At Baden, Grigory Litvinoff decides to enjoy a few days of vacation. The fashionable German watering place is full of Russians, and there, in a week or so, Litvinoff is to meet Tanya Shestoff, his fiancé, who is coming to Baden with her Aunt Kapitolina.
Litvinoff is poor, comparatively speaking. His father owns a large farm with forests, meadows, and a lake, but Russian farming is so unproductive that he can barely make ends meet. After his university days, Litvinoff decides to learn progressive farming, but, because Russia is so far behind in agriculture, he goes abroad to study. He goes to the Crimea, France, Switzerland, and England. Everywhere his keen mind absorbs the latest agricultural methods, and he is particularly impressed by the superiority of the few pieces of American machinery he sees. Full of ideas, his life is planned; he will make a model farm. First, however, he will marry Tanya.
Quite by chance, he runs into Bambaeff, a former acquaintance. Bambaeff is an ebullient person, filled with windy politics and intimate with the most advanced thinkers in Baden. When Bambaeff takes Litvinoff to meet Gubaryoff, the idol of the liberals, Litvinoff is repelled by the company he meets in Gubaryoff’s rooms. They all talk long and loud in their assertions that Russia produces nothing good, that all virtue resides in Europe proper, that the emancipation of the serfs is a foolish step. He meets Bindasoff, a choleric boor who borrows a hundred rubles from him; he never repays the debt, although Litvinoff later watches him win four hundred rubles with the money. Only one man in the gathering is quiet; he sits unnoticed in a corner.
After leaving Gubaryoff’s room, Litvinoff stops at a sidewalk café. The quiet man from Gubaryoff’s rooms appears and presents himself at Litvinoff’s table; he is Potugin, a former clerk in Moscow. They talk agreeably for a long time. Both men greatly dislike their compatriots who are so sure that nothing good comes out of Russia, and they both agree that by hard work Russia can advance. At last, as Potugin rises to go, he excuses himself by saying that he has a girl with him. Seeing Litvinoff’s look of polite blankness, he explains that he is looking after a little child who has no parents.
After a short walk, Litvinoff returns to his hotel. He has a letter from Tanya to read; as he reads it, he was bothered by a heavy sweet smell. Looking around, he sees a bunch of fresh heliotrope in a glass. Here is a mystery. The servant says that a lady gave him money to get into the room. She must have left the flowers. Suddenly, he remembers Irina.
Ten years before, Litvinoff was a student in Moscow. He was poor, and he frequently visited another poor family, the Osinins. The family was of the real nobility, but for generations the Osinins declined, until they existed only on a small pension the father received from some obscure sinecures. Litvinoff was attracted greatly to Irina, the seventeen-year-old daughter...
(The entire section is 1226 words.)