THE SMALL gentlemans house in the Moscow style, in which Avdotya Nikitishna, otherwise Evdoksya, Kukshin, lived, was in one of the streets of X, which had been lately burnt down; it is well known that our provincial towns are burnt down every five years. At the door, above a visiting card nailed on all askew, there was a bell-handle to be seen, and in the hall the visitors were met by some one, not exactly a servant, nor exactly a companion, in a capunmistakable tokens of the progressive tendencies of the lady of the house. Sitnikov inquired whether Avdotya Nikitishna was at home.
The young men went in. The room into which they walked was more like a working study than a drawing-room. Papers, letters, fat numbers of Russian journals, for the most part uncut, lay at random on the dusty tables; white cigarette ends lay scattered in every direction. On a leather-covered sofa, a lady, still young, was half reclining. Her fair hair was rather dishevelled; she wore a silk gown, not perfectly tidy, heavy bracelets on her short arms, and a lace handkerchief on her head. She got up from the sofa, and carelessly drawing a velvet cape trimmed with yellowish ermine over her shoulders, she said languidly, Good-morning, Victor, and pressed Sitnikovs hand.
Bazarov scowled. There was nothing repulsive in the little plain person of the emancipated woman; but the expression of her face produced a disagreeable effect on the spectator. One felt impelled to ask her, Whats the matter; are you hungry? Or bored? Or shy? What are you in a fidget about? Both she and Sitnikov had always the same uneasy air. She was extremely unconstrained, and at the same time awkward; she obviously regarded herself as a good-natured, simple creature, and all the while, whatever she did, it always struck one that it was not just what she wanted to do; everything with her seemed, as children say, done on purpose, thats to say, not simply, not naturally.
Yes, yes, I know you, Bazarov, she repeated. (She had the habitpeculiar to many provincial and Moscow ladiesof calling men by their surnames from the first day of acquaintance with them.) Will you have a cigar?
A cigars all very well, put in Sitnikov, who by now was lolling in an armchair, his legs in the air; but give us some lunch. Were awfully hungry; and tell them to bring us up a little bottle of champagne.
Yes. And do you know for what purpose? To make dolls heads so that they shouldnt break. Im practical, too, you see. But everythings not quite ready yet. Ive still to read Liebig. By the way, have you read Kislyakovs article on Female Labour, in the Moscow Gazette? Read it please. Youre interested in the woman question, I suppose? And in the schools too? What does your friend do? What is his name?
They tell me youve begun singing the praises of George Sand again. A retrograde woman, and nothing else! How can people compare her with Emerson! She hasnt an idea on education, nor physiology, nor anything. Shed never, Im persuaded, heard of embryology, and in these dayswhat can be done without that? (Evdoksya even threw up her hands.) Ah, what a wonderful article Elisyevitch has written on that subject! Hes a gentleman of genius. (Evdoksya constantly made use of the word gentleman instead of the word man.) Bazarov, sit by me on the sofa. You dont know, perhaps, Im awfully afraid of you.
Youre a dangerous gentleman; youre such a critic. Good God! yes! why, how absurd, Im talking like some country lady. I really am a country lady, though. I manage my property myself; and only fancy, my bailiff Erofays a wonderful type, quite like Coopers Pathfinder; something in him so spontaneous! Ive come to settle here finally; its an intolerable town, isnt it? But whats one to do?
All its interests are so petty, thats whats so awful! I used to spend the winters in Moscow but now my lawful spouse, Monsieur Kukshins residing there. And besides, Moscow nowadays there, I dont knowits not the same as it was. Im thinking of going abroad; last year I was on the point of setting off.
Yes, there are, answered Evdoksya; but theyre all such empty-headed creatures. Mon amie, Odintsova, for instance, is nice-looking. Its a pity her reputations rather doubtful. That wouldnt matter, though, but shes no independence in her views, no width, nothing of all that. The whole system of education wants changing. Ive thought a great deal about it, our women are very badly educated.
Theres no doing anything with them, put in Sitnikov; one ought to despise them, and I do despise them fully and completely! (The possibility of feeling and expressing contempt was the most agreeable sensation to Sitnikov; he used to attack women in especial, never suspecting that it was to be his fate a few months later to be cringing before his wife merely because she had been born a princess Durdoleosov.) Not a single one of them would be capable of understanding our conversation; not a single one deserves to be spoken of by serious men like us!
I can never listen calmly when women are attacked, pursued Evdoksya. Its awful, awful. Instead of attacking them, youd better read Michelets book, De lamour. Thats exquisite! Gentlemen, let us talk of love, added Evdoksya, letting her arm fall languidly on the rumpled sofa cushion.
Shes charming, charming! piped Sitnikov. I will introduce you. Clever, rich, a widow. Its a pity, shes not yet advanced enough; she ought to see more of our Evdoksya. I drink to your health, Evdoxie! Let us clink glasses! Et toc, et toc, et tin-tin-tin! Et toc, et toc, et tin-tin-tin!!!
The lunch dragged on a long while. The first bottle of champagne was followed by another, a third, and even a fourth. Evdoksya chattered without pause; Sitnikov seconded her. They had much discussion upon the question whether marriage was a prejudice or a crime, and whether men were born equal or not, and precisely what individuality consists in. Things came at last to Evdoksya, flushed from the wine she had drunk, tapping with her flat finger-tips on the keys of a discordant piano, and beginning to sing in a hoarse voice, first gipsy songs, and then Seymour Schiffs song, Granada lies slumbering; while Sitnikov tied a scarf round his head, and represented the dying lover at the words
Arkady could not stand it at last. Gentlemen, its getting something like Bedlam, he remarked aloud. Bazarov, who had at rare intervals put in an ironical word in the conversationhe paid more attention to the champagnegave a loud yawn, got up, and, without taking leave of their hostess, he walked off with Arkady. Sitnikov jumped up and followed them.
Well, what do you think of her? he inquired, skipping obsequiously from right to left of them. I told you, you see, a remarkable personality! If we only had more women like that! She is, in her own way, an expression of the highest morality.