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Fathers and Sonsby Ann Pasternak Slater
“Well, Petr, no sight of him yet?” asked a gentleman about forty years old wearing a short, dusty coat and checkered trousers, standing hatless on the low steps of an inn on the road. It was the twentieth of May 1859. He was addressing his servant, a round-cheeked young man with whitish down on his chin and small, lackluster eyes.
The servant, whose turquoise earring, variegated hair plastered with grease, and refined movements all betokened a man belonging to the newest, most advanced generation, glanced down the road condescendingly, and replied: “No, sir, no sight of him at all.”
“No sight of him?” repeated his master.
“No, sir,” the servant responded a second time.
His master sighed and sat down on a little bench. Let’s introduce him to the reader while he sits looking around thoughtfully, his feet tucked up underneath him.
His name is Nikolai Petrovich Kirsanov. He owns a fine estate located fifteen versts from the inn that has two hundred serfs or, as he puts it—ever since he arranged to share his land with the peasants—“a farm” of nearly five thousand acres. His fa- ther, an army general who served during 1812, was a coarse, half- educated, but not villainous Russian. He worked hard all his life, first commanding a brigade, then a division, and lived continually in the provinces where, by virtue of his rank, he played a fairly important role. Nikolai Petrovich was born in the south of Russia, as was his elder brother, Pavel, of whom more later. He was educated at home until he was fourteen, surrounded by underpaid tutors and casually obsequious adjutants, in addition to all the usual regimental and staff personnel. His mother, a member of the Koliazin family, was called Agathe as a girl but Agafokleia Kuzminishna Kirsanova as a general’s wife. She was one of those “mother-commanders” who wore elaborate caps and rustling silk dresses. In church, she was the first to advance to kiss the cross; she talked a great deal in a loud voice; she let her children kiss her hand in the morning and gave them her blessing at night—in a word, she conducted her life just as she pleased.
As a general’s son, Nikolai Petrovich was expected, like his brother Pavel, to enter the army, although he not only lacked courage but even deserved to be called a little coward. He broke his leg on the very day that word of his commission arrived, however, and had to lie in bed for two months, staying “gimpy” to the end of his days. His father gave up on him and let him pursue civilian life. He took Nikolai Petrovich to Petersburg as soon as his son was eighteen and enrolled him in the university. Pavel happened to have been made an officer in the Guards at about the same time. The young men started to live together in one apartment under the distant supervision of a cousin on their mother’s side, Ilia Koliazin, a high-ranking official. Their father returned to his division and his wife, and every once in a while just sent his sons large gray sheets of paper with a military clerk’s handwriting scrawled across them. At the bottom of these sheets, carefully encircled by a scroll design, were inscribed the words, “Petr Kirsanov, General-Major.” In 1835, Nikolai Petrovich graduated from the university; General Kirsanov retired the same year after an unsuccessful review, and brought his wife to live in Petersburg. He was about to rent a house in the Tavricheskii garden and join the English Club when he suddenly died of a stroke. Agafokleia Kuzminishna died shortly thereafter—she couldn’t ever accustom herself to the dull life of the capital; she was consumed by the emptiness of existence away from the regiment.
Meanwhile, before his parents’ death and somewhat to their chagrin, Nikolai Petrovich had managed to fall in love with the daughter of his former landlord, a minor official named Prepolovenskii. She was a pretty and, as they say, advanced young woman; she used to read serious articles in the “Science” column of journals. He married her as soon as the mourning period for his parents was over. Having left the civil service, in which his father had procured him a position through his connections, Nikolai Petrovich lived with his Masha in perfect bliss, first in a country villa near the Lesnii Institute, then in a pretty little apartment in town that had a clean staircase and a chilly drawing room, and after that in the countryside, where he finally settled down and where within a short time his son, Arkadii, was born. The young couple lived quite happily and tranquilly. They were hardly ever apart; they read books together, they sang and played duets together on the piano. She tended her flowers and looked after the poultry-yard; he occasionally went hunting and busied himself with the estate. Arkadii grew up just as happily and tranquilly.
Ten years passed like a dream. In 1847, Kirsanov’s wife died. He almost succumbed to this blow—his hair turned gray in the space of just a few weeks. He got ready to go abroad in order to distract his mind a bit . . . but then came the year 1848. He unwillingly returned to the countryside, and after a rather prolonged period of inactivity, he began to take an interest in improving the management of his estate. In 1855, he took his son to the university; he spent three winters with him in Petersburg, hardly going out anywhere and trying to make friends with Arkadii’s youthful companions. He hadn’t been able to go the previous winter—and thus we see him in May of 1859, already completely gray, somewhat stout, and slightly stooped. He was waiting for his son, who’d just graduated, as he’d once done himself.
The servant, motivated by a sense of propriety, and possibly not eager to remain under his master’s eye anyway, had gone beyond the gate and was smoking a pipe. Nikolai Petrovich bowed his head and began to stare at the crumbling steps. A large, mottled hen walked toward him sedately, treading firmly on its long yellow legs; a muddy cat gave him an unfriendly look, coyly twisting itself around a railing. The sun was scorching; the odor of hot rye bread drifted out from the semidark passage of the inn. Nikolai Petrovich lapsed into daydreams. The words “my son . . . a graduate . . . Arkasha . . .” continually revolved in his head. He tried to think about something else, but the same thoughts kept recurring. He recalled his deceased wife. . . . “She didn’t live to see this!” he murmured sadly. A plump, dark-blue pigeon flew into the road and hastily took a drink from a puddle near the well. Nikolai Petrovich began to watch it, but his ear had already caught the sound of approaching wheels.
“It seems that they’re coming, sir,” the servant announced, returning from the gateway.
Nikolai Petrovich jumped up and directed his gaze along the road. An open carriage with three horses harnessed abreast appeared; he caught a glimpse of the blue band of a student’s cap and the familiar outline of a beloved face inside the carriage.
“Arkasha! Arkasha!” Kirsanov cried and ran forward, waving his arms. . . . A few moments later, his lips were pressed against the beardless, dusty, sunburned cheek of the young graduate.
“Let me dust myself off first, Papa,” Arkadii said in a voice that was tired from the journey but boyish and clear as a bell, as he cheerily responded to his father’s caresses. “I’ll get you all dirty.”
“It’s nothing, it’s nothing,” Nikolai Petrovich assured him, smiling tenderly and slapping the collar of his son’s coat as well as his own twice with his hand. “Let me take a look at you, let me take a look at you,” he added, stepping back from him; then he immediately hurried toward the courtyard of the inn, calling out, “This way, this way, and bring the horses at once.”
Nikolai Petrovich seemed to be much more agitated than his son; it was as if he were a little lost, and a little shy. Arkadii stopped him.
“Papa,” he said, “let me introduce you to my good friend, Bazarov, about whom I’ve written to you so often. He’s been kind enough to promise to stay with us.”
Nikolai Petrovich promptly turned around and, walking up to a tall man wearing a long, loose coat with tassels who’d just gotten out of the carriage, he warmly shook that man’s bare, reddened hand, which hadn’t been extended to him immediately.
“I’m extremely pleased,” he began, “and grateful for your kind willingness to visit us. . . . May I ask your first name and patronymic?”
“Evgenii Vasilich,” Bazarov answered in a lazy but powerful voice and, turning down the collar of his coat, revealed his entire face to Nikolai Petrovich. It was long and thin, with a broad forehead, a nose that was flat at the base and sharp at the tip, large greenish eyes, and drooping, sandy-colored sideburns. His face was illuminated by a calm smile, radiating self-assurance and intelligence.
“I hope you won’t find it too boring at our home, dear Evgenii Vasilich,” continued Nikolai Petrovich.
Bazarov’s thin lips moved almost imperceptibly. He made no formal reply and merely took off his cap. His long, thick, dark-blond hair couldn’t conceal some large protuberances on his capacious head.
“Well then, Arkadii,” Nikolai Petrovich began again, turning to his son, “should the horses be harnessed right away, or would you like to rest?”
“We’ll rest at home, Papa. Tell them to harness the horses.”
“Right away, right away,” his father assented. “Hey, Petr, do you hear? Get everything ready, my boy—hurry now.”
Petr, as an up-to-date servant, hadn’t kissed the young master’s hand but had merely bowed to him from a distance. He vanished through the gateway again.
“I came here with our carriage, but there are three horses for your carriage, too,” Nikolai Petrovich remarked fussily, while Arkadii drank some water from an iron dipper the innkeeper brought to him and Bazarov began to smoke a pipe as he walked up to the coachman who was unharnessing the horses.
“It’s only a two-seated carriage, and I don’t know how your friend. . . .”
“He’ll go in the open carriage,” Arkadii interrupted in an undertone. “You mustn’t stand on ceremony with him, please. He’s a wonderful person, and utterly unpretentious—you’ll see.”
Nikolai Petrovich’s driver brought out the fresh horses.
“Well, hurry up, bushy beard!” Bazarov urged, addressing the coachman.
“Do you hear what the gentleman called you, Mitiukha?” interjected another coachman who was standing nearby, his arms thrust behind him through a slit in his sheepskin coat. “It’s a bushy beard you have, too.”
Mitiukha merely tugged at his cap and pulled the reins off a sweaty shaft-horse.
“Faster, faster, boys, lend a hand,” cried Nikolai Petrovich. “There’ll be some vodka for you!”
The horses were harnessed within a few minutes; father and son were installed in the two-seated carriage; Petr climbed up onto its box; Bazarov jumped into the open carriage and nestled his head against a leather cushion—and both vehicles rolled away.
From the Trade Paperback edition.Copyright © 2001 by Ivan Turgenev
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