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Chapter 24

  • JUST before dinner Sipiagin called his wife into the library. He wanted t_ave a talk with her alone. He seemed worried. He told her that the factor_as really in a bad way, that Solomin struck him as a capable man, although _ittle stiff, and thought it was necessary to continue being aux petits soin_ith him.
  • "How I should like to get hold of him!" he repeated once or twice. Sipiagi_as very much annoyed at Kollomietzev's being there. "Devil take the man! H_ees nihilists everywhere and is always wanting to suppress them! Let him d_t at his own house I He simply can't hold his tongue!"
  • Valentina Mihailovna said that she would be delighted to be aux petits soin_ith the new visitor, but it seemed to her that he had no need of these petit_oins and took no notice of them; not rudely in any way, but he was quit_ndifferent; very remarkable in a man du commun.
  • "Never mind… . Be nice to him just the same!" Sipiagin begged of her.
  • Valentina Mihailovna promised to do what he wanted and fulfilled her promis_onscientiously. She began by having a tete-a-tete with Kollomietzev. What sh_aid to him remains a secret, but he came to the table with the air of a ma_ho had made up his mind to be discreet and submissive at all costs. This
  • "resignation" gave his whole bearing a slight touch of melancholy; and wha_ignity … oh, what dignity there was in every one of his movements! Valentin_ihailovna introduced Solomin to everybody (he looked more attentively a_ariana than at any of the others), and made him sit beside her on her righ_t table. Kollomietzev sat on her left, and as he unfolded his serviett_crewed up his face and smiled, as much as to say, "Well, now let us begin ou_ittle comedy!" Sipiagin sat on the opposite side and watched him with som_nxiety. By a new arrangement of Madame Sipiagina, Nejdanov was not put nex_o Mariana as usual, but between Anna Zaharovna and Sipiagin. Mariana foun_er card (as the dinner was a stately one) on her serviette betwee_ollomietzev and Kolia. The dinner was excellently served; there was even a
  • "menu"—a painted card lay before each person.
  • Directly soup was finished, Sipiagin again brought the conversation round t_is factory, and from there went on to Russian manufacture in general.
  • Solomin, as usual, replied very briefly. As soon as he began speaking, Marian_ixed her eyes upon him. Kollomietzev, who was sitting beside her, turned t_er with various compliments (he had been asked not to start a dispute), bu_he did not listen to him; and indeed he pronounced all his pleasantries in _alf-hearted manner, merely to satisfy his own conscience. He realised tha_here was something between himself and this young girl that could not b_rossed.
  • As for Nejdanov, something even worse had come to pass between him and th_aster of the house. For Sipiagin, Nejdanov had become simply a piece o_urniture, or an empty space that he quite ignored. These new relations ha_aken place so quickly and unmistakably that when Nejdanov pronounced a fe_ords in answer to a remark of Anna Zaharovna's, Sipiagin looked round i_mazement, as if wondering where the sound came from.
  • Sipiagin evidently possessed some of the characteristics for which certain o_he great Russian bureaucrats are celebrated for.
  • After the fish, Valentina Mihailovna, who had been lavishing all her charms o_olomin, said to her husband in English that she noticed their visitor did no_rink wine and might perhaps like some beer. Sipiagin called aloud for ale, while Solomin calmly turned towards Valentina Mihailovna, saying, "You may no_e aware, madame, that I spent over two years in England and can understan_nd speak English. I only mentioned it in case you should wish to say anythin_rivate before me." Valentina Mihailovna laughed and assured him that thi_recaution was altogether unnecessary, since he would hear nothing but good o_imself; inwardly she thought Solomin's action rather strange, but delicate i_ts own way.
  • At this point Kollomietzev could no longer contain himself. "And so you'v_een in England," he began, "and no doubt studied the manners and custom_here. Do you think them worth imitating?"
  • "Some yes, others no."
  • "Brief but not clear," Kollomietzev remarked, trying not to notice the sign_ipiagin was making to him. "You were speaking of the nobility this morning… No doubt you've had the opportunity of studying the English landed gentry, a_hey call them there."
  • "No, I had no such opportunity. I moved in quite a different sphere. But _ormed my own ideas about these gentlemen."
  • "Well, do you think that such a landed gentry is impossible among us? Or tha_e ought not to want it in any case?"
  • "In the first place, I certainly do think it impossible, and in the second, it's hardly worthwhile wanting such a thing."
  • "But why, my dear sir? " Kollomietzev asked; the polite tone was intended t_oothe Sipiagin, who sat very uneasily on his chair.
  • "Because in twenty or thirty years your landed gentry won't be here in an_ase."
  • "What makes you think so?"
  • "Because by that time the land will fall into the hands of people in no wa_istinguished by their origin."
  • "Do you mean the merchants?"
  • "For the most part probably the merchants."
  • "But how will it happen?"
  • "They'll buy it, of course."
  • "From the gentry? "
  • "Yes; from the gentry."
  • Kollomietzev smiled condescendingly. "If you recollect you said the very sam_hing about factories that you're now saying about the land."
  • "And it's quite true."
  • "You will no doubt be very pleased about it!"
  • "Not at all. I've already told you that the people won't be any the better of_or the change."
  • Kollomietzev raised his hand slightly. "What solicitude on the part of th_eople, imagine!"
  • "Vassily Fedotitch!" Sipiagin called out as loudly as he could, "they hav_rought you some beer! Voyons, simeon!" he added in an undertone.
  • But Kollomietzev would not be suppressed.
  • "I see you haven't a very high opinion of the merchant class," he began again, turning to Solomin, "but they've sprung from the people."
  • "So they have."
  • "I thought that you considered everything about the people, or relating to th_eople, as above criticism!"
  • "Not at all! You are quite mistaken. The masses can be condemned for a grea_any things, though they are not always to blame. Our merchant is an exploite_nd uses his capital for that purpose. He thinks that people are always tryin_o get the better of him, so he tries to get the better of them. But th_eople—"
  • "Well, what about the people?" Kollomietzev asked in falsetto.
  • "The people are asleep."
  • "And would you like to wake them?"
  • "That would not be a bad thing to do."
  • "Aha! aha! So that's what—"
  • "Gentlemen, gentlemen!" Sipiagin exclaimed imperatively. He felt that th_oment had come to put an end to the discussion, and he did put an end to it.
  • With a slight gesture of his right hand, while the elbow remained propped o_he table, he delivered a long and detailed speech. He praised th_onservatives on the one hand and approved of the liberals on the other, giving the preference to the latter as he counted himself of their numbers. H_poke highly of the people, but drew attention to some of their weaknesses; expressed his full confidence in the government, but asked himself whether al_ts officials were faithfully fulfilling its benevolent designs. H_cknowledged the importance of literature, but declared that without th_tmost caution it was dangerous. He turned to the West with hope, then becam_oubtful; he turned to the East, first sighed, then became enthusiastic.
  • Finally he proposed a toast in honour of the trinity: Religion, Agriculture, and Industry!
  • "Under the wing of authority!" Kollomietzev added sternly.
  • "Under the wing of wise and benevolent authority," Sipiagin corrected him.
  • The toast was drunk in silence. The empty space on Sipiagin's left, in th_orm of Nejdanov, did certainly make several sounds of disapproval; bu_rousing not the least attention became quiet again, and the dinner, withou_ny further controversy, reached a happy conclusion.
  • Valentina Mihailovna, with a most charming smile, handed Solomin a cup o_offee; he drank it and was already looking round for his hat when Sipiagi_ook him gently by the arm and led him into his study. There he first gave hi_n excellent cigar and then made him a proposal to enter his factory on th_ost advantageous terms. "You will be absolute master there, Vassil_edotitch, I assure you!" Solomin accepted the cigar and declined the offe_bout the factory. He stuck to his refusal, however much Sipiagin insisted.
  • "Please don't say 'no' at once, my dear Vassily Fedotitch! Say, at least, tha_ou'll think it over until tomorrow!"
  • "It would make no difference. I wouldn't accept your proposal."
  • "Do think it over till tomorrow, Vassily Fedotitch! It won't cost yo_nything."
  • Solomin agreed, came out of the study, and began looking for his hat again.
  • But Nejdanov, who until that moment had had no opportunity of exchanging _ord with him, came up to him and whispered hurriedly:
  • "For heaven's sake don't go yet, or else we won't be able to have a talk!"
  • Solomin left his hat alone, the more readily as Sipiagin, who had observed hi_rresoluteness, exclaimed:
  • "Won't you stay the night with us?"
  • "As you wish."
  • The grateful glance Mariana fixed on him as she stood at the drawing-roo_indow set him thinking.