't be afraid.'
The little girl stretched her hand out of the window, but Orlando suddenly reared and started. The rider with perfect self-possession gave it a cut with the whip across the neck, and keeping a tight grip with his legs forced it in spite of its opposition, to stand still again at the window.
'Prenez garde, prenez garde,' Marya Dmitrievna kept repeating.
'Lenotchka, pat him,' said the young man, 'I won't let him be perverse.'
The little girl again stretched out her hand and timidly patted the quivering nostrils of the horse, who kept fidgeting and champing the bit.
'Bravo!' cried Marya Dmitrievna, 'but now get off and come in to us.'
The rider adroitly turned his horse, gave him a touch of the spur, and galloping down the street soon reached the courtyard. A minute later he ran into the drawing-room by the door from the hall, flourishing his whip; at the same moment there appeared in the other doorway a tall, slender dark-haired girl of nineteen, Marya Dmitrievna's eldest daughter, Lisa.

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