Dialogue on the Threshold

Диалог на пороге

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Fathers and Sons condensed

Based on Fathers and Sons. A Novel. Ivan Sergheïevich Turgeneff. Translated from the Russian with the approval of the author by Eugene Schulyer, Ph. D. (New York, Leypoldt and Holt, 1867)

A fat cock with variegated plumage walks gravely up and down, striking the steps with the spurs on his big yellow feet; a cat, all covered with ashes, looks at him with rather an unfriendly air from the top of the balustrade where it is crouching. The sun burns hot; from the low chamber that serves as the entry to the inn issues a smell of freshly-cooked rye bread. A fat pigeon lights on the road and runs hastily to drink in a puddle of water near the well. Several carts, whose horses are unbridled,* rapidly go over a narrow cross-road; each carries one or two peasants in unbuttoned tulupes. A vast cultivated plain extends to the horizon, and the soil rises slightly, to fall soon after. Some little woods appear at rare intervals, and ravines, curtained with scattered low bushes, wind around a little further, recalling with some faithfulness the drawings that represent them on the old maps dating from the reign of the Empress Catharine. From time to time are seen little brooks with bare banks, ponds kept in by bad dikes; poor villages, whose low houses are surmounted by black thatched roofs, half off; miserable barns, with walls formed of interwoven branches, with enormous doors gaping on empty spaces; churches, some of brick, covered with a layer of plaster that is beginning to come off, others of wood, topped by a badly supported cross, and surrounded with ill-kept graveyards. All the peasants have a wretched air, and ride little worn-out horses; the willows that edge the road,** with their torn bark and their broken branches, resemble beggars in rags; shaggy cows, lean and fierce, eagerly browse on the herbage along the ditches. All grows green, all moves gently, and sparkles with a gilded splendor under the mild breath of a warm and light wind -- trees, bushes, and grass. From all sides rise the interminable trills of the larks; the lapwings cry as they hover over the damp meadows, or run silently over the clods of ground; crows whose black plumage contrasts with the tender green of the still short wheat, are seen here and there; they are distinguished with more difficulty in the midst of the rye that has already begun to whiten; their heads hardly rise for a moment above this waving sea. A lighted samovar*** waits on a table set between large bushes of lilac. The day is rapidly declining; the sun is hid behind a little aspen wood situated half a verst from the garden, and casts an endless shadow on the moveless fields. A peasant mounted on a white horse trots along a narrow path which skirts the wood; although he is in shadow, his whole person is distinctly seen, and a patch on his shoulder is even noticeable; the horse’s feet move with a regularity and a cleanness that is pleasing to the eye. The rays of the sun penetrate into the wood, and, traversing the thicket, colour the trunks of the aspens with a warm tint which gives them the appearance of savin trunks, while their almost blue foliage is surrounded by a pale sky, slightly reddened by the evening twilight. The swallows are flying very high; the wind has entirely ceased; belated bees feebly buzz in the lilac flowes; a swarm of gnats dances above an isolated branch that stands out into the air. The soft and warm night appears with its almost black sky, accompanied by the feeble murmur of the trees and the healthy odor of a free and pure air. A table of heavy wood, covered with papers so black with dust that they look as if smoked, occupies the space between two windows; on the walls hang Turkish guns, nagaïkas,**** a sabre, two large maps, anatomical drawings, the portrait of Hufeland, a crown made of hair, placed in a black frame, and a diploma, likewise under glass; between two enormous closet bookcases of birch root is a leathern divan, well rubbed and torn in several places; books, little boxes, stuffed birds, vials and retorts are placed pell-mell on the shelves; in one corner of the room is a worn-out electrical machine. A little room exhales an odor of fresh shavings, and two crickets behind the stove sing sleepily. It is mid-day. The heat is stifling, in spite of the fine curtain of white clouds which veils the sun. Everything is silent; the cocks alone crow in the village, and their languid voices give all who hear them a singular sensation of laziness and ennui. From time to time the piercing cry of a young sparrow-hawk comes like a plaintive appeal from the top of a tree. The morning is magnificent, and fresher than the preceding days. Little mottled clouds pass in flakes over the pale azure of the sky; a fine dew covers the leaves of the trees, and the spiders’ webs shine like silver on the grass; the damp, dark ground seems still to keep some traces of the first flush of the day; the song of the larks comes down from all parts of the sky. A finch sings its ceaseless song in the foliage of a birch. A puff of wind disturbs the leaves and carries away the words. Everything in the house seems in some way to be darkened; every face is lengthened; a strange silence reigns, even in the yard; they have sent off to the village a crowing cock, who must have been remarkably surprised by such a proceeding. Winter has come; winter with the terrible silence of its frosts, the compact and creaking snow, the rosy rime on the branches of the trees, the pillars of thick smoke above the chimneys showing against a sky pale blue and cloudless, the eddies of warm air shooting out of opened doors, the fresh and nipped-looking faces of the passers-by, and the hasty trot of horses half-frozen by the cold. A January day is drawing near its end; the coldness of the evening condenses still more the motionless air, and the blood-coloured twilight is rapidly extinguished.

* A strange custom of the Russian peasant.

** In accordance with a ukase of the Emperor Alexander I., all the high roads in Russia are planted with willows.

*** A large vessel in which tea is made.

**** Cossack whips

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