hy do I so persistently paint the poverty, the imperfections of Russian life, and delve into the remotest depths, the most retired holes and corners, of our Empire for my subjects? The answer is that there is nothing else to be done when an author’s idiosyncrasy happens to incline him that way. So again we find ourselves in a retired spot. But what a spot!
Imagine, if you can, a mountain range like a gigantic fortress, with embrasures and bastions which appear to soar a thousand versts towards the heights of heaven, and, towering grandly over a boundless expanse of plain, are broken up into precipitous, overhanging limestone cliffs. Here and there those cliffs are seamed with water-courses and gullies, while at other points they are rounded off into spurs of green—spurs now coated with fleece-like tufts of young undergrowth, now studded with the stumps of felled trees, now covered with timber which has, by some miracle, escaped the woodman’s axe. Also, a river winds awhile between its banks, then leaves the meadow land, divides into runlets (all flashing in the sun like fire), plunges, re-united, into the midst of a thicket of elder, birth, and pine, and, lastly, speeds triumphantly past bridges and mills and weirs which seem to be lying in wait for it at every turn.
At one particular spot the steep flank of the mountain range is covered with billowy verdure of denser growth than the rest; and here the aid of skilful planting, added to the shelter afforded by a rugged ravine, has enabled the flora of north and south so to be brought together that, twined about with sinuous hop-tendrils, the oak, the spruce fir, the wild pear, the maple, the cherry, the thorn, and the mountain ash either assist or check one another’s growth, and everywhere cover the declivity with their straggling profusion. Also, at the edge of the summit there can be seen mingling with the green of the trees the red roofs of a manorial homestead, while behind the upper stories of the mansion proper and its carved balcony and a great semi-circular window there gleam the tiles and gables of some peasants’ huts. Lastly, over this combination of trees and roofs there rises—overtopping everything with its gilded, sparkling steeple—an old village church. On each of its pinnacles a cross of carved gilt is stayed with supports of similar gilding and design; with the result that from a distance the gilded portions have the effect of hanging without visible agency in the air. And the whole—the three successive tiers of woodland, roofs, and crosses whole—lies exquisitely mirrored in the river below, where hollow willows, grotesquely shaped (some of them rooted on the river’s banks, and some in the water itself, and all drooping their branches until their leaves have formed a tangle with the water lilies which float on the surface), seem to be gazing at the marvellous reflection at their feet.
Thus the view from below is beautiful indeed. But the view from above is even better. No guest, no visitor, could stand on the balcony of the mansion and remain indifferent. So boundless is the panorama revealed that surprise would cause him to catch at his breath, and exclaim: “Lord of Heaven, but what a prospect!” Beyond meadows studded with spinneys and water-mills lie forests belted with green; while beyond, again, there can be seen showing through the slightly misty air strips of yellow heath, and, again, wide-rolling forests (as blue as the sea or a cloud), and more heath, paler than the first, but still yellow. Finally, on the far horizon a range of chalk-topped hills gleams white, even in dull weather, as though it were lightened with perpetual sunshine; and here and there on the dazzling whiteness of its lower slopes some plaster-like, nebulous patches represent far-off villages which lie too remote for the eye to discern their details. Indeed, only when the sunlight touches a steeple to gold does one realise that each such patch is a human settlement. Finally, all is wrapped in an immensity of silence which even the far, faint echoes of persons singing in the void of the plain cannot shatter.
Even after gazing at the spectacle for a couple of hours or so, the visitor would still find nothing to say, save: “Lord of Heaven, but what a prospect!” Then who is the dweller in, the proprietor of, this manor—a manor to which, as to an impregnable fortress, entrance cannot be gained from the side where we have been standing, but only from the other approach, where a few scattered oaks offer hospitable welcome to the visitor, and then, spreading above him their spacious branches (as in friendly embrace), accompany him to the facade of the mansion whose top we have been regarding from the reverse aspect, but which now stands frontwise on to us, and has, on one side of it, a row of peasants’ huts with red tiles and carved gables, and, on the other, the village church, with those glittering golden crosses and gilded open-work charms which seem to hang suspended in the air? Yes, indeed!—to what fortunate individual does this corner of the world belong? It belongs to Andrei Ivanovitch Tientietnikov, landowner of the canton of Tremalakhan, and, withal, a bachelor of about thirty.
Should my lady readers ask of me what manner of man is Tientietnikov, and what are his attributes and peculiarities, I should refer them to his neighbours. Of these, a member of the almost extinct tribe of intelligent staff officers on the retired list once summed up Tientietnikov in the phrase, “He is an absolute blockhead;” while a General who resided ten versts away was heard to remark that “he is a young man who, though not exactly a fool, has at least too much crowded into his head. I myself might have been of use to him, for not only do I maintain certain connections with St. Petersburg, but also—” And the General left his sentence unfinished. Thirdly, a captain-superintendent of rural police happened to remark in the course of conversation: “To-morrow I must go and see Tientietnikov about his arrears.” Lastly, a peasant of Tientietnikov’s own village, when asked what his barin was like, returned no answer at all. All of which would appear to show that Tientietnikov was not exactly looked upon with favour.
To speak dispassionately, however, he was not a bad sort of fellow—merely a star-gazer; and since the world contains many watchers of the skies, why should Tientietnikov not have been one of them? However, let me describe in detail a specimen day of his existence—one that will closely resemble the rest, and then the reader will be enabled to judge of Tientietnikov’s character, and how far his life corresponded to the beauties of nature with which he lived surrounded.
On the morning of the specimen day in question he awoke very late, and, raising himself to a sitting posture, rubbed his eyes. And since those eyes were small, the process of rubbing them occupied a very long time, and throughout its continuance there stood waiting by the door his valet, Mikhailo, armed with a towel and basin. For one hour, for two hours, did poor Mikhailo stand there: then he departed to the kitchen, and returned to find his master still rubbing his eyes as he sat on the bed. At length, however, Tientietnikov rose, washed himself, donned a dressing-gown, and moved into the drawing-room for morning tea, coffee, cocoa, and warm milk; of all of which he partook but sparingly, while munching a piece of bread, and scattering tobacco ash with complete insouciance. Two hours did he sit over this meal, then poured himself out another cup of the rapidly cooling tea, and walked to the window. This faced the courtyard, and outside it, as usual, there took place the following daily altercation between a serf named Grigory (who purported to act as butler) and the housekeeper, Perfilievna.
Grigory. Ah, you nuisance, you good-for-nothing, you had better hold your stupid tongue.
Perfilievna. Yes; and don’t you wish that I would?
Grigory. What? You so thick with that bailiff of yours, you housekeeping jade!
Perfilievna. Nay, he is as big a thief as you are. Do you think the barin doesn’t know you? And there he is! He must have heard everything!
Perfilievna. There—sitting by the window, and looking at us!
Next, to complete the hubbub, a serf child which had been clouted by its mother broke out into a bawl, while a borzoi puppy which had happened to get splashed with boiling water by the cook fell to yelping vociferously. In short, the place soon became a babel of shouts and squeals, and, after watching and listening for a time, the barin found it so impossible to concentrate his mind upon anything that he sent out word that the noise would have to be abated.
The next item was that, a couple of hours before luncheon time, he withdrew to his study, to set about employing himself upon a weighty work which was to consider Russia from every point of view: from the political, from the philosophical, and from the religious, as well as to resolve various problems which had arisen to confront the Empire, and to define clearly the great future to which the country stood ordained. In short, it was to be the species of compilation in which the man of the day so much delights. Yet the colossal undertaking had progressed but little beyond the sphere of projection, since, after a pen had been gnawed awhile, and a few strokes had been committed to paper, the whole would be laid aside in favour of the reading of some book; and that reading would continue also during luncheon and be followed by the lighting of a pipe, the playing of a solitary game of chess, and the doing of more or less nothing for the rest of the day.
The foregoing will give the reader a pretty clear idea of the manner in which it was possible for this man of thirty-three to waste his time. Clad constantly in slippers and a dressing-gown, Tientietnikov never went out, never indulged in any form of dissipation, and never walked upstairs. Nothing did he care for fresh air, and would bestow not a passing glance upon all those beauties of the countryside which moved visitors to such ecstatic admiration. From this the reader will see that Andrei Ivanovitch Tientietnikov belonged to that band of sluggards whom we always have with us, and who, whatever be their present appellation, used to be known by the nicknames of “lollopers,” “bed pressers,” and “marmots.” Whether the type is a type originating at birth, or a type resulting from untoward circumstances in later life, it is impossible to say. A better course than to attempt to answer that question would be to recount the story of Tientietnikov’s boyhood and upbringing.
Everything connected with the latter seemed to promise success, for at twelve years of age the boy—keen-witted, but dreamy of temperament, and inclined to delicacy—was sent to an educational establishment presided over by an exceptional type of master. The idol of his pupils, and the admiration of his assistants, Alexander Petrovitch was gifted with an extraordinary measure of good sense. How thoroughly he knew the peculiarities of the Russian of his day! How well he understood boys! How capable he was of drawing them out! Not a practical joker in the school but, after perpetrating a prank, would voluntarily approach his preceptor and make to him free confession. True, the preceptor would put a stern face upon the matter, yet the culprit would depart with head held higher, not lower, than before, since in Alexander Petrovitch there was something which heartened—something which seemed to say to a delinquent: “Forward you! Rise to your feet again, even though you have fallen!” Not lectures on good behaviour was it, therefore, that fell from his lips, but rather the injunction, “I want to see intelligence, and nothing else. The boy who devotes his attention to becoming clever will never play the fool, for under such circumstances, folly disappears of itself.” And so folly did, for the boy who failed to strive in the desired direction incurred the contempt of all his comrades, and even dunces and fools of senior standing did not dare to raise a finger when saluted by their juniors with opprobrious epithets. Yet “This is too much,” certain folk would say to Alexander. “The result will be that your students will turn out prigs.” “But no,” he would reply. “Not at all. You see, I make it my principle to keep the incapables for a single term only, since that is enough for them; but to the clever ones I allot a double course of instruction.” And, true enough, any lad of brains was retained for this finishing course. Yet he did not repress all boyish playfulness, since he declared it to be as necessary as a rash to a doctor, inasmuch as it enabled him to diagnose what lay hidden within.
Consequently, how the boys loved him! Never was there such an attachment between master and pupils. And even later, during the foolish years, when foolish things attract, the measure of affection which Alexander Petrovitch retained was extraordinary. In fact, to the day of his death, every former pupil would celebrate the birthday of his late master by raising his glass in gratitude to the mentor dead and buried—then close his eyelids upon the tears which would come trickling through them. Even the slightest word of encouragement from Alexander Petrovitch could throw a lad into a transport of tremulous joy, and arouse in him an honourable emulation of his fellows. Boys of small capacity he did not long retain in his establishment; whereas those who possessed exceptional talent he put through an extra course of schooling. This senior class—a class composed of specially-selected pupils—was a very different affair from what usually obtains in other colleges. Only when a boy had attained its ranks did Alexander demand of him what other masters indiscreetly require of mere infants—namely the superior frame of mind which, while never indulging in mockery, can itself bear ridicule, and disregard the fool, and keep its temper, and repress itself, and eschew revenge, and calmly, proudly retain its tranquillity of soul. In short, whatever avails to form a boy into a man of assured character, that did Alexander Petrovitch employ during the pupil’s youth, as well as constantly put him to the test. How well he understood the art of life!
Of assistant tutors he kept but few, since most of the necessary instruction he imparted in person, and, without pedantic terminology and inflated diction and views, could so transmit to his listeners the inmost spirit of a lesson that even the youngest present absorbed its essential elements. Also, of studies he selected none but those which may help a boy to become a good citizen; and therefore most of the lectures which he delivered consisted of discourses on what may be awaiting a youth, as well as of such demarcations of life’s field that the pupil, though seated, as yet, only at the desk, could beforehand bear his part in that field both in thought and spirit. Nor did the master CONCEAL anything. That is to say, without mincing words, he invariably set before his hearers the sorrows and the difficulties which may confront a man, the trials and the temptations which may beset him. And this he did in terms as though, in every possible calling and capacity, he himself had experienced the same. Consequently, either the vigorous development of self-respect or the constant stimulus of the master’s eye (which seemed to say to the pupil, “Forward!”—that word which has become so familiar to the contemporary Russian, that word which has worked such wonders upon his sensitive temperament); one or the other, I repeat, would from the first cause the pupil to tackle difficulties, and only difficulties, and to hunger for prowess only where the path was arduous, and obstacles were many, and it was necessary to display the utmost strength of mind. Indeed, few completed the course of which I have spoken without issuing therefrom reliable, seasoned fighters who could keep their heads in the most embarrassing of official positions, and at times when older and wiser men, distracted with the annoyances of life, had either abandoned everything or, grown slack and indifferent, had surrendered to the bribe-takers and the rascals. In short, no ex-pupil of Alexander Petrovitch ever wavered from the right road, but, familiar with life and with men, armed with the weapons of prudence, exerted a powerful influence upon wrongdoers.
For a long time past the ardent young Tientietnikov’s excitable heart had also beat at the thought that one day he might attain the senior class described. And, indeed, what better teacher could he have had befall him than its preceptor? Yet just at the moment when he had been transferred thereto, just at the moment when he had reached the coveted position, did his instructor come suddenly by his death! This was indeed a blow for the boy—indeed a terrible initial loss! In his eyes everything connected with the school seemed to undergo a change—the chief reason being the fact that to the place of the deceased headmaster there succeeded a certain Thedor Ivanovitch, who at once began to insist upon certain external rules, and to demand of the boys what ought rightly to have been demanded only of adults. That is to say, since the lads’ frank and open demeanour savoured to him only of lack of discipline, he announced (as though in deliberate spite of his predecessor) that he cared nothing for progress and intellect, but that heed was to be paid only to good behaviour. Yet, curiously enough, good behaviour was just what he never obtained, for every kind of secret prank became the rule; and while, by day, there reigned restraint and conspiracy, by night there began to take place chambering and wantonness.
Also, certain changes in the curriculum of studies came about, for there were engaged new teachers who held new views and opinions, and confused their hearers with a multitude of new terms and phrases, and displayed in their exposition of things both logical sequence and a zest for modern discovery and much warmth of individual bias. Yet their instruction, alas! contained no LIFE—in the mouths of those teachers a dead language savoured merely of carrion. Thus everything connected with the school underwent a radical alteration, and respect for authority and the authorities waned, and tutors and ushers came to be dubbed “Old Thedor,” “Crusty,” and the like. And sundry other things began to take place—things which necessitated many a penalty and expulsion; until, within a couple of years, no one who had known the school in former days would now have recognised it.
Nevertheless Tientietnikov, a youth of retiring disposition, experienced no leanings towards the nocturnal orgies of his companions, orgies during which the latter used to flirt with damsels before the very windows of the headmaster’s rooms, nor yet towards their mockery of all that was sacred, simply because fate had cast in their way an injudicious priest. No, despite its dreaminess, his soul ever remembered its celestial origin, and could not be diverted from the path of virtue. Yet still he hung his head, for, while his ambition had come to life, it could find no sort of outlet. Truly ’twere well if it had NOT come to life, for throughout the time that he was listening to professors who gesticulated on their chairs he could not help remembering the old preceptor who, invariably cool and calm, had yet known how to make himself understood. To what subjects, to what lectures, did the boy not have to listen!—to lectures on medicine, and on philosophy, and on law, and on a version of general history so enlarged that even three years failed to enable the professor to do more than finish the introduction thereto, and also the account of the development of some self-governing towns in Germany. None of the stuff remained fixed in Tientietnikov’s brain save as shapeless clots; for though his native intellect could not tell him how instruction ought to be imparted, it at least told him that THIS was not the way. And frequently, at such moments he would recall Alexander Petrovitch, and give way to such grief that scarcely did he know what he was doing.
But youth is fortunate in the fact that always before it there lies a future; and in proportion as the time for his leaving school drew nigh, Tientietnikov’s heart began to beat higher and higher, and he said to himself: “This is not life, but only a preparation for life. True life is to be found in the Public Service. There at least will there be scope for activity.” So, bestowing not a glance upon that beautiful corner of the world which never failed to strike the guest or chance visitor with amazement, and reverencing not a whit the dust of his ancestors, he followed the example of most ambitious men of his class by repairing to St. Petersburg (whither, as we know, the more spirited youth of Russia from every quarter gravitates—there to enter the Public Service, to shine, to obtain promotion, and, in a word, to scale the topmost peaks of that pale, cold, deceptive elevation which is known as society). But the real starting-point of Tientietnikov’s ambition was the moment when his uncle (one State Councillor Onifri Ivanovitch) instilled into him the maxim that the only means to success in the Service lay in good handwriting, and that, without that accomplishment, no one could ever hope to become a Minister or Statesman. Thus, with great difficulty, and also with the help of his uncle’s influence, young Tientietnikov at length succeeded in being posted to a Department. On the day that he was conducted into a splendid, shining hall—a hall fitted with inlaid floors and lacquered desks as fine as though this were actually the place where the great ones of the Empire met for discussion of the fortunes of the State; on the day that he saw legions of handsome gentlemen of the quill-driving profession making loud scratchings with pens, and cocking their heads to one side; lastly on the day that he saw himself also allotted a desk, and requested to copy a document which appeared purposely to be one of the pettiest possible order (as a matter of fact it related to a sum of three roubles, and had taken half a year to produce)—well, at that moment a curious, an unwonted sensation seized upon the inexperienced youth, for the gentlemen around him appeared so exactly like a lot of college students. And, the further to complete the resemblance, some of them were engaged in reading trashy translated novels, which they kept hurriedly thrusting between the sheets of their apportioned work whenever the Director appeared, as though to convey the impression that it was to that work alone that they were applying themselves. In short, the scene seemed to Tientietnikov strange, and his former pursuits more important than his present, and his preparation for the Service preferable to the Service itself. Yes, suddenly he felt a longing for his old school; and as suddenly, and with all the vividness of life, there appeared before his vision the figure of Alexander Petrovitch. He almost burst into tears as he beheld his old master, and the room seemed to swim before his eyes, and the tchinovniks and the desks to become a blur, and his sight to grow dim. Then he thought to himself with an effort: “No, no! I WILL apply myself to my work, however petty it be at first.” And hardening his heart and recovering his spirit, he determined then and there to perform his duties in such a manner as should be an example to the rest.
But where are compensations to be found? Even in St. Petersburg, despite its grim and murky exterior, they exist. Yes, even though thirty degrees of keen, cracking frost may have bound the streets, and the family of the North Wind be wailing there, and the Snowstorm Witch have heaped high the pavements, and be blinding the eyes, and powdering beards and fur collars and the shaggy manes of horses—even THEN there will be shining hospitably through the swirling snowflakes a fourth-floor window where, in a cosy room, and by the light of modest candles, and to the hiss of the samovar, there will be in progress a discussion which warms the heart and soul, or else a reading aloud of a brilliant page of one of those inspired Russian poets with whom God has dowered us, while the breast of each member of the company is heaving with a rapture unknown under a noontide sky.
Gradually, therefore, Tientietnikov grew more at home in the Service. Yet never did it become, for him, the main pursuit, the main object in life, which he had expected. No, it remained but one of a secondary kind. That is to say, it served merely to divide up his time, and enable him the more to value his hours of leisure. Nevertheless, just when his uncle was beginning to flatter himself that his nephew was destined to succeed in the profession, the said nephew elected to ruin his every hope. Thus it befell. Tientietnikov’s friends (he had many) included among their number a couple of fellows of the species known as “embittered.” That is to say, though good-natured souls of that curiously restless type which cannot endure injustice, nor anything which it conceives to be such, they were thoroughly unbalanced of conduct themselves, and, while demanding general agreement with their views, treated those of others with the scantiest of ceremony. Nevertheless these two associates exercised upon Tientietnikov—both by the fire of their eloquence and by the form of their noble dissatisfaction with society—a very strong influence; with the result that, through arousing in him an innate tendency to nervous resentment, they led him also to notice trifles which before had escaped his attention. An instance of this is seen in the fact that he conceived against Thedor Thedorovitch Lienitsin, Director of one of the Departments which was quartered in the splendid range of offices before mentioned, a dislike which proved the cause of his discerning n the man a host of hitherto unmarked imperfections. Above all things did Tientietnikov take it into his head that, when conversing with his superiors, Lienitsin became, of the moment, a stick of luscious sweetmeat, but that, when conversing with his inferiors, he approximated more to a vinegar cruet. Certain it is that, like all petty-minded individuals, Lienitsin made a note of any one who failed to offer him a greeting on festival days, and that he revenged himself upon any one whose visiting-card had not been handed to his butler. Eventually the youth’s aversion almost attained the point of hysteria; until he felt that, come what might, he MUST insult the fellow in some fashion. To that task he applied himself con amore; and so thoroughly that he met with complete success. That is to say, he seized on an occasion to address Lienitsin in such fashion that the delinquent received notice either to apologies or to leave the Service; and when of these alternatives he chose the latter his uncle came to him, and made a terrified appeal. “For God’s sake remember what you are doing!” he cried. “To think that, after beginning your career so well, you should abandon it merely for the reason that you have not fallen in with the sort of Director whom you prefer! What do you mean by it, what do you mean by it? Were others to regard things in the same way, the Service would find itself without a single individual. Reconsider your conduct—forego your pride and conceit, and make Lienitsin amends.”
“But, dear Uncle,” the nephew replied, “that is not the point. The point is, not that I should find an apology difficult to offer, seeing that, since Lienitsin is my superior, and I ought not to have addressed him as I did, I am clearly in the wrong. Rather, the point is the following. To my charge there has been committed the performance of another kind of service. That is to say, I am the owner of three hundred peasant souls, a badly administered estate, and a fool of a bailiff. That being so, whereas the State will lose little by having to fill my stool with another copyist, it will lose very much by causing three hundred peasant souls to fail in the payment of their taxes. As I say (how am I to put it?), I am a landowner who has preferred to enter the Public Service. Now, should I employ myself henceforth in conserving, restoring, and improving the fortunes of the souls whom God has entrusted to my care, and thereby provide the State with three hundred law-abiding, sober, hard-working taxpayers, how will that service of mine rank as inferior to the service of a department-directing fool like Lienitsin?”
On hearing this speech, the State Councillor could only gape, for he had not expected Tientietnikov’s torrent of words. He reflected a few moments, and then murmured:
“Yes, but, but—but how can a man like you retire to rustication in the country? What society will you get there? Here one meets at least a general or a prince sometimes; indeed, no matter whom you pass in the street, that person represents gas lamps and European civilisation; but in the country, no matter what part of it you are in, not a soul is to be encountered save muzhiks and their women. Why should you go and condemn yourself to a state of vegetation like that?”
Nevertheless the uncle’s expostulations fell upon deaf ears, for already the nephew was beginning to think of his estate as a retreat of a type more likely to nourish the intellectual faculties and afford the only profitable field of activity. After unearthing one or two modern works on agriculture, therefore, he, two weeks later, found himself in the neighbourhood of the home where his boyhood had been spent, and approaching the spot which never failed to enthral the visitor or guest. And in the young man’s breast there was beginning to palpitate a new feeling—in the young man’s soul there were reawakening old, long-concealed impressions; with the result that many a spot which had long been faded from his memory now filled him with interest, and the beautiful views on the estate found him gazing at them like a newcomer, and with a beating heart. Yes, as the road wound through a narrow ravine, and became engulfed in a forest where, both above and below, he saw three-centuries-old oaks which three men could not have spanned, and where Siberian firs and elms overtopped even the poplars, and as he asked the peasants to tell him to whom the forest belonged, and they replied, “To Tientietnikov,” and he issued from the forest, and proceeded on his way through meadows, and past spinneys of elder, and of old and young willows, and arrived in sight of the distant range of hills, and, crossing by two different bridges the winding river (which he left successively to right and to left of him as he did so), he again questioned some peasants concerning the ownership of the meadows and the flooded lands, and was again informed that they all belonged to Tientietnikov, and then, ascending a rise, reached a tableland where, on one side, lay ungarnered fields of wheat and rye and barley, and, on the other, the country already traversed (but which now showed in shortened perspective), and then plunged into the shade of some forked, umbrageous trees which stood scattered over turf and extended to the manor-house itself, and caught glimpses of the carved huts of the peasants, and of the red roofs of the stone manorial outbuildings, and of the glittering pinnacles of the church, and felt his heart beating, and knew, without being told by any one, whither he had at length arrived—well, then the feeling which had been growing within his soul burst forth, and he cried in ecstasy:
“Why have I been a fool so long? Why, seeing that fate has appointed me to be ruler of an earthly paradise, did I prefer to bind myself in servitude as a scribe of lifeless documents? To think that, after I had been nurtured and schooled and stored with all the knowledge necessary for the diffusion of good among those under me, and for the improvement of my domain, and for the fulfilment of the manifold duties of a landowner who is at once judge, administrator, and constable of his people, I should have entrusted my estate to an ignorant bailiff, and sought to maintain an absentee guardianship over the affairs of serfs whom I have never met, and of whose capabilities and characters I am yet ignorant! To think that I should have deemed true estate-management inferior to a documentary, fantastical management of provinces which lie a thousand versts away, and which my foot has never trod, and where I could never have effected aught but blunders and irregularities!”
Meanwhile another spectacle was being prepared for him. On learning that the barin was approaching the mansion, the muzhiks collected on the verandah in very variety of picturesque dress and tonsure; and when these good folk surrounded him, and there arose a resounding shout of “Here is our Foster Father! He has remembered us!” and, in spite of themselves, some of the older men and women began weeping as they recalled his grandfather and great-grandfather, he himself could not restrain his tears, but reflected: “How much affection! And in return for what? In return for my never having come to see them—in return for my never having taken the least interest in their affairs!” And then and there he registered a mental vow to share their every task and occupation.
So he applied himself to supervising and administering. He reduced the amount of the barstchina 40, he decreased the number of working-days for the owner, and he augmented the sum of the peasants’ leisure-time. He also dismissed the fool of a bailiff, and took to bearing a personal hand in everything—to being present in the fields, at the threshing-floor, at the kilns, at the wharf, at the freighting of barges and rafts, and at their conveyance down the river: wherefore even the lazy hands began to look to themselves. But this did not last long. The peasant is an observant individual, and Tientietnikov’s muzhiks soon scented the fact that, though energetic and desirous of doing much, the barin had no notion how to do it, nor even how to set about it—that, in short, he spoke by the book rather than out of his personal knowledge. Consequently things resulted, not in master and men failing to understand one another, but in their not singing together, in their not producing the very same note.
That is to say, it was not long before Tientietnikov noticed that on the manorial lands, nothing prospered to the extent that it did on the peasants’. The manorial crops were sown in good time, and came up well, and every one appeared to work his best, so much so that Tientietnikov, who supervised the whole, frequently ordered mugs of vodka to be served out as a reward for the excellence of the labour performed. Yet the rye on the peasants’ land had formed into ear, and the oats had begun to shoot their grain, and the millet had filled before, on the manorial lands, the corn had so much as grown to stalk, or the ears had sprouted in embryo. In short, gradually the barin realised that, in spite of favours conferred, the peasants were playing the rogue with him. Next he resorted to remonstrance, but was met with the reply, “How could we not do our best for our barin? You yourself saw how well we laboured at the ploughing and the sowing, for you gave us mugs of vodka for our pains.”
“Then why have things turned out so badly?” the barin persisted.
“Who can say? It must be that a grub has eaten the crop from below. Besides, what a summer has it been—never a drop of rain!”
Nevertheless, the barin noted that no grub had eaten the PEASANTS’ crops, as well as that the rain had fallen in the most curious fashion—namely, in patches. It had obliged the muzhiks, but had shed a mere sprinkling for the barin.
Still more difficult did he find it to deal with the peasant women. Ever and anon they would beg to be excused from work, or start making complaints of the severity of the barstchina. Indeed, they were terrible folk! However, Tientietnikov abolished the majority of the tithes of linen, hedge fruit, mushrooms, and nuts, and also reduced by one-half other tasks proper to the women, in the hope that they would devote their spare time to their own domestic concerns—namely, to sewing and mending, and to making clothes for their husbands, and to increasing the area of their kitchen gardens. Yet no such result came about. On the contrary, such a pitch did the idleness, the quarrelsomeness, and the intriguing and caballing of the fair sex attain that their helpmeets were for ever coming to the barin with a request that he would rid one or another of his wife, since she had become a nuisance, and to live with her was impossible.
Next, hardening his heart, the barin attempted severity. But of what avail was severity? The peasant woman remained always the peasant woman, and would come and whine that she was sick and ailing, and keep pitifully hugging to herself the mean and filthy rags which she had donned for the occasion. And when poor Tientietnikov found himself unable to say more to her than just, “Get out of my sight, and may the Lord go with you!” the next item in the comedy would be that he would see her, even as she was leaving his gates, fall to contending with a neighbour for, say, the possession of a turnip, and dealing out slaps in the face such as even a strong, healthy man could scarcely have compassed!
Again, amongst other things, Tientietnikov conceived the idea of establishing a school for his people; but the scheme resulted in a farce which left him in sackcloth and ashes. In the same way he found that, when it came to a question of dispensing justice and of adjusting disputes, the host of juridical subtleties with which the professors had provided him proved absolutely useless. That is to say, the one party lied, and the other party lied, and only the devil could have decided between them. Consequently he himself perceived that a knowledge of mankind would have availed him more than all the legal refinements and philosophical maxims in the world could do. He lacked something; and though he could not divine what it was, the situation brought about was the common one of the barin failing to understand the peasant, and the peasant failing to understand the barin, and both becoming disaffected. In the end, these difficulties so chilled Tientietnikov’s enthusiasm that he took to supervising the labours of the field with greatly diminished attention. That is to say, no matter whether the scythes were softly swishing through the grass, or ricks were being built, or rafts were being loaded, he would allow his eyes to wander from his men, and to fall to gazing at, say, a red-billed, red-legged heron which, after strutting along the bank of a stream, would have caught a fish in its beak, and be holding it awhile, as though in doubt whether to swallow it. Next he would glance towards the spot where a similar bird, but one not yet in possession of a fish, was engaged in watching the doings of its mate. Lastly, with eyebrows knitted, and face turned to scan the zenith, he would drink in the smell of the fields, and fall to listening to the winged population of the air as from earth and sky alike the manifold music of winged creatures combined in a single harmonious chorus. In the rye the quail would be calling, and, in the grass, the corncrake, and over them would be wheeling flocks of twittering linnets. Also, the jacksnipe would be uttering its croak, and the lark executing its roulades where it had become lost in the sunshine, and cranes sending forth their trumpet-like challenge as they deployed towards the zenith in triangle-shaped flocks. In fact, the neighbourhood would seem to have become converted into one great concert of melody. O Creator, how fair is Thy world where, in remote, rural seclusion, it lies apart from cities and from highways!
But soon even this began to pall upon Tientietnikov, and he ceased altogether to visit his fields, or to do aught but shut himself up in his rooms, where he refused to receive even the bailiff when that functionary called with his reports. Again, although, until now, he had to a certain extent associated with a retired colonel of hussars—a man saturated with tobacco smoke—and also with a student of pronounced, but immature, opinions who culled the bulk of his wisdom from contemporary newspapers and pamphlets, he found, as time went on, that these companions proved as tedious as the rest, and came to think their conversation superficial, and their European method of comporting themselves—that is to say, the method of conversing with much slapping of knees and a great deal of bowing and gesticulation—too direct and unadorned. So these and every one else he decided to “drop,” and carried this resolution into effect with a certain amount of rudeness. On the next occasion that Varvar Nikolaievitch Vishnepokromov called to indulge in a free-and-easy symposium on politics, philosophy, literature, morals, and the state of financial affairs in England (he was, in all matters which admit of superficial discussion, the pleasantest fellow alive, seeing that he was a typical representative both of the retired fire-eater and of the school of thought which is now becoming the rage)—when, I say, this next happened, Tientietnikov merely sent out to say that he was not at home, and then carefully showed himself at the window. Host and guest exchanged glances, and, while the one muttered through his teeth “The cur!” the other relieved his feelings with a remark or two on swine. Thus the acquaintance came to an abrupt end, and from that time forth no visitor called at the mansion.
Tientietnikov in no way regretted this, for he could now devote himself wholly to the projection of a great work on Russia. Of the scale on which this composition was conceived the reader is already aware. The reader also knows how strange, how unsystematic, was the system employed in it. Yet to say that Tientietnikov never awoke from his lethargy would not be altogether true. On the contrary, when the post brought him newspapers and reviews, and he saw in their printed pages, perhaps, the well-known name of some former comrade who had succeeded in the great field of Public Service, or had conferred upon science and the world’s work some notable contribution, he would succumb to secret and suppressed grief, and involuntarily there would burst from his soul an expression of aching, voiceless regret that he himself had done so little. And at these times his existence would seem to him odious and repellent; at these times there would uprise before him the memory of his school days, and the figure of Alexander Petrovitch, as vivid as in life. And, slowly welling, the tears would course over Tientietnikov’s cheeks.
What meant these repinings? Was there not disclosed in them the secret of his galling spiritual pain—the fact that he had failed to order his life aright, to confirm the lofty aims with which he had started his course; the fact that, always poorly equipped with experience, he had failed to attain the better and the higher state, and there to strengthen himself for the overcoming of hindrances and obstacles; the fact that, dissolving like overheated metal, his bounteous store of superior instincts had failed to take the final tempering; the fact that the tutor of his boyhood, a man in a thousand, had prematurely died, and left to Tientietnikov no one who could restore to him the moral strength shattered by vacillation and the will power weakened by want of virility—no one, in short, who could cry hearteningly to his soul “Forward!”—the word for which the Russian of every degree, of every class, of every occupation, of every school of thought, is for ever hungering.
Indeed, WHERE is the man who can cry aloud for any of us, in the Russian tongue dear to our soul, the all-compelling command “Forward!”? Who is there who, knowing the strength and the nature and the inmost depths of the Russian genius, can by a single magic incantation divert our ideals to the higher life? Were there such a man, with what tears, with what affection, would not the grateful sons of Russia repay him! Yet age succeeds to age, and our callow youth still lies wrapped in shameful sloth, or strives and struggles to no purpose. God has not yet given us the man able to sound the call.
One circumstance which almost aroused Tientietnikov, which almost brought about a revolution in his character, was the fact that he came very near to falling in love. Yet even this resulted in nothing. Ten versts away there lived the general whom we have heard expressing himself in highly uncomplimentary terms concerning Tientietnikov. He maintained a General-like establishment, dispensed hospitality (that is to say, was glad when his neighbours came to pay him their respects, though he himself never went out), spoke always in a hoarse voice, read a certain number of books, and had a daughter—a curious, unfamiliar type, but full of life as life itself. This maiden’s name was Ulinka, and she had been strangely brought up, for, losing her mother in early childhood, she had subsequently received instruction at the hands of an English governess who knew not a single word of Russian. Moreover her father, though excessively fond of her, treated her always as a toy; with the result that, as she grew to years of discretion, she became wholly wayward and spoilt. Indeed, had any one seen the sudden rage which would gather on her beautiful young forehead when she was engaged in a heated dispute with her father, he would have thought her one of the most capricious beings in the world. Yet that rage gathered only when she had heard of injustice or harsh treatment, and never because she desired to argue on her own behalf, or to attempt to justify her own conduct. Also, that anger would disappear as soon as ever she saw any one whom she had formerly disliked fall upon evil times, and, at his first request for alms would, without consideration or subsequent regret, hand him her purse and its whole contents. Yes, her every act was strenuous, and when she spoke her whole personality seemed to be following hot-foot upon her thought—both her expression of face and her diction and the movements of her hands. Nay, the very folds of her frock had a similar appearance of striving; until one would have thought that all her self were flying in pursuit of her words. Nor did she know reticence: before any one she would disclose her mind, and no force could compel her to maintain silence when she desired to speak. Also, her enchanting, peculiar gait—a gait which belonged to her alone—was so absolutely free and unfettered that every one involuntarily gave her way. Lastly, in her presence churls seemed to become confused and fall to silence, and even the roughest and most outspoken would lose their heads, and have not a word to say; whereas the shy man would find himself able to converse as never in his life before, and would feel, from the first, as though he had seen her and known her at some previous period—during the days of some unremembered childhood, when he was at home, and spending a merry evening among a crowd of romping children. And for long afterwards he would feel as though his man’s intellect and estate were a burden.
This was what now befell Tientietnikov; and as it did so a new feeling entered into his soul, and his dreamy life lightened for a moment.
At first the General used to receive him with hospitable civility, but permanent concord between them proved impossible; their conversation always merged into dissension and soreness, seeing that, while the General could not bear to be contradicted or worsted in an argument, Tientietnikov was a man of extreme sensitiveness. True, for the daughter’s sake, the father was for a while deferred to, and thus peace was maintained; but this lasted only until the time when there arrived, on a visit to the General, two kinswomen of his—the Countess Bordirev and the Princess Uziakin, retired Court dames, but ladies who still kept up a certain connection with Court circles, and therefore were much fawned upon by their host. No sooner had they appeared on the scene than (so it seemed to Tientietnikov) the General’s attitude towards the young man became colder—either he ceased to notice him at all or he spoke to him familiarly, and as to a person having no standing in society. This offended Tientietnikov deeply, and though, when at length he spoke out on the subject, he retained sufficient presence of mind to compress his lips, and to preserve a gentle and courteous tone, his face flushed and his inner man was boiling.
“General,” he said, “I thank you for your condescension. By addressing me in the second person singular, you have admitted me to the circle of your most intimate friends. Indeed, were it not that a difference of years forbids any familiarity on my part, I should answer you in similar fashion.”
The General sat aghast. At length, rallying his tongue and his faculties, he replied that, though he had spoken with a lack of ceremony, he had used the term “thou” merely as an elderly man naturally employs it towards a junior (he made no reference to difference of rank).
Nevertheless, the acquaintance broke off here, and with it any possibility of love-making. The light which had shed a momentary gleam before Tientietnikov’s eyes had become extinguished for ever, and upon it there followed a darkness denser than before. Henceforth everything conduced to evolve the regime which the reader has noted—that regime of sloth and inaction which converted Tientietnikov’s residence into a place of dirt and neglect. For days at a time would a broom and a heap of dust be left lying in the middle of a room, and trousers tossing about the salon, and pairs of worn-out braces adorning the what-not near the sofa. In short, so mean and untidy did Tientietnikov’s mode of life become, that not only his servants, but even his very poultry ceased to treat him with respect. Taking up a pen, he would spend hours in idly sketching houses, huts, waggons, troikas, and flourishes on a piece of paper; while at other times, when he had sunk into a reverie, the pen would, all unknowingly, sketch a small head which had delicate features, a pair of quick, penetrating eyes, and a raised coiffure. Then suddenly the dreamer would perceive, to his surprise, that the pen had executed the portrait of a maiden whose picture no artist could adequately have painted; and therewith his despondency would become greater than ever, and, believing that happiness did not exist on earth, he would relapse into increased ennui, increased neglect of his responsibilities.
But one morning he noticed, on moving to the window after breakfast, that not a word was proceeding either from the butler or the housekeeper, but that, on the contrary, the courtyard seemed to smack of a certain bustle and excitement. This was because through the entrance gates (which the kitchen maid and the scullion had run to open) there were appearing the noses of three horses—one to the right, one in the middle, and one to the left, after the fashion of triumphal groups of statuary. Above them, on the box seat, were seated a coachman and a valet, while behind, again, there could be discerned a gentleman in a scarf and a fur cap. Only when the equipage had entered the courtyard did it stand revealed as a light spring britchka. And as it came to a halt, there leapt on to the verandah of the mansion an individual of respectable exterior, and possessed of the art of moving with the neatness and alertness of a military man.
Upon this Tientietnikov’s heart stood still. He was unused to receiving visitors, and for the moment conceived the new arrival to be a Government official, sent to question him concerning an abortive society to which he had formerly belonged. (Here the author may interpolate the fact that, in Tientietnikov’s early days, the young man had become mixed up in a very absurd affair. That is to say, a couple of philosophers belonging to a regiment of hussars had, together with an aesthete who had not yet completed his student’s course and a gambler who had squandered his all, formed a secret society of philanthropic aims under the presidency of a certain old rascal of a freemason and the ruined gambler aforesaid. The scope of the society’s work was to be extensive: it was to bring lasting happiness to humanity at large, from the banks of the Thames to the shores of Kamtchatka. But for this much money was needed: wherefore from the noble-minded members of the society generous contributions were demanded, and then forwarded to a destination known only to the supreme authorities of the concern. As for Tientietnikov’s adhesion, it was brought about by the two friends already alluded to as “embittered”—good-hearted souls whom the wear and tear of their efforts on behalf of science, civilisation, and the future emancipation of mankind had ended by converting into confirmed drunkards. Perhaps it need hardly be said that Tientietnikov soon discovered how things stood, and withdrew from the association; but, meanwhile, the latter had had the misfortune so to have engaged in dealings not wholly creditable to gentlemen of noble origin as likewise to have become entangled in dealings with the police. Consequently, it is not to be wondered at that, though Tientietnikov had long severed his connection with the society and its policy, he still remained uneasy in his mind as to what might even yet be the result.)
However, his fears vanished the instant that the guest saluted him with marked politeness and explained, with many deferential poises of the head, and in terms at once civil and concise, that for some time past he (the newcomer) had been touring the Russian Empire on business and in the pursuit of knowledge, that the Empire abounded in objects of interest—not to mention a plenitude of manufactures and a great diversity of soil, and that, in spite of the fact that he was greatly struck with the amenities of his host’s domain, he would certainly not have presumed to intrude at such an inconvenient hour but for the circumstance that the inclement spring weather, added to the state of the roads, had necessitated sundry repairs to his carriage at the hands of wheelwrights and blacksmiths. Finally he declared that, even if this last had NOT happened, he would still have felt unable to deny himself the pleasure of offering to his host that meed of homage which was the latter’s due.
This speech—a speech of fascinating bonhomie—delivered, the guest executed a sort of shuffle with a half-boot of patent leather studded with buttons of mother-of-pearl, and followed that up by (in spite of his pronounced rotundity of figure) stepping backwards with all the elan of an india-rubber ball.
From this the somewhat reassured Tientietnikov concluded that his visitor must be a literary, knowledge-seeking professor who was engaged in roaming the country in search of botanical specimens and fossils; wherefore he hastened to express both his readiness to further the visitor’s objects (whatever they might be) and his personal willingness to provide him with the requisite wheelwrights and blacksmiths. Meanwhile he begged his guest to consider himself at home, and, after seating him in an armchair, made preparations to listen to the newcomer’s discourse on natural history.
But the newcomer applied himself, rather, to phenomena of the internal world, saying that his life might be likened to a barque tossed on the crests of perfidious billows, that in his time he had been fated to play many parts, and that on more than one occasion his life had stood in danger at the hands of foes. At the same time, these tidings were communicated in a manner calculated to show that the speaker was also a man of PRACTICAL capabilities. In conclusion, the visitor took out a cambric pocket-handkerchief, and sneezed into it with a vehemence wholly new to Tientietnikov’s experience. In fact, the sneeze rather resembled the note which, at times, the trombone of an orchestra appears to utter not so much from its proper place on the platform as from the immediate neighbourhood of the listener’s ear. And as the echoes of the drowsy mansion resounded to the report of the explosion there followed upon the same a wave of perfume, skilfully wafted abroad with a flourish of the eau-de-Cologne-scented handkerchief.
By this time the reader will have guessed that the visitor was none other than our old and respected friend Paul Ivanovitch Chichikov. Naturally, time had not spared him his share of anxieties and alarms; wherefore his exterior had come to look a trifle more elderly, his frockcoat had taken on a suggestion of shabbiness, and britchka, coachman, valet, horses, and harness alike had about them a sort of second-hand, worse-for-wear effect. Evidently the Chichikovian finances were not in the most flourishing of conditions. Nevertheless, the old expression of face, the old air of breeding and refinement, remained unimpaired, and our hero had even improved in the art of walking and turning with grace, and of dexterously crossing one leg over the other when taking a seat. Also, his mildness of diction, his discreet moderation of word and phrase, survived in, if anything, increased measure, and he bore himself with a skill which caused his tactfulness to surpass itself in sureness of aplomb. And all these accomplishments had their effect further heightened by a snowy immaculateness of collar and dickey, and an absence of dust from his frockcoat, as complete as though he had just arrived to attend a nameday festival. Lastly, his cheeks and chin were of such neat clean-shavenness that no one but a blind man could have failed to admire their rounded contours.
From that moment onwards great changes took place in Tientietnikov’s establishment, and certain of its rooms assumed an unwonted air of cleanliness and order. The rooms in question were those assigned to Chichikov, while one other apartment—a little front chamber opening into the hall—became permeated with Petrushka’s own peculiar smell. But this lasted only for a little while, for presently Petrushka was transferred to the servants’ quarters, a course which ought to have been adopted in the first instance.
During the initial days of Chichikov’s sojourn, Tientietnikov feared rather to lose his independence, inasmuch as he thought that his guest might hamper his movements, and bring about alterations in the established routine of the place. But these fears proved groundless, for Paul Ivanovitch displayed an extraordinary aptitude for accommodating himself to his new position. To begin with, he encouraged his host in his philosophical inertia by saying that the latter would help Tientietnikov to become a centenarian. Next, in the matter of a life of isolation, he hit things off exactly by remarking that such a life bred in a man a capacity for high thinking. Lastly, as he inspected the library and dilated on books in general, he contrived an opportunity to observe that literature safeguarded a man from a tendency to waste his time. In short, the few words of which he delivered himself were brief, but invariably to the point. And this discretion of speech was outdone by his discretion of conduct. That is to say, whether entering or leaving the room, he never wearied his host with a question if Tientietnikov had the air of being disinclined to talk; and with equal satisfaction the guest could either play chess or hold his tongue. Consequently Tientietnikov said to himself:
“For the first time in my life I have met with a man with whom it is possible to live. In general, not many of the type exist in Russia, and, though clever, good-humoured, well-educated men abound, one would be hard put to it to find an individual of equable temperament with whom one could share a roof for centuries without a quarrel arising. Anyway, Chichikov is the first of his sort that I have met.”
For his part, Chichikov was only too delighted to reside with a person so quiet and agreeable as his host. Of a wandering life he was temporarily weary, and to rest, even for a month, in such a beautiful spot, and in sight of green fields and the slow flowering of spring, was likely to benefit him also from the hygienic point of view. And, indeed, a more delightful retreat in which to recuperate could not possibly have been found. The spring, long retarded by previous cold, had now begun in all its comeliness, and life was rampant. Already, over the first emerald of the grass, the dandelion was showing yellow, and the red-pink anemone was hanging its tender head; while the surface of every pond was a swarm of dancing gnats and midges, and the water-spider was being joined in their pursuit by birds which gathered from every quarter to the vantage-ground of the dry reeds. Every species of creature also seemed to be assembling in concourse, and taking stock of one another. Suddenly the earth became populous, the forest had opened its eyes, and the meadows were lifting up their voice in song. In the same way had choral dances begun to be weaved in the village, and everywhere that the eye turned there was merriment. What brightness in the green of nature, what freshness in the air, what singing of birds in the gardens of the mansion, what general joy and rapture and exaltation! Particularly in the village might the shouting and singing have been in honour of a wedding!
Chichikov walked hither, thither, and everywhere—a pursuit for which there was ample choice and facility. At one time he would direct his steps along the edge of the flat tableland, and contemplate the depths below, where still there lay sheets of water left by the floods of winter, and where the island-like patches of forest showed leafless boughs; while at another time he would plunge into the thicket and ravine country, where nests of birds weighted branches almost to the ground, and the sky was darkened with the criss-cross flight of cawing rooks. Again, the drier portions of the meadows could be crossed to the river wharves, whence the first barges were just beginning to set forth with pea-meal and barley and wheat, while at the same time one’s ear would be caught with the sound of some mill resuming its functions as once more the water turned the wheel. Chichikov would also walk afield to watch the early tillage operations of the season, and observe how the blackness of a new furrow would make its way across the expanse of green, and how the sower, rhythmically striking his hand against the pannier slung across his breast, would scatter his fistfuls of seed with equal distribution, apportioning not a grain too much to one side or to the other.
In fact, Chichikov went everywhere. He chatted and talked, now with the bailiff, now with a peasant, now with a miller, and inquired into the manner and nature of everything, and sought information as to how an estate was managed, and at what price corn was selling, and what species of grain was best for spring and autumn grinding, and what was the name of each peasant, and who were his kinsfolk, and where he had bought his cow, and what he fed his pigs on. Chichikov also made inquiry concerning the number of peasants who had lately died: but of these there appeared to be few. And suddenly his quick eye discerned that Tientietnikov’s estate was not being worked as it might have been—that much neglect and listlessness and pilfering and drunkenness was abroad; and on perceiving this, he thought to himself: “What a fool is that Tientietnikov! To think of letting a property like this decay when he might be drawing from it an income of fifty thousand roubles a year!”
Also, more than once, while taking these walks, our hero pondered the idea of himself becoming a landowner—not now, of course, but later, when his chief aim should have been achieved, and he had got into his hands the necessary means for living the quiet life of the proprietor of an estate. Yes, and at these times there would include itself in his castle-building the figure of a young, fresh, fair-faced maiden of the mercantile or other rich grade of society, a woman who could both play and sing. He also dreamed of little descendants who should perpetuate the name of Chichikov; perhaps a frolicsome little boy and a fair young daughter, or possibly, two boys and quite two or three daughters; so that all should know that he had really lived and had his being, that he had not merely roamed the world like a spectre or a shadow; so that for him and his the country should never be put to shame. And from that he would go on to fancy that a title appended to his rank would not be a bad thing—the title of State Councillor, for instance, which was deserving of all honour and respect. Ah, it is a common thing for a man who is taking a solitary walk so to detach himself from the irksome realities of the present that he is able to stir and to excite and to provoke his imagination to the conception of things he knows can never really come to pass!
Chichikov’s servants also found the mansion to their taste, and, like their master, speedily made themselves at home in it. In particular did Petrushka make friends with Grigory the butler, although at first the pair showed a tendency to outbrag one another—Petrushka beginning by throwing dust in Grigory’s eyes on the score of his (Petrushka’s) travels, and Grigory taking him down a peg or two by referring to St. Petersburg (a city which Petrushka had never visited), and Petrushka seeking to recover lost ground by dilating on towns which he HAD visited, and Grigory capping this by naming some town which is not to be found on any map in existence, and then estimating the journey thither as at least thirty thousand versts—a statement which would so completely flabbergast the henchman of Chichikov’s suite that he would be left staring open-mouthed, amid the general laughter of the domestic staff. However, as I say, the pair ended by swearing eternal friendship with one another, and making a practice of resorting to the village tavern in company.
For Selifan, however, the place had a charm of a different kind. That is to say, each evening there would take place in the village a singing of songs and a weaving of country dances; and so shapely and buxom were the maidens—maidens of a type hard to find in our present-day villages on large estates—that he would stand for hours wondering which of them was the best. White-necked and white-bosomed, all had great roving eyes, the gait of peacocks, and hair reaching to the waist. And as, with his hands clasping theirs, he glided hither and thither in the dance, or retired backwards towards a wall with a row of other young fellows, and then, with them, returned to meet the damsels—all singing in chorus (and laughing as they sang it), “Boyars, show me my bridegroom!” and dusk was falling gently, and from the other side of the river there kept coming far, faint, plaintive echoes of the melody—well, then our Selifan hardly knew whether he were standing upon his head or his heels. Later, when sleeping and when waking, both at noon and at twilight, he would seem still to be holding a pair of white hands, and moving in the dance.
Chichikov’s horses also found nothing of which to disapprove. Yes, both the bay, the Assessor, and the skewbald accounted residence at Tientietnikov’s a most comfortable affair, and voted the oats excellent, and the arrangement of the stables beyond all cavil. True, on this occasion each horse had a stall to himself; yet, by looking over the intervening partition, it was possible always to see one’s fellows, and, should a neighbour take it into his head to utter a neigh, to answer it at once.
As for the errand which had hitherto led Chichikov to travel about Russia, he had now decided to move very cautiously and secretly in the matter. In fact, on noticing that Tientietnikov went in absorbedly for reading and for talking philosophy, the visitor said to himself, “No—I had better begin at the other end,” and proceeded first to feel his way among the servants of the establishment. From them he learnt several things, and, in particular, that the barin had been wont to go and call upon a certain General in the neighbourhood, and that the General possessed a daughter, and that she and Tientietnikov had had an affair of some sort, but that the pair had subsequently parted, and gone their several ways. For that matter, Chichikov himself had noticed that Tientietnikov was in the habit of drawing heads of which each representation exactly resembled the rest.
Once, as he sat tapping his silver snuff-box after luncheon, Chichikov remarked:
“One thing you lack, and only one, Andrei Ivanovitch.”
“What is that?” asked his host.
“A female friend or two,” replied Chichikov.
Tientietnikov made no rejoinder, and the conversation came temporarily to an end.
But Chichikov was not to be discouraged; wherefore, while waiting for supper and talking on different subjects, he seized an opportunity to interject:
“Do you know, it would do you no harm to marry.”
As before, Tientietnikov did not reply, and the renewed mention of the subject seemed to have annoyed him.
For the third time—it was after supper—Chichikov returned to the charge by remarking:
“To-day, as I was walking round your property, I could not help thinking that marriage would do you a great deal of good. Otherwise you will develop into a hypochondriac.”
Whether Chichikov’s words now voiced sufficiently the note of persuasion, or whether Tientietnikov happened, at the moment, to be unusually disposed to frankness, at all events the young landowner sighed, and then responded as he expelled a puff of tobacco smoke:
“To attain anything, Paul Ivanovitch, one needs to have been born under a lucky star.”
And he related to his guest the whole history of his acquaintanceship and subsequent rupture with the General.
As Chichikov listened to the recital, and gradually realised that the affair had arisen merely out of a chance word on the General’s part, he was astounded beyond measure, and gazed at Tientietnikov without knowing what to make of him.
“Andrei Ivanovitch,” he said at length, “what was there to take offence at?”
“Nothing, as regards the actual words spoken,” replied the other. “The offence lay, rather, in the insult conveyed in the General’s tone.” Tientietnikov was a kindly and peaceable man, yet his eyes flashed as he said this, and his voice vibrated with wounded feeling.
“Yet, even then, need you have taken it so much amiss?”
“What? Could I have gone on visiting him as before?”
“Certainly. No great harm had been done?”
“I disagree with you. Had he been an old man in a humble station of life, instead of a proud and swaggering officer, I should not have minded so much. But, as it was, I could not, and would not, brook his words.”
“A curious fellow, this Tientietnikov!” thought Chichikov to himself.
“A curious fellow, this Chichikov!” was Tientietnikov’s inward reflection.
“I tell you what,” resumed Chichikov. “To-morrow I myself will go and see the General.”
“To what purpose?” asked Tientietnikov, with astonishment and distrust in his eyes.
“To offer him an assurance of my personal respect.”
“A strange fellow, this Chichikov!” reflected Tientietnikov.
“A strange fellow, this Tientietnikov!” thought Chichikov, and then added aloud: “Yes, I will go and see him at ten o’clock to-morrow; but since my britchka is not yet altogether in travelling order, would you be so good as to lend me your koliaska for the purpose?”
ientietnikov’s good horses covered the ten versts to the General’s house in a little over half an hour. Descending from the koliaska with features attuned to deference, Chichikov inquired for the master of the house, and was at once ushered into his presence. Bowing with head held respectfully on one side and hands extended like those of a waiter carrying a trayful of teacups, the visitor inclined his whole body forward, and said:
“I have deemed it my duty to present myself to your Excellency. I have deemed it my duty because in my heart I cherish a most profound respect for the valiant men who, on the field of battle, have proved the saviours of their country.”
That this preliminary attack did not wholly displease the General was proved by the fact that, responding with a gracious inclination of the head, he replied:
“I am glad to make your acquaintance. Pray be so good as to take a seat. In what capacity or capacities have you yourself seen service?”
“Of my service,” said Chichikov, depositing his form, not exactly in the centre of the chair, but rather on one side of it, and resting a hand upon one of its arms, “—of my service the scene was laid, in the first instance, in the Treasury; while its further course bore me successively into the employ of the Public Buildings Commission, of the Customs Board, and of other Government Offices. But, throughout, my life has resembled a barque tossed on the crests of perfidious billows. In suffering I have been swathed and wrapped until I have come to be, as it were, suffering personified; while of the extent to which my life has been sought by foes, no words, no colouring, no (if I may so express it?) painter’s brush could ever convey to you an adequate idea. And now, at length, in my declining years, I am seeking a corner in which to eke out the remainder of my miserable existence, while at the present moment I am enjoying the hospitality of a neighbour of your acquaintance.”
“And who is that?”
“Your neighbour Tientietnikov, your Excellency.”
Upon that the General frowned.
“Led me add,” put in Chichikov hastily, “that he greatly regrets that on a former occasion he should have failed to show a proper respect for—for—”
“For what?” asked the General.
“For the services to the public which your Excellency has rendered. Indeed, he cannot find words to express his sorrow, but keeps repeating to himself: ‘Would that I had valued at their true worth the men who have saved our fatherland!'”
“And why should he say that?” asked the mollified General. “I bear him no grudge. In fact, I have never cherished aught but a sincere liking for him, a sincere esteem, and do not doubt but that, in time, he may become a useful member of society.”
“In the words which you have been good enough to utter,” said Chichikov with a bow, “there is embodied much justice. Yes, Tientietnikov is in very truth a man of worth. Not only does he possess the gift of eloquence, but also he is a master of the pen.”
“Ah, yes; he DOES write rubbish of some sort, doesn’t he? Verses, or something of the kind?”
“Not rubbish, your Excellency, but practical stuff. In short, he is inditing a history.”
“A HISTORY? But a history of what?”
“A history of, of—” For a moment or two Chichikov hesitated. Then, whether because it was a General that was seated in front of him, or because he desired to impart greater importance to the subject which he was about to invent, he concluded: “A history of Generals, your Excellency.”
“Of Generals? Of WHAT Generals?”
“Of Generals generally—of Generals at large. That is to say, and to be more precise, a history of the Generals of our fatherland.”
By this time Chichikov was floundering badly. Mentally he spat upon himself and reflected: “Gracious heavens! What rubbish I am talking!”
“Pardon me,” went on his interlocutor, “but I do not quite understand you. Is Tientietnikov producing a history of a given period, or only a history made up of a series of biographies? Also, is he including ALL our Generals, or only those who took part in the campaign of 1812?”
“The latter, your Excellency—only the Generals of 1812,” replied Chichikov. Then he added beneath his breath: “Were I to be killed for it, I could not say what that may be supposed to mean.”
“Then why should he not come and see me in person?” went on his host. “Possibly I might be able to furnish him with much interesting material?”
“He is afraid to come, your Excellency.”
“Nonsense! Just because of a hasty word or two! I am not that sort of man at all. In fact, I should be very happy to call upon HIM.”
“Never would he permit that, your Excellency. He would greatly prefer to be the first to make advances.” And Chichikov added to himself: “What a stroke of luck those Generals were! Otherwise, the Lord knows where my tongue might have landed me!”
At this moment the door into the adjoining room opened, and there appeared in the doorway a girl as fair as a ray of the sun—so fair, indeed, that Chichikov stared at her in amazement. Apparently she had come to speak to her father for a moment, but had stopped short on perceiving that there was some one with him. The only fault to be found in her appearance was the fact that she was too thin and fragile-looking.
“May I introduce you to my little pet?” said the General to Chichikov. “To tell you the truth, I do not know your name.”
“That you should be unacquainted with the name of one who has never distinguished himself in the manner of which you yourself can boast is scarcely to be wondered at.” And Chichikov executed one of his sidelong, deferential bows.
“Well, I should be delighted to know it.”
“It is Paul Ivanovitch Chichikov, your Excellency.” With that went the easy bow of a military man and the agile backward movement of an india-rubber ball.
“Ulinka, this is Paul Ivanovitch,” said the General, turning to his daughter. “He has just told me some interesting news—namely, that our neighbour Tientietnikov is not altogether the fool we had at first thought him. On the contrary, he is engaged upon a very important work—upon a history of the Russian Generals of 1812.”
“But who ever supposed him to be a fool?” asked the girl quickly. “What happened was that you took Vishnepokromov’s word—the word of a man who is himself both a fool and a good-for-nothing.”
“Well, well,” said the father after further good-natured dispute on the subject of Vishnepokromov. “Do you now run away, for I wish to dress for luncheon. And you, sir,” he added to Chichikov, “will you not join us at table?”
Chichikov bowed so low and so long that, by the time that his eyes had ceased to see nothing but his own boots, the General’s daughter had disappeared, and in her place was standing a bewhiskered butler, armed with a silver soap-dish and a hand-basin.
“Do you mind if I wash in your presence?” asked the host.
“By no means,” replied Chichikov. “Pray do whatsoever you please in that respect.”
Upon that the General fell to scrubbing himself—incidentally, to sending soapsuds flying in every direction. Meanwhile he seemed so favourably disposed that Chichikov decided to sound him then and there, more especially since the butler had left the room.
“May I put to you a problem?” he asked.
“Certainly,” replied the General. “What is it?”
“It is this, your Excellency. I have a decrepit old uncle who owns three hundred souls and two thousand roubles-worth of other property. Also, except for myself, he possesses not a single heir. Now, although his infirm state of health will not permit of his managing his property in person, he will not allow me either to manage it. And the reason for his conduct—his very strange conduct—he states as follows: ‘I do not know my nephew, and very likely he is a spendthrift. If he wishes to show me that he is good for anything, let him go and acquire as many souls as I have acquired; and when he has done that I will transfer to him my three hundred souls as well.”
“The man must be an absolute fool,” commented the General.
“Possibly. And were that all, things would not be as bad as they are. But, unfortunately, my uncle has gone and taken up with his housekeeper, and has had children by her. Consequently, everything will now pass to THEM.”
“The old man must have taken leave of his senses,” remarked the General. “Yet how I can help you I fail to see.”
“Well, I have thought of a plan. If you will hand me over all the dead souls on your estate—hand them over to me exactly as though they were still alive, and were purchasable property—I will offer them to the old man, and then he will leave me his fortune.”
At this point the General burst into a roar of laughter such as few can ever have heard. Half-dressed, he subsided into a chair, threw back his head, and guffawed until he came near to choking. In fact, the house shook with his merriment, so much so that the butler and his daughter came running into the room in alarm.
It was long before he could produce a single articulate word; and even when he did so (to reassure his daughter and the butler) he kept momentarily relapsing into spluttering chuckles which made the house ring and ring again.
Chichikov was greatly taken aback.
“Oh, that uncle!” bellowed the General in paroxysms of mirth. “Oh, that blessed uncle! WHAT a fool he’ll look! Ha, ha, ha! Dead souls offered him instead of live ones! Oh, my goodness!”
“I suppose I’ve put my foot in it again,” ruefully reflected Chichikov. “But, good Lord, what a man the fellow is to laugh! Heaven send that he doesn’t burst of it!”
“Ha, ha, ha!” broke out the General afresh. “WHAT a donkey the old man must be! To think of his saying to you: ‘You go and fit yourself out with three hundred souls, and I’ll cap them with my own lot’! My word! What a jackass!”
“A jackass, your Excellency?”
“Yes, indeed! And to think of the jest of putting him off with dead souls! Ha, ha, ha! WHAT wouldn’t I give to see you handing him the title deeds? Who is he? What is he like? Is he very old?”
“He is eighty, your Excellency.”
“But still brisk and able to move about, eh? Surely he must be pretty strong to go on living with his housekeeper like that?”
“Yes. But what does such strength mean? Sand runs away, your Excellency.”
“The old fool! But is he really such a fool?”
“Yes, your Excellency.”
“And does he go out at all? Does he see company? Can he still hold himself upright?”
“Yes, but with great difficulty.”
“And has he any teeth left?”
“No more than two at the most.”
“The old jackass! Don’t be angry with me, but I must say that, though your uncle, he is also a jackass.”
“Quite so, your Excellency. And though it grieves ME to have to confess that he is my uncle, what am I to do with him?”
Yet this was not altogether the truth. What would have been a far harder thing for Chichikov to have confessed was the fact that he possessed no uncles at all.
“I beg of you, your Excellency,” he went on, “to hand me over those, those—”
“Those dead souls, eh? Why, in return for the jest I will give you some land as well. Yes, you can take the whole graveyard if you like. Ha, ha, ha! The old man! Ha, ha, ha! WHAT a fool he’ll look! Ha, ha, ha!”
And once more the General’s guffaws went ringing through the house.
[At this point there is a long hiatus in the original.]
f Colonel Koshkarev should turn out to be as mad as the last one it is a bad look-out,” said Chichikov to himself on opening his eyes amid fields and open country—everything else having disappeared save the vault of heaven and a couple of low-lying clouds.
“Selifan,” he went on, “did you ask how to get to Colonel Koshkarev’s?”
“Yes, Paul Ivanovitch. At least, there was such a clatter around the koliaska that I could not; but Petrushka asked the coachman.”
“You fool! How often have I told you not to rely on Petrushka? Petrushka is a blockhead, an idiot. Besides, at the present moment I believe him to be drunk.”
“No, you are wrong, barin,” put in the person referred to, turning his head with a sidelong glance. “After we get down the next hill we shall need but to keep bending round it. That is all.”
“Yes, and I suppose you’ll tell me that sivnkha is the only thing that has passed your lips? Well, the view at least is beautiful. In fact, when one has seen this place one may say that one has seen one of the beauty spots of Europe.” This said, Chichikov added to himself, smoothing his chin: “What a difference between the features of a civilised man of the world and those of a common lacquey!”
Meanwhile the koliaska quickened its pace, and Chichikov once more caught sight of Tientietnikov’s aspen-studded meadows. Undulating gently on elastic springs, the vehicle cautiously descended the steep incline, and then proceeded past water-mills, rumbled over a bridge or two, and jolted easily along the rough-set road which traversed the flats. Not a molehill, not a mound jarred the spine. The vehicle was comfort itself.
Swiftly there flew by clumps of osiers, slender elder trees, and silver-leaved poplars, their branches brushing against Selifan and Petrushka, and at intervals depriving the valet of his cap. Each time that this happened, the sullen-faced servitor fell to cursing both the tree responsible for the occurrence and the landowner responsible for the tree being in existence; yet nothing would induce him thereafter either to tie on the cap or to steady it with his hand, so complete was his assurance that the accident would never be repeated. Soon to the foregoing trees there became added an occasional birch or spruce fir, while in the dense undergrowth around their roots could be seen the blue iris and the yellow wood-tulip. Gradually the forest grew darker, as though eventually the obscurity would become complete. Then through the trunks and the boughs there began to gleam points of light like glittering mirrors, and as the number of trees lessened, these points grew larger, until the travellers debouched upon the shore of a lake four versts or so in circumference, and having on its further margin the grey, scattered log huts of a peasant village. In the water a great commotion was in progress. In the first place, some twenty men, immersed to the knee, to the breast, or to the neck, were dragging a large fishing-net inshore, while, in the second place, there was entangled in the same, in addition to some fish, a stout man shaped precisely like a melon or a hogshead. Greatly excited, he was shouting at the top of his voice: “Let Kosma manage it, you lout of a Denis! Kosma, take the end of the rope from Denis! Don’t bear so hard on it, Thoma Bolshoy 41! Go where Thoma Menshov 42 is! Damn it, bring the net to land, will you!” From this it became clear that it was not on his own account that the stout man was worrying. Indeed, he had no need to do so, since his fat would in any case have prevented him from sinking. Yes, even if he had turned head over heels in an effort to dive, the water would persistently have borne him up; and the same if, say, a couple of men had jumped on his back—the only result would have been that he would have become a trifle deeper submerged, and forced to draw breath by spouting bubbles through his nose. No, the cause of his agitation was lest the net should break, and the fish escape: wherefore he was urging some additional peasants who were standing on the bank to lay hold of and to pull at, an extra rope or two.
“That must be the barin—Colonel Koshkarev,” said Selifan.
“Why?” asked Chichikov.
“Because, if you please, his skin is whiter than the rest, and he has the respectable paunch of a gentleman.”
Meanwhile good progress was being made with the hauling in of the barin; until, feeling the ground with his feet, he rose to an upright position, and at the same moment caught sight of the koliaska, with Chichikov seated therein, descending the declivity.
“Have you dined yet?” shouted the barin as, still entangled in the net, he approached the shore with a huge fish on his back. With one hand shading his eyes from the sun, and the other thrown backwards, he looked, in point of pose, like the Medici Venus emerging from her bath.
“No,” replied Chichikov, raising his cap, and executing a series of bows.
“Then thank God for that,” rejoined the gentleman.
“Why?” asked Chichikov with no little curiosity, and still holding his cap over his head.
“Because of THIS. Cast off the net, Thoma Menshov, and pick up that sturgeon for the gentleman to see. Go and help him, Telepen Kuzma.”
With that the peasants indicated picked up by the head what was a veritable monster of a fish.
“Isn’t it a beauty—a sturgeon fresh run from the river?” exclaimed the stout barin. “And now let us be off home. Coachman, you can take the lower road through the kitchen garden. Run, you lout of a Thoma Bolshoy, and open the gate for him. He will guide you to the house, and I myself shall be along presently.”
Thereupon the barelegged Thoma Bolshoy, clad in nothing but a shirt, ran ahead of the koliaska through the village, every hut of which had hanging in front of it a variety of nets, for the reason that every inhabitant of the place was a fisherman. Next, he opened a gate into a large vegetable enclosure, and thence the koliaska emerged into a square near a wooden church, with, showing beyond the latter, the roofs of the manorial homestead.
“A queer fellow, that Koshkarev!” said Chichikov to himself.
“Well, whatever I may be, at least I’m here,” said a voice by his side. Chichikov looked round, and perceived that, in the meanwhile, the barin had dressed himself and overtaken the carriage. With a pair of yellow trousers he was wearing a grass-green jacket, and his neck was as guiltless of a collar as Cupid’s. Also, as he sat sideways in his drozhki, his bulk was such that he completely filled the vehicle. Chichikov was about to make some remark or another when the stout gentleman disappeared; and presently his drozhki re-emerged into view at the spot where the fish had been drawn to land, and his voice could be heard reiterating exhortations to his serfs. Yet when Chichikov reached the verandah of the house he found, to his intense surprise, the stout gentleman waiting to welcome the visitor. How he had contrived to convey himself thither passed Chichikov’s comprehension. Host and guest embraced three times, according to a bygone custom of Russia. Evidently the barin was one of the old school.
“I bring you,” said Chichikov, “a greeting from his Excellency.”
“From your relative General Alexander Dmitrievitch.”
“Who is Alexander Dmitrievitch?”
“What? You do not know General Alexander Dmitrievitch Betrishev?” exclaimed Chichikov with a touch of surprise.
“No, I do not,” replied the gentleman.
Chichikov’s surprise grew to absolute astonishment.
“How comes that about?” he ejaculated. “I hope that I have the honour of addressing Colonel Koshkarev?”
“Your hopes are vain. It is to my house, not to his, that you have come; and I am Peter Petrovitch Pietukh—yes, Peter Petrovitch Pietukh.”
Chichikov, dumbfounded, turned to Selifan and Petrushka.
“What do you mean?” he exclaimed. “I told you to drive to the house of Colonel Koshkarev, whereas you have brought me to that of Peter Petrovitch Pietukh.”
“All the same, your fellows have done quite right,” put in the gentleman referred to. “Do you” (this to Selifan and Petrushka) “go to the kitchen, where they will give you a glassful of vodka apiece. Then put up the horses, and be off to the servants’ quarters.”
“I regret the mistake extremely,” said Chichikov.
“But it is not a mistake. When you have tried the dinner which I have in store for you, just see whether you think IT a mistake. Enter, I beg of you.” And, taking Chichikov by the arm, the host conducted him within, where they were met by a couple of youths.
“Let me introduce my two sons, home for their holidays from the Gymnasium 43,” said Pietukh. “Nikolasha, come and entertain our good visitor, while you, Aleksasha, follow me.” And with that the host disappeared.
Chichikov turned to Nikolasha, whom he found to be a budding man about town, since at first he opened a conversation by stating that, as no good was to be derived from studying at a provincial institution, he and his brother desired to remove, rather, to St. Petersburg, the provinces not being worth living in.
“I quite understand,” Chichikov thought to himself. “The end of the chapter will be confectioners’ assistants and the boulevards.”
“Tell me,” he added aloud, “how does your father’s property at present stand?”
“It is all mortgaged,” put in the father himself as he re-entered the room. “Yes, it is all mortgaged, every bit of it.”
“What a pity!” thought Chichikov. “At this rate it will not be long before this man has no property at all left. I must hurry my departure.” Aloud he said with an air of sympathy: “That you have mortgaged the estate seems to me a matter of regret.”
“No, not at all,” replied Pietukh. “In fact, they tell me that it is a good thing to do, and that every one else is doing it. Why should I act differently from my neighbours? Moreover, I have had enough of living here, and should like to try Moscow—more especially since my sons are always begging me to give them a metropolitan education.”
“Oh, the fool, the fool!” reflected Chichikov. “He is for throwing up everything and making spendthrifts of his sons. Yet this is a nice property, and it is clear that the local peasants are doing well, and that the family, too, is comfortably off. On the other hand, as soon as ever these lads begin their education in restaurants and theatres, the devil will away with every stick of their substance. For my own part, I could desire nothing better than this quiet life in the country.”
“Let me guess what is in your mind,” said Pietukh.
“What, then?” asked Chichikov, rather taken aback.
“You are thinking to yourself: ‘That fool of a Pietukh has asked me to dinner, yet not a bite of dinner do I see.’ But wait a little. It will be ready presently, for it is being cooked as fast as a maiden who has had her hair cut off plaits herself a new set of tresses.”
“Here comes Platon Mikhalitch, father!” exclaimed Aleksasha, who had been peeping out of the window.
“Yes, and on a grey horse,” added his brother.
“Who is Platon Mikhalitch?” inquired Chichikov.
“A neighbour of ours, and an excellent fellow.”
The next moment Platon Mikhalitch himself entered the room, accompanied by a sporting dog named Yarb. He was a tall, handsome man, with extremely red hair. As for his companion, it was of the keen-muzzled species used for shooting.
“Have you dined yet?” asked the host.
“Yes,” replied Platon.
“Indeed? What do you mean by coming here to laugh at us all? Do I ever go to YOUR place after dinner?”
The newcomer smiled. “Well, if it can bring you any comfort,” he said, “let me tell you that I ate nothing at the meal, for I had no appetite.”
“But you should see what I have caught—what sort of a sturgeon fate has brought my way! Yes, and what crucians and carp!”
“Really it tires one to hear you. How come you always to be so cheerful?”
“And how come YOU always to be so gloomy?” retorted the host.
“How, you ask? Simply because I am so.”
“The truth is you don’t eat enough. Try the plan of making a good dinner. Weariness of everything is a modern invention. Once upon a time one never heard of it.”
“Well, boast away, but have you yourself never been tired of things?”
“Never in my life. I do not so much as know whether I should find time to be tired. In the morning, when one awakes, the cook is waiting, and the dinner has to be ordered. Then one drinks one’s morning tea, and then the bailiff arrives for HIS orders, and then there is fishing to be done, and then one’s dinner has to be eaten. Next, before one has even had a chance to utter a snore, there enters once again the cook, and one has to order supper; and when she has departed, behold, back she comes with a request for the following day’s dinner! What time does THAT leave one to be weary of things?”
Throughout this conversation, Chichikov had been taking stock of the newcomer, who astonished him with his good looks, his upright, picturesque figure, his appearance of fresh, unwasted youthfulness, and the boyish purity, innocence, and clarity of his features. Neither passion nor care nor aught of the nature of agitation or anxiety of mind had ventured to touch his unsullied face, or to lay a single wrinkle thereon. Yet the touch of life which those emotions might have imparted was wanting. The face was, as it were, dreaming, even though from time to time an ironical smile disturbed it.
“I, too, cannot understand,” remarked Chichikov, “how a man of your appearance can find things wearisome. Of course, if a man is hard pressed for money, or if he has enemies who are lying in wait for his life (as have certain folk of whom I know), well, then—”
“Believe me when I say,” interrupted the handsome guest, “that, for the sake of a diversion, I should be glad of ANY sort of an anxiety. Would that some enemy would conceive a grudge against me! But no one does so. Everything remains eternally dull.”
“But perhaps you lack a sufficiency of land or souls?”
“Not at all. I and my brother own ten thousand desiatins 44 of land, and over a thousand souls.”
“Curious! I do not understand it. But perhaps the harvest has failed, or you have sickness about, and many of your male peasants have died of it?”
“On the contrary, everything is in splendid order, for my brother is the best of managers.”
“Then to find things wearisome!” exclaimed Chichikov. “It passes my comprehension.” And he shrugged his shoulders.
“Well, we will soon put weariness to flight,” interrupted the host. “Aleksasha, do you run helter-skelter to the kitchen, and there tell the cook to serve the fish pasties. Yes, and where have that gawk of an Emelian and that thief of an Antoshka got to? Why have they not handed round the zakuski?”
At this moment the door opened, and the “gawk” and the “thief” in question made their appearance with napkins and a tray—the latter bearing six decanters of variously-coloured beverages. These they placed upon the table, and then ringed them about with glasses and platefuls of every conceivable kind of appetiser. That done, the servants applied themselves to bringing in various comestibles under covers, through which could be heard the hissing of hot roast viands. In particular did the “gawk” and the “thief” work hard at their tasks. As a matter of fact, their appellations had been given them merely to spur them to greater activity, for, in general, the barin was no lover of abuse, but, rather, a kind-hearted man who, like most Russians, could not get on without a sharp word or two. That is to say, he needed them for his tongue as he need a glass of vodka for his digestion. What else could you expect? It was his nature to care for nothing mild.
To the zakuski succeeded the meal itself, and the host became a perfect glutton on his guests’ behalf. Should he notice that a guest had taken but a single piece of a comestible, he added thereto another one, saying: “Without a mate, neither man nor bird can live in this world.” Should any one take two pieces, he added thereto a third, saying: “What is the good of the number 2? God loves a trinity.” Should any one take three pieces, he would say: “Where do you see a waggon with three wheels? Who builds a three-cornered hut?” Lastly, should any one take four pieces, he would cap them with a fifth, and add thereto the punning quip, “Na piat opiat 45“. After devouring at least twelve steaks of sturgeon, Chichikov ventured to think to himself, “My host cannot possibly add to THEM,” but found that he was mistaken, for, without a word, Pietukh heaped upon his plate an enormous portion of spit-roasted veal, and also some kidneys. And what veal it was!
“That calf was fed two years on milk,” he explained. “I cared for it like my own son.”
“Nevertheless I can eat no more,” said Chichikov.
“Do you try the veal before you say that you can eat no more.”
“But I could not get it down my throat. There is no room left.”
“If there be no room in a church for a newcomer, the beadle is sent for, and room is very soon made—yes, even though before there was such a crush that an apple couldn’t have been dropped between the people. Do you try the veal, I say. That piece is the titbit of all.”
So Chichikov made the attempt; and in very truth the veal was beyond all praise, and room was found for it, even though one would have supposed the feat impossible.
“Fancy this good fellow removing to St. Petersburg or Moscow!” said the guest to himself. “Why, with a scale of living like this, he would be ruined in three years.” For that matter, Pietukh might well have been ruined already, for hospitality can dissipate a fortune in three months as easily as it can in three years.
The host also dispensed the wine with a lavish hand, and what the guests did not drink he gave to his sons, who thus swallowed glass after glass. Indeed, even before coming to table, it was possible to discern to what department of human accomplishment their bent was turned. When the meal was over, however, the guests had no mind for further drinking. Indeed, it was all that they could do to drag themselves on to the balcony, and there to relapse into easy chairs. Indeed, the moment that the host subsided into his seat—it was large enough for four—he fell asleep, and his portly presence, converting itself into a sort of blacksmith’s bellows, started to vent, through open mouth and distended nostrils, such sounds as can have greeted the reader’s ear but seldom—sounds as of a drum being beaten in combination with the whistling of a flute and the strident howling of a dog.
“Listen to him!” said Platon.
“Naturally, on such dinners as that,” continued the other, “our host does NOT find the time dull. And as soon as dinner is ended there can ensue sleep.”
“Yes, but, pardon me, I still fail to understand why you should find life wearisome. There are so many resources against ennui!”
“As for instance?”
“For a young man, dancing, the playing of one or another musical instrument, and—well, yes, marriage.”
“Marriage to whom?”
“To some maiden who is both charming and rich. Are there none in these parts?”
“Then, were I you, I should travel, and seek a maiden elsewhere.” And a brilliant idea therewith entered Chichikov’s head. “This last resource,” he added, “is the best of all resources against ennui.”
“What resource are you speaking of?”
“Well, should it so please you, you might join me as my companion.” This said, the speaker added to himself as he eyed Platon: “Yes, that would suit me exactly, for then I should have half my expenses paid, and could charge him also with the cost of mending the koliaska.”
“And whither should we go?”
“In that respect I am not wholly my own master, as I have business to do for others as well as for myself. For instance, General Betristchev—an intimate friend and, I might add, a generous benefactor of mine—has charged me with commissions to certain of his relatives. However, though relatives are relatives, I am travelling likewise on my own account, since I wish to see the world and the whirligig of humanity—which, in spite of what people may say, is as good as a living book or a second education.” As a matter of fact, Chichikov was reflecting, “Yes, the plan is an excellent one. I might even contrive that he should have to bear the whole of our expenses, and that his horses should be used while my own should be put out to graze on his farm.”
“Well, why should I not adopt the suggestion?” was Platon’s thought. “There is nothing for me to do at home, since the management of the estate is in my brother’s hands, and my going would cause him no inconvenience. Yes, why should I not do as Chichikov has suggested?”
Then he added aloud:
“Would you come and stay with my brother for a couple of days? Otherwise he might refuse me his consent.”
“With great pleasure,” said Chichikov. “Or even for three days.”
“Then here is my hand on it. Let us be off at once.” Platon seemed suddenly to have come to life again.
“Where are you off to?” put in their host unexpectedly as he roused himself and stared in astonishment at the pair. “No, no, my good sirs. I have had the wheels removed from your koliaska, Monsieur Chichikov, and have sent your horse, Platon Mikhalitch, to a grazing ground fifteen versts away. Consequently you must spend the night here, and depart to-morrow morning after breakfast.”
What could be done with a man like Pietukh? There was no help for it but to remain. In return, the guests were rewarded with a beautiful spring evening, for, to spend the time, the host organised a boating expedition on the river, and a dozen rowers, with a dozen pairs of oars, conveyed the party (to the accompaniment of song) across the smooth surface of the lake and up a great river with towering banks. From time to time the boat would pass under ropes, stretched across for purposes of fishing, and at each turn of the rippling current new vistas unfolded themselves as tier upon tier of woodland delighted the eye with a diversity of timber and foliage. In unison did the rowers ply their sculls, yet it was though of itself that the skiff shot forward, bird-like, over the glassy surface of the water; while at intervals the broad-shouldered young oarsman who was seated third from the bow would raise, as from a nightingale’s throat, the opening staves of a boat song, and then be joined by five or six more, until the melody had come to pour forth in a volume as free and boundless as Russia herself. And Pietukh, too, would give himself a shake, and help lustily to support the chorus; and even Chichikov felt acutely conscious of the fact that he was a Russian. Only Platon reflected: “What is there so splendid in these melancholy songs? They do but increase one’s depression of spirits.”
The journey homeward was made in the gathering dusk. Rhythmically the oars smote a surface which no longer reflected the sky, and darkness had fallen when they reached the shore, along which lights were twinkling where the fisherfolk were boiling live eels for soup. Everything had now wended its way homeward for the night; the cattle and poultry had been housed, and the herdsmen, standing at the gates of the village cattle-pens, amid the trailing dust lately raised by their charges, were awaiting the milk-pails and a summons to partake of the eel-broth. Through the dusk came the hum of humankind, and the barking of dogs in other and more distant villages; while, over all, the moon was rising, and the darkened countryside was beginning to glimmer to light again under her beams. What a glorious picture! Yet no one thought of admiring it. Instead of galloping over the countryside on frisky cobs, Nikolasha and Aleksasha were engaged in dreaming of Moscow, with its confectioners’ shops and the theatres of which a cadet, newly arrived on a visit from the capital, had just been telling them; while their father had his mind full of how best to stuff his guests with yet more food, and Platon was given up to yawning. Only in Chichikov was a spice of animation visible. “Yes,” he reflected, “some day I, too, will become lord of such a country place.” And before his mind’s eye there arose also a helpmeet and some little Chichikovs.
By the time that supper was finished the party had again over-eaten themselves, and when Chichikov entered the room allotted him for the night, he lay down upon the bed, and prodded his stomach. “It is as tight as a drum,” he said to himself. “Not another titbit of veal could now get into it.” Also, circumstances had so brought it about that next door to him there was situated his host’s apartment; and since the intervening wall was thin, Chichikov could hear every word that was said there. At the present moment the master of the house was engaged in giving the cook orders for what, under the guise of an early breakfast, promised to constitute a veritable dinner. You should have heard Pietukh’s behests! They would have excited the appetite of a corpse.
“Yes,” he said, sucking his lips, and drawing a deep breath, “in the first place, make a pasty in four divisions. Into one of the divisions put the sturgeon’s cheeks and some viaziga 46, and into another division some buckwheat porridge, young mushrooms and onions, sweet milk, calves’ brains, and anything else that you may find suitable—anything else that you may have got handy. Also, bake the pastry to a nice brown on one side, and but lightly on the other. Yes, and, as to the under side, bake it so that it will be all juicy and flaky, so that it shall not crumble into bits, but melt in the mouth like the softest snow that ever you heard of.” And as he said this Pietukh fairly smacked his lips.
“The devil take him!” muttered Chichikov, thrusting his head beneath the bedclothes to avoid hearing more. “The fellow won’t give one a chance to sleep.”
Nevertheless he heard through the blankets:
“And garnish the sturgeon with beetroot, smelts, peppered mushrooms, young radishes, carrots, beans, and anything else you like, so as to have plenty of trimmings. Yes, and put a lump of ice into the pig’s bladder, so as to swell it up.”
Many other dishes did Pietukh order, and nothing was to be heard but his talk of boiling, roasting, and stewing. Finally, just as mention was being made of a turkey cock, Chichikov fell asleep.
Next morning the guest’s state of repletion had reached the point of Platon being unable to mount his horse; wherefore the latter was dispatched homeward with one of Pietukh’s grooms, and the two guests entered Chichikov’s koliaska. Even the dog trotted lazily in the rear; for he, too, had over-eaten himself.
“It has been rather too much of a good thing,” remarked Chichikov as the vehicle issued from the courtyard.
“Yes, and it vexes me to see the fellow never tire of it,” replied Platon.
“Ah,” thought Chichikov to himself, “if I had an income of seventy thousand roubles, as you have, I’d very soon give tiredness one in the eye! Take Murazov, the tax-farmer—he, again, must be worth ten millions. What a fortune!”
“Do you mind where we drive?” asked Platon. “I should like first to go and take leave of my sister and my brother-in-law.”
“With pleasure,” said Chichikov.
“My brother-in-law is the leading landowner hereabouts. At the present moment he is drawing an income of two hundred thousand roubles from a property which, eight years ago, was producing a bare twenty thousand.”
“Truly a man worthy of the utmost respect! I shall be most interested to make his acquaintance. To think of it! And what may his family name be?”
“And his Christian name and patronymic?”
“Constantine Thedorovitch Kostanzhoglo. Yes, it will be a most interesting event to make his acquaintance. To know such a man must be a whole education.”
Here Platon set himself to give Selifan some directions as to the way, a necessary proceeding in view of the fact that Selifan could hardly maintain his seat on the box. Twice Petrushka, too, had fallen headlong, and this necessitated being tied to his perch with a piece of rope. “What a clown!” had been Chichikov’s only comment.
“This is where my brother-in-law’s land begins,” said Platon.
“They give one a change of view.”
And, indeed, from this point the countryside became planted with timber; the rows of trees running as straight as pistol-shots, and having beyond them, and on higher ground, a second expanse of forest, newly planted like the first; while beyond it, again, loomed a third plantation of older trees. Next there succeeded a flat piece of the same nature.
“All this timber,” said Platon, “has grown up within eight or ten years at the most; whereas on another man’s land it would have taken twenty to attain the same growth.”
“And how has your brother-in-law effected this?”
“You must ask him yourself. He is so excellent a husbandman that nothing ever fails with him. You see, he knows the soil, and also knows what ought to be planted beside what, and what kinds of timber are the best neighbourhood for grain. Again, everything on his estate is made to perform at least three or four different functions. For instance, he makes his timber not only serve as timber, but also serve as a provider of moisture and shade to a given stretch of land, and then as a fertiliser with its fallen leaves. Consequently, when everywhere else there is drought, he still has water, and when everywhere else there has been a failure of the harvest, on his lands it will have proved a success. But it is a pity that I know so little about it all as to be unable to explain to you his many expedients. Folk call him a wizard, for he produces so much. Nevertheless, personally I find what he does uninteresting.”
“Truly an astonishing fellow!” reflected Chichikov with a glance at his companion. “It is sad indeed to see a man so superficial as to be unable to explain matters of this kind.”
At length the manor appeared in sight—an establishment looking almost like a town, so numerous were the huts where they stood arranged in three tiers, crowned with three churches, and surrounded with huge ricks and barns. “Yes,” thought Chichikov to himself, “one can see what a jewel of a landowner lives here.” The huts in question were stoutly built and the intervening alleys well laid-out; while, wherever a waggon was visible, it looked serviceable and more or less new. Also, the local peasants bore an intelligent look on their faces, the cattle were of the best possible breed, and even the peasants’ pigs belonged to the porcine aristocracy. Clearly there dwelt here peasants who, to quote the song, were accustomed to “pick up silver by the shovelful.” Nor were Englishified gardens and parterres and other conceits in evidence, but, on the contrary, there ran an open view from the manor house to the farm buildings and the workmen’s cots, so that, after the old Russian fashion, the barin should be able to keep an eye upon all that was going on around him. For the same purpose, the mansion was topped with a tall lantern and a superstructure—a device designed, not for ornament, nor for a vantage-spot for the contemplation of the view, but for supervision of the labourers engaged in distant fields. Lastly, the brisk, active servants who received the visitors on the verandah were very different menials from the drunken Petrushka, even though they did not wear swallow-tailed coats, but only Cossack tchekmenu 47 of blue homespun cloth.
The lady of the house also issued on to the verandah. With her face of the freshness of “blood and milk” and the brightness of God’s daylight, she as nearly resembled Platon as one pea resembles another, save that, whereas he was languid, she was cheerful and full of talk.
“Good day, brother!” she cried. “How glad I am to see you! Constantine is not at home, but will be back presently.”
“Where is he?”
“Doing business in the village with a party of factors,” replied the lady as she conducted her guests to the drawing-room.
With no little curiosity did Chichikov gaze at the interior of the mansion inhabited by the man who received an annual income of two hundred thousand roubles; for he thought to discern therefrom the nature of its proprietor, even as from a shell one may deduce the species of oyster or snail which has been its tenant, and has left therein its impression. But no such conclusions were to be drawn. The rooms were simple, and even bare. Not a fresco nor a picture nor a bronze nor a flower nor a china what-not nor a book was there to be seen. In short, everything appeared to show that the proprietor of this abode spent the greater part of his time, not between four walls, but in the field, and that he thought out his plans, not in sybaritic fashion by the fireside, nor in an easy chair beside the stove, but on the spot where work was actually in progress—that, in a word, where those plans were conceived, there they were put into execution. Nor in these rooms could Chichikov detect the least trace of a feminine hand, beyond the fact that certain tables and chairs bore drying-boards whereon were arranged some sprinklings of flower petals.
“What is all this rubbish for?” asked Platon.
“It is not rubbish,” replied the lady of the house. “On the contrary, it is the best possible remedy for fever. Last year we cured every one of our sick peasants with it. Some of the petals I am going to make into an ointment, and some into an infusion. You may laugh as much as you like at my potting and preserving, yet you yourself will be glad of things of the kind when you set out on your travels.”
Platon moved to the piano, and began to pick out a note or two.
“Good Lord, what an ancient instrument!” he exclaimed. “Are you not ashamed of it, sister?”
“Well, the truth is that I get no time to practice my music. You see,” she added to Chichikov, “I have an eight-year-old daughter to educate; and to hand her over to a foreign governess in order that I may have leisure for my own piano-playing—well, that is a thing which I could never bring myself to do.”
“You have become a wearisome sort of person,” commented Platon, and walked away to the window. “Ah, here comes Constantine,” presently he added.
Chichikov also glanced out of the window, and saw approaching the verandah a brisk, swarthy-complexioned man of about forty, a man clad in a rough cloth jacket and a velveteen cap. Evidently he was one of those who care little for the niceties of dress. With him, bareheaded, there came a couple of men of a somewhat lower station in life, and all three were engaged in an animated discussion. One of the barin’s two companions was a plain peasant, and the other (clad in a blue Siberian smock) a travelling factor. The fact that the party halted awhile by the entrance steps made it possible to overhear a portion of their conversation from within.
“This is what you peasants had better do,” the barin was saying. “Purchase your release from your present master. I will lend you the necessary money, and afterwards you can work for me.”
“No, Constantine Thedorovitch,” replied the peasant. “Why should we do that? Remove us just as we are. You will know how to arrange it, for a cleverer gentleman than you is nowhere to be found. The misfortune of us muzhiks is that we cannot protect ourselves properly. The tavern-keepers sell us such liquor that, before a man knows where he is, a glassful of it has eaten a hole through his stomach, and made him feel as though he could drink a pail of water. Yes, it knocks a man over before he can look around. Everywhere temptation lies in wait for the peasant, and he needs to be cunning if he is to get through the world at all. In fact, things seem to be contrived for nothing but to make us peasants lose our wits, even to the tobacco which they sell us. What are folk like ourselves to do, Constantine Thedorovitch? I tell you it is terribly difficult for a muzhik to look after himself.”
“Listen to me. This is how things are done here. When I take on a serf, I fit him out with a cow and a horse. On the other hand, I demand of him thereafter more than is demanded of a peasant anywhere else. That is to say, first and foremost I make him work. Whether a peasant be working for himself or for me, never do I let him waste time. I myself toil like a bullock, and I force my peasants to do the same, for experience has taught me that that is the only way to get through life. All the mischief in the world comes through lack of employment. Now, do you go and consider the matter, and talk it over with your mir 48.”
“We have done that already, Constantine Thedorovitch, and our elders’ opinion is: ‘There is no need for further talk. Every peasant belonging to Constantine Thedorovitch is well off, and hasn’t to work for nothing. The priests of his village, too, are men of good heart, whereas ours have been taken away, and there is no one to bury us.'”
“Nevertheless, do you go and talk the matter over again.”
“We will, barin.”
Here the factor who had been walking on the barin’s other side put in a word.
“Constantine Thedorovitch,” he said, “I beg of you to do as I have requested.”
“I have told you before,” replied the barin, “that I do not care to play the huckster. I am not one of those landowners whom fellows of your sort visit on the very day that the interest on a mortgage is due. Ah, I know your fraternity thoroughly, and know that you keep lists of all who have mortgages to repay. But what is there so clever about that? Any man, if you pinch him sufficiently, will surrender you a mortgage at half-price,—any man, that is to say, except myself, who care nothing for your money. Were a loan of mine to remain out three years, I should never demand a kopeck of interest on it.”
“Quite so, Constantine Thedorovitch,” replied the factor. “But I am asking this of you more for the purpose of establishing us on a business footing than because I desire to win your favour. Prey, therefore, accept this earnest money of three thousand roubles.” And the man drew from his breast pocket a dirty roll of bank-notes, which, carelessly receiving, Kostanzhoglo thrust, uncounted, into the back pocket of his overcoat.
“Hm!” thought Chichikov. “For all he cares, the notes might have been a handkerchief.”
When Kostanzhoglo appeared at closer quarters—that is to say, in the doorway of the drawing-room—he struck Chichikov more than ever with the swarthiness of his complexion, the dishevelment of his black, slightly grizzled locks, the alertness of his eye, and the impression of fiery southern origin which his whole personality diffused. For he was not wholly a Russian, nor could he himself say precisely who his forefathers had been. Yet, inasmuch as he accounted genealogical research no part of the science of estate-management, but a mere superfluity, he looked upon himself as, to all intents and purposes, a native of Russia, and the more so since the Russian language was the only tongue he knew.
Platon presented Chichikov, and the pair exchanged greetings.
“To get rid of my depression, Constantine,” continued Platon, “I am thinking of accompanying our guest on a tour through a few of the provinces.”
“An excellent idea,” said Kostanzhoglo. “But precisely whither?” he added, turning hospitably to Chichikov.
“To tell you the truth,” replied that personage with an affable inclination of the head as he smoothed the arm of his chair with his hand, “I am travelling less on my own affairs than on the affairs of others. That is to say, General Betristchev, an intimate friend, and, I might add, a generous benefactor, of mine, has charged me with commissions to some of his relatives. Nevertheless, though relatives are relatives, I may say that I am travelling on my own account as well, in that, in addition to possible benefit to my health, I desire to see the world and the whirligig of humanity, which constitute, so to speak, a living book, a second course of education.”
“Yes, there is no harm in looking at other corners of the world besides one’s own.”
“You speak truly. There IS no harm in such a proceeding. Thereby one may see things which one has not before encountered, one may meet men with whom one has not before come in contact. And with some men of that kind a conversation is as precious a benefit as has been conferred upon me by the present occasion. I come to you, most worthy Constantine Thedorovitch, for instruction, and again for instruction, and beg of you to assuage my thirst with an exposition of the truth as it is. I hunger for the favour of your words as for manna.”
“But how so? What can I teach you?” exclaimed Kostanzhoglo in confusion. “I myself was given but the plainest of educations.”
“Nay, most worthy sir, you possess wisdom, and again wisdom. Wisdom only can direct the management of a great estate, that can derive a sound income from the same, that can acquire wealth of a real, not a fictitious, order while also fulfilling the duties of a citizen and thereby earning the respect of the Russian public. All this I pray you to teach me.”
“I tell you what,” said Kostanzhoglo, looking meditatively at his guest. “You had better stay with me for a few days, and during that time I can show you how things are managed here, and explain to you everything. Then you will see for yourself that no great wisdom is required for the purpose.”
“Yes, certainly you must stay here,” put in the lady of the house. Then, turning to her brother, she added: “And you too must stay. Why should you be in such a hurry?”
“Very well,” he replied. “But what say YOU, Paul Ivanovitch?”
“I say the same as you, and with much pleasure,” replied Chichikov. “But also I ought to tell you this: that there is a relative of General Betristchev’s, a certain Colonel Koshkarev—”
“Yes, we know him; but he is quite mad.”
“As you say, he is mad, and I should not have been intending to visit him, were it not that General Betristchev is an intimate friend of mine, as well as, I might add, my most generous benefactor.”
“Then,” said Kostanzhoglo, “do you go and see Colonel Koshkarev NOW. He lives less than ten versts from here, and I have a gig already harnessed. Go to him at once, and return here for tea.”
“An excellent idea!” cried Chichikov, and with that he seized his cap.
Half an hour’s drive sufficed to bring him to the Colonel’s establishment. The village attached to the manor was in a state of utter confusion, since in every direction building and repairing operations were in progress, and the alleys were choked with heaps of lime, bricks, and beams of wood. Also, some of the huts were arranged to resemble offices, and superscribed in gilt letters “Depot for Agricultural Implements,” “Chief Office of Accounts,” “Estate Works Committee,” “Normal School for the Education of Colonists,” and so forth.
Chichikov found the Colonel posted behind a desk and holding a pen between his teeth. Without an instant’s delay the master of the establishment—who seemed a kindly, approachable man, and accorded to his visitor a very civil welcome—plunged into a recital of the labour which it had cost him to bring the property to its present condition of affluence. Then he went on to lament the fact that he could not make his peasantry understand the incentives to labour which the riches of science and art provide; for instance, he had failed to induce his female serfs to wear corsets, whereas in Germany, where he had resided for fourteen years, every humble miller’s daughter could play the piano. None the less, he said, he meant to peg away until every peasant on the estate should, as he walked behind the plough, indulge in a regular course of reading Franklin’s Notes on Electricity, Virgil’s Georgics, or some work on the chemical properties of soil.
“Good gracious!” mentally exclaimed Chichikov. “Why, I myself have not had time to finish that book by the Duchesse de la Valliere!”
Much else the Colonel said. In particular did he aver that, provided the Russian peasant could be induced to array himself in German costume, science would progress, trade increase, and the Golden Age dawn in Russia.
For a while Chichikov listened with distended eyes. Then he felt constrained to intimate that with all that he had nothing to do, seeing that his business was merely to acquire a few souls, and thereafter to have their purchase confirmed.
“If I understand you aright,” said the Colonel, “you wish to present a Statement of Plea?”
“Yes, that is so.”
“Then kindly put it into writing, and it shall be forwarded to the Office for the Reception of Reports and Returns. Thereafter that Office will consider it, and return it to me, who will, in turn, dispatch it to the Estate Works Committee, who will, in turn, revise it, and present it to the Administrator, who, jointly with the Secretary, will—”
“Pardon me,” expostulated Chichikov, “but that procedure will take up a great deal of time. Why need I put the matter into writing at all? It is simply this. I want a few souls which are—well, which are, so to speak, dead.”
“Very good,” commented the Colonel. “Do you write down in your Statement of Plea that the souls which you desire are, ‘so to speak, dead.'”
“But what would be the use of my doing so? Though the souls are dead, my purpose requires that they should be represented as alive.”
“Very good,” again commented the Colonel. “Do you write down in your Statement that ‘it is necessary’ (or, should you prefer an alternative phrase, ‘it is requested,’ or ‘it is desiderated,’ or ‘it is prayed,’) ‘that the souls be represented as alive.’ At all events, WITHOUT documentary process of that kind, the matter cannot possibly be carried through. Also, I will appoint a Commissioner to guide you round the various Offices.”
And he sounded a bell; whereupon there presented himself a man whom, addressing as “Secretary,” the Colonel instructed to summon the “Commissioner.” The latter, on appearing, was seen to have the air, half of a peasant, half of an official.
“This man,” the Colonel said to Chichikov, “will act as your escort.”
What could be done with a lunatic like Koshkarev? In the end, curiosity moved Chichikov to accompany the Commissioner. The Committee for the Reception of Reports and Returns was discovered to have put up its shutters, and to have locked its doors, for the reason that the Director of the Committee had been transferred to the newly-formed Committee of Estate Management, and his successor had been annexed by the same Committee. Next, Chichikov and his escort rapped at the doors of the Department of Estate Affairs; but that Department’s quarters happened to be in a state of repair, and no one could be made to answer the summons save a drunken peasant from whom not a word of sense was to be extracted. At length the escort felt himself removed to remark:
“There is a deal of foolishness going on here. Fellows like that drunkard lead the barin by the nose, and everything is ruled by the Committee of Management, which takes men from their proper work, and sets them to do any other it likes. Indeed, only through the Committee does ANYTHING get done.”
By this time Chichikov felt that he had seen enough; wherefore he returned to the Colonel, and informed him that the Office for the Reception of Reports and Returns had ceased to exist. At once the Colonel flamed to noble rage. Pressing Chichikov’s hand in token of gratitude for the information which the guest had furnished, he took paper and pen, and noted eight searching questions under three separate headings: (1) “Why has the Committee of Management presumed to issue orders to officials not under its jurisdiction?” (2) “Why has the Chief Manager permitted his predecessor, though still in retention of his post, to follow him to another Department?” and (3) “Why has the Committee of Estate Affairs suffered the Office for the Reception of Reports and Returns to lapse?”
“Now for a row!” thought Chichikov to himself, and turned to depart; but his host stopped him, saying:
“I cannot let you go, for, in addition to my honour having become involved, it behoves me to show my people how the regular, the organised, administration of an estate may be conducted. Herewith I will hand over the conduct of your affair to a man who is worth all the rest of the staff put together, and has had a university education. Also, the better to lose no time, may I humbly beg you to step into my library, where you will find notebooks, paper, pens, and everything else that you may require. Of these articles pray make full use, for you are a gentleman of letters, and it is your and my joint duty to bring enlightenment to all.”
So saying, he ushered his guest into a large room lined from floor to ceiling with books and stuffed specimens. The books in question were divided into sections—a section on forestry, a section on cattle-breeding, a section on the raising of swine, and a section on horticulture, together with special journals of the type circulated merely for the purposes of reference, and not for general reading. Perceiving that these works were scarcely of a kind calculated to while away an idle hour, Chichikov turned to a second bookcase. But to do so was to fall out of the frying-pan into the fire, for the contents of the second bookcase proved to be works on philosophy, while, in particular, six huge volumes confronted him under a label inscribed “A Preparatory Course to the Province of Thought, with the Theory of Community of Effort, Co-operation, and Subsistence, in its Application to a Right Understanding of the Organic Principles of a Mutual Division of Social Productivity.” Indeed, wheresoever Chichikov looked, every page presented to his vision some such words as “phenomenon,” “development,” “abstract,” “contents,” and “synopsis.” “This is not the sort of thing for me,” he murmured, and turned his attention to a third bookcase, which contained books on the Arts. Extracting a huge tome in which some by no means reticent mythological illustrations were contained, he set himself to examine these pictures. They were of the kind which pleases mostly middle-aged bachelors and old men who are accustomed to seek in the ballet and similar frivolities a further spur to their waning passions. Having concluded his examination, Chichikov had just extracted another volume of the same species when Colonel Koshkarev returned with a document of some sort and a radiant countenance.
“Everything has been carried through in due form!” he cried. “The man whom I mentioned is a genius indeed, and I intend not only to promote him over the rest, but also to create for him a special Department. Herewith shall you hear what a splendid intellect is his, and how in a few minutes he has put the whole affair in order.”
“May the Lord be thanked for that!” thought Chichikov. Then he settled himself while the Colonel read aloud:
“‘After giving full consideration to the Reference which your Excellency has entrusted to me, I have the honour to report as follows:
“‘(1) In the Statement of Plea presented by one Paul Ivanovitch Chichikov, Gentleman, Chevalier, and Collegiate Councillor, there lurks an error, in that an oversight has led the Petitioner to apply to Revisional Souls the term “Dead.” Now, from the context it would appear that by this term the Petitioner desires to signify Souls Approaching Death rather than Souls Actually Deceased: wherefore the term employed betrays such an empirical instruction in letters as must, beyond doubt, have been confined to the Village School, seeing that in truth the Soul is Deathless.’
“The rascal!” Koshkarev broke off to exclaim delightedly. “He has got you there, Monsieur Chichikov. And you will admit that he has a sufficiently incisive pen?
“‘(2) On this Estate there exist no Unmortgaged Souls whatsoever, whether Approaching Death or Otherwise; for the reason that all Souls thereon have been pledged not only under a First Deed of Mortgage, but also (for the sum of One Hundred and Fifty Roubles per Soul) under a Second,—the village of Gurmailovka alone excepted, in that, in consequence of a Suit having been brought against Landowner Priadistchev, and of a caveat having been pronounced by the Land Court, and of such caveat having been published in No. 42 of the Gazette of Moscow, the said Village has come within the Jurisdiction of the Court Above-Mentioned.”
“Why did you not tell me all this before?” cried Chichikov furiously. “Why you have kept me dancing about for nothing?”
“Because it was absolutely necessary that you should view the matter through forms of documentary process. This is no jest on my part. The inexperienced may see things subconsciously, yet is imperative that he should also see them CONSCIOUSLY.”
But to Chichikov’s patience an end had come. Seizing his cap, and casting all ceremony to the winds, he fled from the house, and rushed through the courtyard. As it happened, the man who had driven him thither had, warned by experience, not troubled even to take out the horses, since he knew that such a proceeding would have entailed not only the presentation of a Statement of Plea for fodder, but also a delay of twenty-four hours until the Resolution granting the same should have been passed. Nevertheless the Colonel pursued his guest to the gates, and pressed his hand warmly as he thanked him for having enabled him (the Colonel) thus to exhibit in operation the proper management of an estate. Also, he begged to state that, under the circumstances, it was absolutely necessary to keep things moving and circulating, since, otherwise, slackness was apt to supervene, and the working of the machine to grow rusty and feeble; but that, in spite of all, the present occasion had inspired him with a happy idea—namely, the idea of instituting a Committee which should be entitled “The Committee of Supervision of the Committee of Management,” and which should have for its function the detection of backsliders among the body first mentioned.
It was late when, tired and dissatisfied, Chichikov regained Kostanzhoglo’s mansion. Indeed, the candles had long been lit.
“What has delayed you?” asked the master of the house as Chichikov entered the drawing-room.
“Yes, what has kept you and the Colonel so long in conversation together?” added Platon.
“This—the fact that never in my life have I come across such an imbecile,” was Chichikov’s reply.
“Never mind,” said Kostanzhoglo. “Koshkarev is a most reassuring phenomenon. He is necessary in that in him we see expressed in caricature all the more crying follies of our intellectuals—of the intellectuals who, without first troubling to make themselves acquainted with their own country, borrow silliness from abroad. Yet that is how certain of our landowners are now carrying on. They have set up ‘offices’ and factories and schools and ‘commissions,’ and the devil knows what else besides. A fine lot of wiseacres! After the French War in 1812 they had to reconstruct their affairs: and see how they have done it! Yet so much worse have they done it than a Frenchman would have done that any fool of a Peter Petrovitch Pietukh now ranks as a good landowner!”
“But he has mortgaged the whole of his estate?” remarked Chichikov.
“Yes, nowadays everything is being mortgaged, or is going to be.” This said, Kostanzhoglo’s temper rose still further. “Out upon your factories of hats and candles!” he cried. “Out upon procuring candle-makers from London, and then turning landowners into hucksters! To think of a Russian pomiestchik 49, a member of the noblest of callings, conducting workshops and cotton mills! Why, it is for the wenches of towns to handle looms for muslin and lace.”
“But you yourself maintain workshops?” remarked Platon.
“I do; but who established them? They established themselves. For instance, wool had accumulated, and since I had nowhere to store it, I began to weave it into cloth—but, mark you, only into good, plain cloth of which I can dispose at a cheap rate in the local markets, and which is needed by peasants, including my own. Again, for six years on end did the fish factories keep dumping their offal on my bank of the river; wherefore, at last, as there was nothing to be done with it, I took to boiling it into glue, and cleared forty thousand roubles by the process.”
“The devil!” thought Chichikov to himself as he stared at his host. “What a fist this man has for making money!”
“Another reason why I started those factories,” continued Kostanzhoglo, “is that they might give employment to many peasants who would otherwise have starved. You see, the year happened to have been a lean one—thanks to those same industry-mongering landowners, in that they had neglected to sow their crops; and now my factories keep growing at the rate of a factory a year, owing to the circumstance that such quantities of remnants and cuttings become so accumulated that, if a man looks carefully to his management, he will find every sort of rubbish to be capable of bringing in a return—yes, to the point of his having to reject money on the plea that he has no need of it. Yet I do not find that to do all this I require to build a mansion with facades and pillars!”
“Marvellous!” exclaimed Chichikov. “Beyond all things does it surprise me that refuse can be so utilised.”
“Yes, and that is what can be done by SIMPLE methods. But nowadays every one is a mechanic, and wants to open that money chest with an instrument instead of simply. For that purpose he hies him to England. Yes, THAT is the thing to do. What folly!” Kostanzhoglo spat and added: “Yet when he returns from abroad he is a hundred times more ignorant than when he went.”
“Ah, Constantine,” put in his wife anxiously, “you know how bad for you it is to talk like this.”
“Yes, but how am I to help losing my temper? The thing touches me too closely, it vexes me too deeply to think that the Russian character should be degenerating. For in that character there has dawned a sort of Quixotism which never used to be there. Yes, no sooner does a man get a little education into his head than he becomes a Don Quixote, and establishes schools on his estate such as even a madman would never have dreamed of. And from that school there issues a workman who is good for nothing, whether in the country or in the town—a fellow who drinks and is for ever standing on his dignity. Yet still our landowners keep taking to philanthropy, to converting themselves into philanthropic knights-errant, and spending millions upon senseless hospitals and institutions, and so ruining themselves and turning their families adrift. Yes, that is all that comes of philanthropy.”
Chichikov’s business had nothing to do with the spread of enlightenment, he was but seeking an opportunity to inquire further concerning the putting of refuse to lucrative uses; but Kostanzhoglo would not let him get a word in edgeways, so irresistibly did the flow of sarcastic comment pour from the speaker’s lips.
“Yes,” went on Kostanzhoglo, “folk are always scheming to educate the peasant. But first make him well-off and a good farmer. THEN he will educate himself fast enough. As things are now, the world has grown stupid to a degree that passes belief. Look at the stuff our present-day scribblers write! Let any sort of a book be published, and at once you will see every one making a rush for it. Similarly will you find folk saying: ‘The peasant leads an over-simple life. He ought to be familiarised with luxuries, and so led to yearn for things above his station.’ And the result of such luxuries will be that the peasant will become a rag rather than a man, and suffer from the devil only knows what diseases, until there will remain in the land not a boy of eighteen who will not have experienced the whole gamut of them, and found himself left with not a tooth in his jaws or a hair on his pate. Yes, that is what will come of infecting the peasant with such rubbish. But, thank God, there is still one healthy class left to us—a class which has never taken up with the ‘advantages’ of which I speak. For that we ought to be grateful. And since, even yet, the Russian agriculturist remains the most respect-worthy man in the land, why should he be touched? Would to God every one were an agriculturist!”
“Then you believe agriculture to be the most profitable of occupations?” said Chichikov.
“The best, at all events—if not the most profitable. ‘In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou till the land.’ To quote that requires no great wisdom, for the experience of ages has shown us that, in the agricultural calling, man has ever remained more moral, more pure, more noble than in any other. Of course I do not mean to imply that no other calling ought to be practised: simply that the calling in question lies at the root of all the rest. However much factories may be established privately or by the law, there will still lie ready to man’s hand all that he needs—he will still require none of those amenities which are sapping the vitality of our present-day folk, nor any of those industrial establishments which make their profit, and keep themselves going, by causing foolish measures to be adopted which, in the end, are bound to deprave and corrupt our unfortunate masses. I myself am determined never to establish any manufacture, however profitable, which will give rise to a demand for ‘higher things,’ such as sugar and tobacco—no not if I lose a million by my refusing to do so. If corruption MUST overtake the MIR, it shall not be through my hands. And I think that God will justify me in my resolve. Twenty years have I lived among the common folk, and I know what will inevitably come of such things.”
“But what surprises me most,” persisted Chichikov, “is that from refuse it should be possible, with good management, to make such an immensity of profit.”
“And as for political economy,” continued Kostanzhoglo, without noticing him, and with his face charged with bilious sarcasm, “—as for political economy, it is a fine thing indeed. Just one fool sitting on another fool’s back, and flogging him along, even though the rider can see no further than his own nose! Yet into the saddle will that fool climb—spectacles and all! Oh, the folly, the folly of such things!” And the speaker spat derisively.
“That may be true,” said his wife. “Yet you must not get angry about it. Surely one can speak on such subjects without losing one’s temper?”
“As I listen to you, most worthy Constantine Thedorovitch,” Chichikov hastened to remark, “it becomes plain to me that you have penetrated into the meaning of life, and laid your finger upon the essential root of the matter. Yet supposing, for a moment, we leave the affairs of humanity in general, and turn our attention to a purely individual affair, might I ask you how, in the case of a man becoming a landowner, and having a mind to grow wealthy as quickly as possible (in order that he may fulfil his bounden obligations as a citizen), he can best set about it?”
“How he can best set about growing wealthy?” repeated Kostanzhoglo. “Why,—”
“Let us go to supper,” interrupted the lady of the house, rising from her chair, and moving towards the centre of the room, where she wrapped her shivering young form in a shawl. Chichikov sprang up with the alacrity of a military man, offered her his arm, and escorted her, as on parade, to the dining-room, where awaiting them there was the soup-toureen. From it the lid had just been removed, and the room was redolent of the fragrant odour of early spring roots and herbs. The company took their seats, and at once the servants placed the remainder of the dishes (under covers) upon the table and withdrew, for Kostanzhoglo hated to have servants listening to their employers’ conversation, and objected still more to their staring at him all the while that he was eating.
When the soup had been consumed, and glasses of an excellent vintage resembling Hungarian wine had been poured out, Chichikov said to his host:
“Most worthy sir, allow me once more to direct your attention to the subject of which we were speaking at the point when the conversation became interrupted. You will remember that I was asking you how best a man can set about, proceed in, the matter of growing…”
[Here from the original two pages are missing.]
… “A property for which, had he asked forty thousand, I should still have demanded a reduction.”
“Hm!” thought Chichikov; then added aloud: “But why do you not purchase it yourself?”
“Because to everything there must be assigned a limit. Already my property keeps me sufficiently employed. Moreover, I should cause our local dvoriane to begin crying out in chorus that I am exploiting their extremities, their ruined position, for the purpose of acquiring land for under its value. Of that I am weary.”
“How readily folk speak evil!” exclaimed Chichikov.
“Yes, and the amount of evil-speaking in our province surpasses belief. Never will you hear my name mentioned without my being called also a miser and a usurer of the worst possible sort; whereas my accusers justify themselves in everything, and say that, ‘though we have wasted our money, we have started a demand for the higher amenities of life, and therefore encouraged industry with our wastefulness, a far better way of doing things than that practised by Kostanzhoglo, who lives like a pig.'”
“Would I could live in your ‘piggish’ fashion!” ejaculated Chichikov.
“And so forth, and so forth. Yet what are the ‘higher amenities of life’? What good can they do to any one? Even if a landowner of the day sets up a library, he never looks at a single book in it, but soon relapses into card-playing—the usual pursuit. Yet folk call me names simply because I do not waste my means upon the giving of dinners! One reason why I do not give such dinners is that they weary me; and another reason is that I am not used to them. But come you to my house for the purpose of taking pot luck, and I shall be delighted to see you. Also, folk foolishly say that I lend money on interest; whereas the truth is that if you should come to me when you are really in need, and should explain to me openly how you propose to employ my money, and I should perceive that you are purposing to use that money wisely, and that you are really likely to profit thereby—well, in that case you would find me ready to lend you all that you might ask without interest at all.”
“That is a thing which it is well to know,” reflected Chichikov.
“Yes,” repeated Kostanzhoglo, “under those circumstances I should never refuse you my assistance. But I do object to throwing my money to the winds. Pardon me for expressing myself so plainly. To think of lending money to a man who is merely devising a dinner for his mistress, or planning to furnish his house like a lunatic, or thinking of taking his paramour to a masked ball or a jubilee in honour of some one who had better never have been born!”
And, spitting, he came near to venting some expression which would scarcely have been becoming in the presence of his wife. Over his face the dark shadow of hypochondria had cast a cloud, and furrows had formed on his brow and temples, and his every gesture bespoke the influence of a hot, nervous rancour.
“But allow me once more to direct your attention to the subject of our recently interrupted conversation,” persisted Chichikov as he sipped a glass of excellent raspberry wine. “That is to say, supposing I were to acquire the property which you have been good enough to bring to my notice, how long would it take me to grow rich?”
“That would depend on yourself,” replied Kostanzhoglo with grim abruptness and evident ill-humour. “You might either grow rich quickly or you might never grow rich at all. If you made up your mind to grow rich, sooner or later you would find yourself a wealthy man.”
“Indeed?” ejaculated Chichikov.
“Yes,” replied Kostanzhoglo, as sharply as though he were angry with Chichikov. “You would merely need to be fond of work: otherwise you would effect nothing. The main thing is to like looking after your property. Believe me, you would never grow weary of doing so. People would have it that life in the country is dull; whereas, if I were to spend a single day as it is spent by some folk, with their stupid clubs and their restaurants and their theatres, I should die of ennui. The fools, the idiots, the generations of blind dullards! But a landowner never finds the days wearisome—he has not the time. In his life not a moment remains unoccupied; it is full to the brim. And with it all goes an endless variety of occupations. And what occupations! Occupations which genuinely uplift the soul, seeing that the landowner walks with nature and the seasons of the year, and takes part in, and is intimate with, everything which is evolved by creation. For let us look at the round of the year’s labours. Even before spring has arrived there will have begun a general watching and a waiting for it, and a preparing for sowing, and an apportioning of crops, and a measuring of seed grain by byres, and drying of seed, and a dividing of the workers into teams. For everything needs to be examined beforehand, and calculations must be made at the very start. And as soon as ever the ice shall have melted, and the rivers be flowing, and the land have dried sufficiently to be workable, the spade will begin its task in kitchen and flower garden, and the plough and the harrow their tasks in the field; until everywhere there will be tilling and sowing and planting. And do you understand what the sum of that labour will mean? It will mean that the harvest is being sown, that the welfare of the world is being sown, that the food of millions is being put into the earth. And thereafter will come summer, the season of reaping, endless reaping; for suddenly the crops will have ripened, and rye-sheaf will be lying heaped upon rye-sheaf, with, elsewhere, stocks of barley, and of oats, and of wheat. And everything will be teeming with life, and not a moment will there need to be lost, seeing that, had you even twenty eyes, you would have need for them all. And after the harvest festivities there will be grain to be carted to byre or stacked in ricks, and stores to be prepared for the winter, and storehouses and kilns and cattle-sheds to be cleaned for the same purpose, and the women to be assigned their tasks, and the totals of everything to be calculated, so that one may see the value of what has been done. And lastly will come winter, when in every threshing-floor the flail will be working, and the grain, when threshed, will need to be carried from barn to binn, and the mills require to be seen to, and the estate factories to be inspected, and the workmen’s huts to be visited for the purpose of ascertaining how the muzhik is faring (for, given a carpenter who is clever with his tools, I, for one, am only too glad to spend an hour or two in his company, so cheering to me is labour). And if, in addition, one discerns the end to which everything is moving, and the manner in which the things of earth are everywhere multiplying and multiplying, and bringing forth more and more fruit to one’s profiting, I cannot adequately express what takes place in a man’s soul. And that, not because of the growth in his wealth—money is money and no more—but because he will feel that everything is the work of his own hands, and that he has been the cause of everything, and its creator, and that from him, as from a magician, there has flowed bounty and goodness for all. In what other calling will you find such delights in prospect?” As he spoke, Kostanzhoglo raised his face, and it became clear that the wrinkles had fled from it, and that, like the Tsar on the solemn day of his crowning, Kostanzhoglo’s whole form was diffusing light, and his features had in them a gentle radiance. “In all the world,” he repeated, “you will find no joys like these, for herein man imitates the God who projected creation as the supreme happiness, and now demands of man that he, too, should act as the creator of prosperity. Yet there are folk who call such functions tedious!”
Kostanzhoglo’s mellifluous periods fell upon Chichikov’s ear like the notes of a bird of paradise. From time to time he gulped, and his softened eyes expressed the pleasure which it gave him to listen.
“Constantine, it is time to leave the table,” said the lady of the house, rising from her seat. Every one followed her example, and Chichikov once again acted as his hostess’s escort—although with less dexterity of deportment than before, owing to the fact that this time his thoughts were occupied with more essential matters of procedure.
“In spite of what you say,” remarked Platon as he walked behind the pair, “I, for my part, find these things wearisome.”
But the master of the house paid no attention to his remark, for he was reflecting that his guest was no fool, but a man of serious thought and speech who did not take things lightly. And, with the thought, Kostanzhoglo grew lighter in soul, as though he had warmed himself with his own words, and were exulting in the fact that he had found some one capable of listening to good advice.
When they had settled themselves in the cosy, candle-lighted drawing-room, with its balcony and the glass door opening out into the garden—a door through which the stars could be seen glittering amid the slumbering tops of the trees—Chichikov felt more comfortable than he had done for many a day past. It was as though, after long journeying, his own roof-tree had received him once more—had received him when his quest had been accomplished, when all that he wished for had been gained, when his travelling-staff had been laid aside with the words “It is finished.” And of this seductive frame of mind the true source had been the eloquent discourse of his hospitable host. Yes, for every man there exist certain things which, instantly that they are said, seem to touch him more closely, more intimately, than anything has done before. Nor is it an uncommon occurrence that in the most unexpected fashion, and in the most retired of retreats, one will suddenly come face to face with a man whose burning periods will lead one to forget oneself and the tracklessness of the route and the discomfort of one’s nightly halting-places, and the futility of crazes and the falseness of tricks by which one human being deceives another. And at once there will become engraven upon one’s memory—vividly, and for all time—the evening thus spent. And of that evening one’s remembrance will hold true, both as to who was present, and where each such person sat, and what he or she was wearing, and what the walls and the stove and other trifling features of the room looked like.
In the same way did Chichikov note each detail that evening—both the appointments of the agreeable, but not luxuriously furnished, room, and the good-humoured expression which reigned on the face of the thoughtful host, and the design of the curtains, and the amber-mounted pipe smoked by Platon, and the way in which he kept puffing smoke into the fat jowl of the dog Yarb, and the sneeze which, on each such occasion, Yarb vented, and the laughter of the pleasant-faced hostess (though always followed by the words “Pray do not tease him any more”) and the cheerful candle-light, and the cricket chirping in a corner, and the glass door, and the spring night which, laying its elbows upon the tree-tops, and spangled with stars, and vocal with the nightingales which were pouring forth warbled ditties from the recesses of the foliage, kept glancing through the door, and regarding the company within.
“How it delights me to hear your words, good Constantine Thedorovitch!” said Chichikov. “Indeed, nowhere in Russia have I met with a man of equal intellect.”
Kostanzhoglo smiled, while realising that the compliment was scarcely deserved.
“If you want a man of GENUINE intellect,” he said, “I can tell you of one. He is a man whose boot soles are worth more than my whole body.”
“Who may he be?” asked Chichikov in astonishment.
“Murazov, our local Commissioner of Taxes.”
“Ah! I have heard of him before,” remarked Chichikov.
“He is a man who, were he not the director of an estate, might well be a director of the Empire. And were the Empire under my direction, I should at once appoint him my Minister of Finance.”
“I have heard tales beyond belief concerning him—for instance, that he has acquired ten million roubles.”
“Ten? More than forty. Soon half Russia will be in his hands.”
“You don’t say so?” cried Chichikov in amazement.
“Yes, certainly. The man who has only a hundred thousand roubles to work with grows rich but slowly, whereas he who has millions at his disposal can operate over a greater radius, and so back whatsoever he undertakes with twice or thrice the money which can be brought against him. Consequently his field becomes so spacious that he ends by having no rivals. Yes, no one can compete with him, and, whatsoever price he may fix for a given commodity, at that price it will have to remain, nor will any man be able to outbid it.”
“My God!” muttered Chichikov, crossing himself, and staring at Kostanzhoglo with his breath catching in his throat. “The mind cannot grasp it—it petrifies one’s thoughts with awe. You see folk marvelling at what Science has achieved in the matter of investigating the habits of cowbugs, but to me it is a far more marvellous thing that in the hands of a single mortal there can become accumulated such gigantic sums of money. But may I ask whether the great fortune of which you speak has been acquired through honest means?”
“Yes; through means of the most irreproachable kind—through the most honourable of methods.”
“Yet so improbable does it seem that I can scarcely believe it. Thousands I could understand, but millions—!”
“On the contrary, to make thousands honestly is a far more difficult matter than to make millions. Millions are easily come by, for a millionaire has no need to resort to crooked ways; the way lies straight before him, and he needs but to annex whatsoever he comes across. No rival will spring up to oppose him, for no rival will be sufficiently strong, and since the millionaire can operate over an extensive radius, he can bring (as I have said) two or three roubles to bear upon any one else’s one. Consequently, what interest will he derive from a thousand roubles? Why, ten or twenty per cent. at the least.”
“And it is beyond measure marvellous that the whole should have started from a single kopeck.”
“Had it started otherwise, the thing could never have been done at all. Such is the normal course. He who is born with thousands, and is brought up to thousands, will never acquire a single kopeck more, for he will have been set up with the amenities of life in advance, and so never come to stand in need of anything. It is necessary to begin from the beginning rather than from the middle; from a kopeck rather than from a rouble; from the bottom rather than from the top. For only thus will a man get to know the men and conditions among which his career will have to be carved. That is to say, through encountering the rough and the tumble of life, and through learning that every kopeck has to be beaten out with a three-kopeck nail, and through worsting knave after knave, he will acquire such a degree of perspicuity and wariness that he will err in nothing which he may tackle, and never come to ruin. Believe me, it is so. The beginning, and not the middle, is the right starting point. No one who comes to me and says, ‘Give me a hundred thousand roubles, and I will grow rich in no time,’ do I believe, for he is likely to meet with failure rather than with the success of which he is so assured. ‘Tis with a kopeck, and with a kopeck only, that a man must begin.”
“If that is so, I shall grow rich,” said Chichikov, involuntarily remembering the dead souls. “For of a surety I began with nothing.”
“Constantine, pray allow Paul Ivanovitch to retire to rest,” put in the lady of the house. “It is high time, and I am sure you have talked enough.”
“Yes, beyond a doubt you will grow rich,” continued Kostanzhoglo, without heeding his wife. “For towards you there will run rivers and rivers of gold, until you will not know what to do with all your gains.”
As though spellbound, Chichikov sat in an aureate world of ever-growing dreams and fantasies. All his thoughts were in a whirl, and on a carpet of future wealth his tumultuous imagination was weaving golden patterns, while ever in his ears were ringing the words, “towards you there will run rivers and rivers of gold.”
“Really, Constantine, DO allow Paul Ivanovitch to go to bed.”
“What on earth is the matter?” retorted the master of the household testily. “Pray go yourself if you wish to.” Then he stopped short, for the snoring of Platon was filling the whole room, and also—outrivalling it—that of the dog Yarb. This caused Kostanzhoglo to realise that bedtime really had arrived; wherefore, after he had shaken Platon out of his slumbers, and bidden Chichikov good night, all dispersed to their several chambers, and became plunged in sleep.
All, that is to say, except Chichikov, whose thoughts remained wakeful, and who kept wondering and wondering how best he could become the owner, not of a fictitious, but of a real, estate. The conversation with his host had made everything clear, had made the possibility of his acquiring riches manifest, had made the difficult art of estate management at once easy and understandable; until it would seem as though particularly was his nature adapted for mastering the art in question. All that he would need to do would be to mortgage the dead souls, and then to set up a genuine establishment. Already he saw himself acting and administering as Kostanzhoglo had advised him—energetically, and through personal oversight, and undertaking nothing new until the old had been thoroughly learned, and viewing everything with his own eyes, and making himself familiar with each member of his peasantry, and abjuring all superfluities, and giving himself up to hard work and husbandry. Yes, already could he taste the pleasure which would be his when he had built up a complete industrial organisation, and the springs of the industrial machine were in vigorous working order, and each had become able to reinforce the other. Labour should be kept in active operation, and, even as, in a mill, flour comes flowing from grain, so should cash, and yet more cash, come flowing from every atom of refuse and remnant. And all the while he could see before him the landowner who was one of the leading men in Russia, and for whom he had conceived such an unbounded respect. Hitherto only for rank or for opulence had Chichikov respected a man—never for mere intellectual power; but now he made a first exception in favour of Kostanzhoglo, seeing that he felt that nothing undertaken by his host could possibly come to naught. And another project which was occupying Chichikov’s mind was the project of purchasing the estate of a certain landowner named Khlobuev. Already Chichikov had at his disposal ten thousand roubles, and a further fifteen thousand he would try and borrow of Kostanzhoglo (seeing that the latter had himself said that he was prepared to help any one who really desired to grow rich); while, as for the remainder, he would either raise the sum by mortgaging the estate or force Khlobuev to wait for it—just to tell him to resort to the courts if such might be his pleasure.
Long did our hero ponder the scheme; until at length the slumber which had, these four hours past, been holding the rest of the household in its embraces enfolded also Chichikov, and he sank into oblivion.
ext day, with Platon and Constantine, Chichikov set forth to interview Khlobuev, the owner whose estate Constantine had consented to help Chichikov to purchase with a non-interest-bearing, uncovenanted loan of ten thousand roubles. Naturally, our hero was in the highest of spirits. For the first fifteen versts or so the road led through forest land and tillage belonging to Platon and his brother-in-law; but directly the limit of these domains was reached, forest land began to be replaced with swamp, and tillage with waste. Also, the village in Khlobuev’s estate had about it a deserted air, and as for the proprietor himself, he was discovered in a state of drowsy dishevelment, having not long left his bed. A man of about forty, he had his cravat crooked, his frockcoat adorned with a large stain, and one of his boots worn through. Nevertheless he seemed delighted to see his visitors.
“What?” he exclaimed. “Constantine Thedorovitch and Platon Mikhalitch? Really I must rub my eyes! Never again in this world did I look to see callers arriving. As a rule, folk avoid me like the devil, for they cannot disabuse their minds of the idea that I am going to ask them for a loan. Yes, it is my own fault, I know, but what would you? To the end will swine cheat swine. Pray excuse my costume. You will observe that my boots are in holes. But how can I afford to get them mended?”
“Never mind,” said Constantine. “We have come on business only. May I present to you a possible purchaser of your estate, in the person of Paul Ivanovitch Chichikov?”
“I am indeed glad to meet you!” was Khlobuev’s response. “Pray shake hands with me, Paul Ivanovitch.”
Chichikov offered one hand, but not both.
“I can show you a property worth your attention,” went on the master of the estate. “May I ask if you have yet dined?”
“Yes, we have,” put in Constantine, desirous of escaping as soon as possible. “To save you further trouble, let us go and view the estate at once.”
“Very well,” replied Khlobuev. “Pray come and inspect my irregularities and futilities. You have done well to dine beforehand, for not so much as a fowl is left in the place, so dire are the extremities to which you see me reduced.”
Sighing deeply, he took Platon by the arm (it was clear that he did not look for any sympathy from Constantine) and walked ahead, while Constantine and Chichikov followed.
“Things are going hard with me, Platon Mikhalitch,” continued Khlobuev. “How hard you cannot imagine. No money have I, no food, no boots. Were I still young and a bachelor, it would have come easy to me to live on bread and cheese; but when a man is growing old, and has got a wife and five children, such trials press heavily upon him, and, in spite of himself, his spirits sink.”
“But, should you succeed in selling the estate, that would help to put you right, would it not?” said Platon.
“How could it do so?” replied Khlobuev with a despairing gesture. “What I might get for the property would have to go towards discharging my debts, and I should find myself left with less than a thousand roubles besides.”
“Then what do you intend to do?”
“But is there NOTHING to which you could set your hand in order to clear yourself of your difficulties?”
“How could there be?”
“Well, you might accept a Government post.”
“Become a provincial secretary, you mean? How could I obtain such a post? They would not offer me one of the meanest possible kind. Even supposing that they did, how could I live on a salary of five hundred roubles—I who have a wife and five children?”
“Then try and obtain a bailiff’s post.”
“Who would entrust their property to a man who has squandered his own estate?”
“Nevertheless, when death and destitution threaten, a man must either do something or starve. Shall I ask my brother to use his influence to procure you a post?”
“No, no, Platon Mikhalitch,” sighed Khlobuev, gripping the other’s hand. “I am no longer serviceable—I am grown old before my time, and find that liver and rheumatism are paying me for the sins of my youth. Why should the Government be put to a loss on my account?—not to speak of the fact that for every salaried post there are countless numbers of applicants. God forbid that, in order to provide me with a livelihood further burdens should be imposed upon an impoverished public!”
“Such are the results of improvident management!” thought Platon to himself. “The disease is even worse than my slothfulness.”
Meanwhile Kostanzhoglo, walking by Chichikov’s side, was almost taking leave of his senses.
“Look at it!” he cried with a wave of his hand. “See to what wretchedness the peasant has become reduced! Should cattle disease come, Khlobuev will have nothing to fall back upon, but will be forced to sell his all—to leave the peasant without a horse, and therefore without the means to labour, even though the loss of a single day’s work may take years of labour to rectify. Meanwhile it is plain that the local peasant has become a mere dissolute, lazy drunkard. Give a muzhik enough to live upon for twelve months without working, and you will corrupt him for ever, so inured to rags and vagrancy will he grow. And what is the good of that piece of pasture there—of that piece on the further side of those huts? It is a mere flooded tract. Were it mine, I should put it under flax, and clear five thousand roubles, or else sow it with turnips, and clear, perhaps, four thousand. And see how the rye is drooping, and nearly laid. As for wheat, I am pretty sure that he has not sown any. Look, too, at those ravines! Were they mine, they would be standing under timber which even a rook could not top. To think of wasting such quantities of land! Where land wouldn’t bear corn, I should dig it up, and plant it with vegetables. What ought to be done is that Khlobuev ought to take a spade into his own hands, and to set his wife and children and servants to do the same; and even if they died of the exertion, they would at least die doing their duty, and not through guzzling at the dinner table.”
This said, Kostanzhoglo spat, and his brow flushed with grim indignation.
Presently they reached an elevation whence the distant flashing of a river, with its flood waters and subsidiary streams, caught the eye, while, further off, a portion of General Betristchev’s homestead could be discerned among the trees, and, over it, a blue, densely wooded hill which Chichikov guessed to be the spot where Tientietnikov’s mansion was situated.
“This is where I should plant timber,” said Chichikov. “And, regarded as a site for a manor house, the situation could scarcely be beaten for beauty of view.”
“You seem to get great store upon views and beauty,” remarked Kostanzhoglo with reproof in his tone. “Should you pay too much attention to those things, you might find yourself without crops or view. Utility should be placed first, not beauty. Beauty will come of itself. Take, for example, towns. The fairest and most beautiful towns are those which have built themselves—those in which each man has built to suit his own exclusive circumstances and needs; whereas towns which men have constructed on regular, string-taut lines are no better than collections of barracks. Put beauty aside, and look only to what is NECESSARY.”
“Yes, but to me it would always be irksome to have to wait. All the time that I was doing so I should be hungering to see in front of the me the sort of prospect which I prefer.”
“Come, come! Are you a man of twenty-five—you who have served as a tchinovnik in St. Petersburg? Have patience, have patience. For six years work, and work hard. Plant, sow, and dig the earth without taking a moment’s rest. It will be difficult, I know—yes, difficult indeed; but at the end of that time, if you have thoroughly stirred the soil, the land will begin to help you as nothing else can do. That is to say, over and above your seventy or so pairs of hands, there will begin to assist in the work seven hundred pairs of hands which you cannot see. Thus everything will be multiplied tenfold. I myself have ceased even to have to lift a finger, for whatsoever needs to be done gets done of itself. Nature loves patience: always remember that. It is a law given her of God Himself, who has blessed all those who are strong to endure.”
“To hear your words is to be both encouraged and strengthened,” said Chichikov. To this Kostanzhoglo made no reply, but presently went on:
“And see how that piece of land has been ploughed! To stay here longer is more than I can do. For me, to have to look upon such want of orderliness and foresight is death. Finish your business with Khlobuev without me, and whatsoever you do, get this treasure out of that fool’s hands as quickly as possible, for he is dishonouring God’s gifts.”
And Kostanzhoglo, his face dark with the rage that was seething in his excitable soul, left Chichikov, and caught up the owner of the establishment.
“What, Constantine Thedorovitch?” cried Khlobuev in astonishment. “Just arrived, you are going already?”
“Yes; I cannot help it; urgent business requires me at home.” And entering his gig, Kostanzhoglo drove rapidly away. Somehow Khlobuev seemed to divine the cause of his sudden departure.
“It was too much for him,” he remarked. “An agriculturist of that kind does not like to have to look upon the results of such feckless management as mine. Would you believe it, Paul Ivanovitch, but this year I have been unable to sow any wheat! Am I not a fine husbandman? There was no seed for the purpose, nor yet anything with which to prepare the ground. No, I am not like Constantine Thedorovitch, who, I hear, is a perfect Napoleon in his particular line. Again and again the thought occurs to me, ‘Why has so much intellect been put into that head, and only a drop or two into my own dull pate?’ Take care of that puddle, gentlemen. I have told my peasants to lay down planks for the spring, but they have not done so. Nevertheless my heart aches for the poor fellows, for they need a good example, and what sort of an example am I? How am I to give them orders? Pray take them under your charge, Paul Ivanovitch, for I cannot teach them orderliness and method when I myself lack both. As a matter of fact, I should have given them their freedom long ago, had there been any use in my doing so; for even I can see that peasants must first be afforded the means of earning a livelihood before they can live. What they need is a stern, yet just, master who shall live with them, day in, day out, and set them an example of tireless energy. The present-day Russian—I know of it myself—is helpless without a driver. Without one he falls asleep, and the mould grows over him.”
“Yet I cannot understand WHY he should fall asleep and grow mouldy in that fashion,” said Platon. “Why should he need continual surveillance to keep him from degenerating into a drunkard and a good-for-nothing?”
“The cause is lack of enlightenment,” said Chichikov.
“Possibly—only God knows. Yet enlightenment has reached us right enough. Do we not attend university lectures and everything else that is befitting? Take my own education. I learnt not only the usual things, but also the art of spending money upon the latest refinement, the latest amenity—the art of familiarising oneself with whatsoever money can buy. How, then, can it be said that I was educated foolishly? And my comrades’ education was the same. A few of them succeeded in annexing the cream of things, for the reason that they had the wit to do so, and the rest spent their time in doing their best to ruin their health and squander their money. Often I think there is no hope for the present-day Russian. While desiring to do everything, he accomplishes nothing. One day he will scheme to begin a new mode of existence, a new dietary; yet before evening he will have so over-eaten himself as to be unable to speak or do aught but sit staring like an owl. The same with every one.”
“Quite so,” agreed Chichikov with a smile. “‘Tis everywhere the same story.”
“To tell the truth, we are not born to common sense. I doubt whether Russia has ever produced a really sensible man. For my own part, if I see my neighbour living a regular life, and making money, and saving it, I begin to distrust him, and to feel certain that in old age, if not before, he too will be led astray by the devil—led astray in a moment. Yes, whether or not we be educated, there is something we lack. But what that something is passes my understanding.”
On the return journey the prospect was the same as before. Everywhere the same slovenliness, the same disorder, was displaying itself unadorned: the only difference being that a fresh puddle had formed in the middle of the village street. This want and neglect was noticeable in the peasants’ quarters equally with the quarters of the barin. In the village a furious woman in greasy sackcloth was beating a poor young wench within an ace of her life, and at the same time devoting some third person to the care of all the devils in hell; further away a couple of peasants were stoically contemplating the virago—one scratching his rump as he did so, and the other yawning. The same yawn was discernible in the buildings, for not a roof was there but had a gaping hole in it. As he gazed at the scene Platon himself yawned. Patch was superimposed upon patch, and, in place of a roof, one hut had a piece of wooden fencing, while its crumbling window-frames were stayed with sticks purloined from the barin’s barn. Evidently the system of upkeep in vogue was the system employed in the case of Trishkin’s coat—the system of cutting up the cuffs and the collar into mendings for the elbows.
“No, I do not admire your way of doing things,” was Chichikov’s unspoken comment when the inspection had been concluded and the party had re-entered the house. Everywhere in the latter the visitors were struck with the way in which poverty went with glittering, fashionable profusion. On a writing-table lay a volume of Shakespeare, and, on an occasional table, a carved ivory back-scratcher. The hostess, too, was elegantly and fashionably attired, and devoted her whole conversation to the town and the local theatre. Lastly, the children—bright, merry little things—were well-dressed both as regards boys and girls. Yet far better would it have been for them if they had been clad in plain striped smocks, and running about the courtyard like peasant children. Presently a visitor arrived in the shape of a chattering, gossiping woman; whereupon the hostess carried her off to her own portion of the house, and, the children following them, the men found themselves alone.
“How much do you want for the property?” asked Chichikov of Khlobuev. “I am afraid I must request you to name the lowest possible sum, since I find the estate in a far worse condition than I had expected to do.”
“Yes, it IS in a terrible state,” agreed Khlobuev. “Nor is that the whole of the story. That is to say, I will not conceal from you the fact that, out of a hundred souls registered at the last revision, only fifty survive, so terrible have been the ravages of cholera. And of these, again, some have absconded; wherefore they too must be reckoned as dead, seeing that, were one to enter process against them, the costs would end in the property having to pass en bloc to the legal authorities. For these reasons I am asking only thirty-five thousand roubles for the estate.”
Chichikov (it need hardly be said) started to haggle.
“Thirty-five thousand?” he cried. “Come, come! Surely you will accept TWENTY-five thousand?”
This was too much for Platon’s conscience.
“Now, now, Paul Ivanovitch!” he exclaimed. “Take the property at the price named, and have done with it. The estate is worth at least that amount—so much so that, should you not be willing to give it, my brother-in-law and I will club together to effect the purchase.”
“That being so,” said Chichikov, taken aback, “I beg to agree to the price in question. At the same time, I must ask you to allow me to defer payment of one-half of the purchase money until a year from now.”
“No, no, Paul Ivanovitch. Under no circumstances could I do that. Pay me half now, and the rest in… 50 You see, I need the money for the redemption of the mortgage.”
“That places me in a difficulty,” remarked Chichikov. “Ten thousand roubles is all that at the moment I have available.” As a matter of fact, this was not true, seeing that, counting also the money which he had borrowed of Kostanzhoglo, he had at his disposal TWENTY thousand. His real reason for hesitating was that he disliked the idea of making so large a payment in a lump sum.
“I must repeat my request, Paul Ivanovitch,” said Khlobuev, “—namely, that you pay me at least fifteen thousand immediately.”
“The odd five thousand I will lend you,” put in Platon to Chichikov.
“Indeed?” exclaimed Chichikov as he reflected: “So he also lends money!”
In the end Chichikov’s dispatch-box was brought from the koliaska, and Khlobuev received thence ten thousand roubles, together with a promise that the remaining five thousand should be forthcoming on the morrow; though the promise was given only after Chichikov had first proposed that THREE thousand should be brought on the day named, and the rest be left over for two or three days longer, if not for a still more protracted period. The truth was that Paul Ivanovitch hated parting with money. No matter how urgent a situation might have been, he would still have preferred to pay a sum to-morrow rather than to-day. In other words, he acted as we all do, for we all like keeping a petitioner waiting. “Let him rub his back in the hall for a while,” we say. “Surely he can bide his time a little?” Yet of the fact that every hour may be precious to the poor wretch, and that his business may suffer from the delay, we take no account. “Good sir,” we say, “pray come again to-morrow. To-day I have no time to spare you.”
“Where do you intend henceforth to live?” inquired Platon. “Have you any other property to which you can retire?”
“No,” replied Khlobuev. “I shall remove to the town, where I possess a small villa. That would have been necessary, in any case, for the children’s sake. You see, they must have instruction in God’s word, and also lessons in music and dancing; and not for love or money can these things be procured in the country.
“Nothing to eat, yet dancing lessons for his children!” reflected Chichikov.
“An extraordinary man!” was Platon’s unspoken comment.
“However, we must contrive to wet our bargain somehow,” continued Khlobuev. “Hi, Kirushka! Bring that bottle of champagne.”
“Nothing to eat, yet champagne to drink!” reflected Chichikov. As for Platon, he did not know WHAT to think.
In Khlobuev’s eyes it was de rigueur that he should provide a guest with champagne; but, though he had sent to the town for some, he had been met with a blank refusal to forward even a bottle of kvass on credit. Only the discovery of a French dealer who had recently transferred his business from St. Petersburg, and opened a connection on a system of general credit, saved the situation by placing Khlobuev under the obligation of patronising him.
The company drank three glassfuls apiece, and so grew more cheerful. In particular did Khlobuev expand, and wax full of civility and friendliness, and scatter witticisms and anecdotes to right and left. What knowledge of men and the world did his utterances display! How well and accurately could he divine things! With what appositeness did he sketch the neighbouring landowners! How clearly he exposed their faults and failings! How thoroughly he knew the story of certain ruined gentry—the story of how, why, and through what cause they had fallen upon evil days! With what comic originality could he describe their little habits and customs!
In short, his guests found themselves charmed with his discourse, and felt inclined to vote him a man of first-rate intellect.
“What most surprises me,” said Chichikov, “is how, in view of your ability, you come to be so destitute of means or resources.”
“But I have plenty of both,” said Khlobuev, and with that went on to deliver himself of a perfect avalanche of projects. Yet those projects proved to be so uncouth, so clumsy, so little the outcome of a knowledge of men and things, that his hearers could only shrug their shoulders and mentally exclaim: “Good Lord! What a difference between worldly wisdom and the capacity to use it!” In every case the projects in question were based upon the imperative necessity of at once procuring from somewhere two hundred—or at least one hundred—thousand roubles. That done (so Khlobuev averred), everything would fall into its proper place, the holes in his pockets would become stopped, his income would be quadrupled, and he would find himself in a position to liquidate his debts in full. Nevertheless he ended by saying: “What would you advise me to do? I fear that the philanthropist who would lend me two hundred thousand roubles or even a hundred thousand, does not exist. It is not God’s will that he should.”
“Good gracious!” inwardly ejaculated Chichikov. “To suppose that God would send such a fool two hundred thousand roubles!”
“However,” went on Khlobuev, “I possess an aunt worth three millions—a pious old woman who gives freely to churches and monasteries, but finds a difficulty in helping her neighbour. At the same time, she is a lady of the old school, and worth having a peep at. Her canaries alone number four hundred, and, in addition, there is an army of pug-dogs, hangers-on, and servants. Even the youngest of the servants is sixty, but she calls them all ‘young fellows,’ and if a guest happens to offend her during dinner, she orders them to leave him out when handing out the dishes. THERE’S a woman for you!”
“And what may her family name be?” asked Chichikov. “And where does she live?”
“She lives in the county town, and her name is Alexandra Ivanovna Khanasarov.”
“Then why do you not apply to her?” asked Platon earnestly. “It seems to me that, once she realised the position of your family, she could not possibly refuse you.”
“Alas! nothing is to be looked for from that quarter,” replied Khlobuev. “My aunt is of a very stubborn disposition—a perfect stone of a woman. Moreover, she has around her a sufficient band of favourites already. In particular is there a fellow who is aiming for a Governorship, and to that end has managed to insinuate himself into the circle of her kinsfolk. By the way,” the speaker added, turning to Platon, “would you do me a favour? Next week I am giving a dinner to the associated guilds of the town.”
Platon stared. He had been unaware that both in our capitals and in our provincial towns there exists a class of men whose lives are an enigma—men who, though they will seem to have exhausted their substance, and to have become enmeshed in debt, will suddenly be reported as in funds, and on the point of giving a dinner! And though, at this dinner, the guests will declare that the festival is bound to be their host’s last fling, and that for a certainty he will be haled to prison on the morrow, ten years or more will elapse, and the rascal will still be at liberty, even though, in the meanwhile, his debts will have increased!
In the same way did the conduct of Khlobuev’s menage afford a curious phenomenon, for one day the house would be the scene of a solemn Te Deum, performed by a priest in vestments, and the next of a stage play performed by a troupe of French actors in theatrical costume. Again, one day would see not a morsel of bread in the house, and the next day a banquet and generous largesse given to a party of artists and sculptors. During these seasons of scarcity (sufficiently severe to have led any one but Khlobuev to seek suicide by hanging or shooting), the master of the house would be preserved from rash action by his strongly religious disposition, which, contriving in some curious way to conform with his irregular mode of life, enabled him to fall back upon reading the lives of saints, ascetics, and others of the type which has risen superior to its misfortunes. And at such times his spirit would become softened, his thoughts full of gentleness, and his eyes wet with tears; he would fall to saying his prayers, and invariably some strange coincidence would bring an answer thereto in the shape of an unexpected measure of assistance. That is to say, some former friend of his would remember him, and send him a trifle in the way of money; or else some female visitor would be moved by his story to let her impulsive, generous heart proffer him a handsome gift; or else a suit whereof tidings had never even reached his ears would end by being decided in his favour. And when that happened he would reverently acknowledge the immensity of the mercy of Providence, gratefully tender thanksgiving for the same, and betake himself again to his irregular mode of existence.
“Somehow I feel sorry for the man,” said Platon when he and Chichikov had taken leave of their host, and left the house.
“Perhaps so, but he is a hopeless prodigal,” replied the other. “Personally I find it impossible to compassionate such fellows.”
And with that the pair ceased to devote another thought to Khlobuev. In the case of Platon, this was because he contemplated the fortunes of his fellows with the lethargic, half-somnolent eye which he turned upon all the rest of the world; for though the sight of distress of others would cause his heart to contract and feel full of sympathy, the impression thus produced never sank into the depths of his being. Accordingly, before many minutes were over he had ceased to bestow a single thought upon his late host. With Chichikov, however, things were different. Whereas Platon had ceased to think of Khlobuev no more than he had ceased to think of himself, Chichikov’s mind had strayed elsewhere, for the reason that it had become taken up with grave meditation on the subject of the purchase just made. Suddenly finding himself no longer a fictitious proprietor, but the owner of a real, an actually existing, estate, he became contemplative, and his plans and ideas assumed such a serious vein as imparted to his features an unconsciously important air.
“Patience and hard work!” he muttered to himself. “The thing will not be difficult, for with those two requisites I have been familiar from the days of my swaddling clothes. Yes, no novelty will they be to me. Yet, in middle age, shall I be able to compass the patience whereof I was capable in my youth?”
However, no matter how he regarded the future, and no matter from what point of view he considered his recent acquisition, he could see nothing but advantage likely to accrue from the bargain. For one thing, he might be able to proceed so that, first the whole of the estate should be mortgaged, and then the better portions of land sold outright. Or he might so contrive matters as to manage the property for a while (and thus become a landowner like Kostanzhoglo, whose advice, as his neighbour and his benefactor, he intended always to follow), and then to dispose of the property by private treaty (provided he did not wish to continue his ownership), and still to retain in his hands the dead and abandoned souls. And another possible coup occurred to his mind. That is to say, he might contrive to withdraw from the district without having repaid Kostanzhoglo at all! Truly a splendid idea! Yet it is only fair to say that the idea was not one of Chichikov’s own conception. Rather, it had presented itself—mocking, laughing, and winking—unbidden. Yet the impudent, the wanton thing! Who is the procreator of suddenly born ideas of the kind? The thought that he was now a real, an actual, proprietor instead of a fictitious—that he was now a proprietor of real land, real rights of timber and pasture, and real serfs who existed not only in the imagination, but also in veritable actuality—greatly elated our hero. So he took to dancing up and down in his seat, to rubbing his hands together, to winking at himself, to holding his fist, trumpet-wise, to his mouth (while making believe to execute a march), and even to uttering aloud such encouraging nicknames and phrases as “bulldog” and “little fat capon.” Then suddenly recollecting that he was not alone, he hastened to moderate his behaviour and endeavoured to stifle the endless flow of his good spirits; with the result that when Platon, mistaking certain sounds for utterances addressed to himself, inquired what his companion had said, the latter retained the presence of mind to reply “Nothing.”
Presently, as Chichikov gazed about him, he saw that for some time past the koliaska had been skirting a beautiful wood, and that on either side the road was bordered with an edging of birch trees, the tenderly-green, recently-opened leaves of which caused their tall, slender trunks to show up with the whiteness of a snowdrift. Likewise nightingales were warbling from the recesses of the foliage, and some wood tulips were glowing yellow in the grass. Next (and almost before Chichikov had realised how he came to be in such a beautiful spot when, but a moment before, there had been visible only open fields) there glimmered among the trees the stony whiteness of a church, with, on the further side of it, the intermittent, foliage-buried line of a fence; while from the upper end of a village street there was advancing to meet the vehicle a gentleman with a cap on his head, a knotted cudgel in his hands, and a slender-limbed English dog by his side.
“This is my brother,” said Platon. “Stop, coachman.” And he descended from the koliaska, while Chichikov followed his example. Yarb and the strange dog saluted one another, and then the active, thin-legged, slender-tongued Azor relinquished his licking of Yarb’s blunt jowl, licked Platon’s hands instead, and, leaping upon Chichikov, slobbered right into his ear.
The two brothers embraced.
“Really, Platon,” said the gentleman (whose name was Vassili), “what do you mean by treating me like this?”
“How so?” said Platon indifferently.
“What? For three days past I have seen and heard nothing of you! A groom from Pietukh’s brought your cob home, and told me you had departed on an expedition with some barin. At least you might have sent me word as to your destination and the probable length of your absence. What made you act so? God knows what I have not been wondering!”
“Does it matter?” rejoined Platon. “I forgot to send you word, and we have been no further than Constantine’s (who, with our sister, sends you his greeting). By the way, may I introduce Paul Ivanovitch Chichikov?”
The pair shook hands with one another. Then, doffing their caps, they embraced.
“What sort of man is this Chichikov?” thought Vassili. “As a rule my brother Platon is not over-nice in his choice of acquaintances.” And, eyeing our hero as narrowly as civility permitted, he saw that his appearance was that of a perfectly respectable individual.
Chichikov returned Vassili’s scrutiny with a similar observance of the dictates of civility, and perceived that he was shorter than Platon, that his hair was of a darker shade, and that his features, though less handsome, contained far more life, animation, and kindliness than did his brother’s. Clearly he indulged in less dreaming, though that was an aspect which Chichikov little regarded.
“I have made up my mind to go touring our Holy Russia with Paul Ivanovitch,” said Platon. “Perhaps it will rid me of my melancholy.”
“What has made you come to such a sudden decision?” asked the perplexed Vassili (very nearly he added: “Fancy going travelling with a man whose acquaintance you have just made, and who may turn out to be a rascal or the devil knows what!” But, in spite of his distrust, he contented himself with another covert scrutiny of Chichikov, and this time came to the conclusion that there was no fault to be found with his exterior).
The party turned to the right, and entered the gates of an ancient courtyard attached to an old-fashioned house of a type no longer built—the type which has huge gables supporting a high-pitched roof. In the centre of the courtyard two great lime trees covered half the surrounding space with shade, while beneath them were ranged a number of wooden benches, and the whole was encircled with a ring of blossoming lilacs and cherry trees which, like a beaded necklace, reinforced the wooden fence, and almost buried it beneath their clusters of leaves and flowers. The house, too, stood almost concealed by this greenery, except that the front door and the windows peered pleasantly through the foliage, and that here and there between the stems of the trees there could be caught glimpses of the kitchen regions, the storehouses, and the cellar. Lastly, around the whole stood a grove, from the recesses of which came the echoing songs of nightingales.
Involuntarily the place communicated to the soul a sort of quiet, restful feeling, so eloquently did it speak of that care-free period when every one lived on good terms with his neighbour, and all was simple and unsophisticated. Vassili invited Chichikov to seat himself, and the party approached, for that purpose, the benches under the lime trees; after which a youth of about seventeen, and clad in a red shirt, brought decanters containing various kinds of kvass (some of them as thick as syrup, and others hissing like aerated lemonade), deposited the same upon the table, and, taking up a spade which he had left leaning against a tree, moved away towards the garden. The reason of this was that in the brothers’ household, as in that of Kostanzhoglo, no servants were kept, since the whole staff were rated as gardeners, and performed that duty in rotation—Vassili holding that domestic service was not a specialised calling, but one to which any one might contribute a hand, and therefore one which did not require special menials to be kept for the purpose. Moreover, he held that the average Russian peasant remains active and willing (rather than lazy) only so long as he wears a shirt and a peasant’s smock; but that as soon as ever he finds himself put into a German tailcoat, he becomes awkward, sluggish, indolent, disinclined to change his vest or take a bath, fond of sleeping in his clothes, and certain to breed fleas and bugs under the German apparel. And it may be that Vassili was right. At all events, the brothers’ peasantry were exceedingly well clad—the women, in particular, having their head-dresses spangled with gold, and the sleeves of their blouses embroidered after the fashion of a Turkish shawl.
“You see here the species of kvass for which our house has long been famous,” said Vassili to Chichikov. The latter poured himself out a glassful from the first decanter which he lighted upon, and found the contents to be linden honey of a kind never tasted by him even in Poland, seeing that it had a sparkle like that of champagne, and also an effervescence which sent a pleasant spray from the mouth into the nose.
“Nectar!” he proclaimed. Then he took some from a second decanter. It proved to be even better than the first. “A beverage of beverages!” he exclaimed. “At your respected brother-in-law’s I tasted the finest syrup which has ever come my way, but here I have tasted the very finest kvass.”
“Yet the recipe for the syrup also came from here,” said Vassili, “seeing that my sister took it with her. By the way, to what part of the country, and to what places, are you thinking of travelling?”
“To tell the truth,” replied Chichikov, rocking himself to and fro on the bench, and smoothing his knee with his hand, and gently inclining his head, “I am travelling less on my own affairs than on the affairs of others. That is to say, General Betristchev, an intimate friend, and, I might add, a generous benefactor of mine, has charged me with commissions to some of his relatives. Nevertheless, though relatives are relatives, I may say that I am travelling on my own account as well, in that, in addition to possible benefit to my health, I desire to see the world and the whirligig of humanity, which constitute, to so speak, a living book, a second course of education.”
Vassili took thought. “The man speaks floridly,” he reflected, “yet his words contain a certain element of truth.” After a moment’s silence he added to Platon: “I am beginning to think that the tour might help you to bestir yourself. At present you are in a condition of mental slumber. You have fallen asleep, not so much from weariness or satiety, as through a lack of vivid perceptions and impressions. For myself, I am your complete antithesis. I should be only too glad if I could feel less acutely, if I could take things less to heart.”
“Emotion has become a disease with you,” said Platon. “You seek your own troubles, and make your own anxieties.”
“How can you say that when ready-made anxieties greet one at every step?” exclaimed Vassili. “For example, have you heard of the trick which Lienitsin has just played us—of his seizing the piece of vacant land whither our peasants resort for their sports? That piece I would not sell for all the money in the world. It has long been our peasants’ play-ground, and all the traditions of our village are bound up with it. Moreover, for me, old custom is a sacred thing for which I would gladly sacrifice everything else.”
“Lienitsin cannot have known of this, or he would not have seized the land,” said Platon. “He is a newcomer, just arrived from St. Petersburg. A few words of explanation ought to meet the case.”
“But he DOES know of what I have stated; he DOES know of it. Purposely I sent him word to that affect, yet he has returned me the rudest of answers.”
“Then go yourself and explain matters to him.”
“No, I will not do that; he has tried to carry off things with too high a hand. But YOU can go if you like.”
“I would certainly go were it not that I scarcely like to interfere. Also, I am a man whom he could easily hoodwink and outwit.”
“Would it help you if I were to go?” put in Chichikov. “Pray enlighten me as to the matter.”
Vassili glanced at the speaker, and thought to himself: “What a passion the man has for travelling!”
“Yes, pray give me an idea of the kind of fellow,” repeated Chichikov, “and also outline to me the affair.”
“I should be ashamed to trouble you with such an unpleasant commission,” replied Vassili. “He is a man whom I take to be an utter rascal. Originally a member of a family of plain dvoriane in this province, he entered the Civil Service in St. Petersburg, then married some one’s natural daughter in that city, and has returned to lord it with a high hand. I cannot bear the tone he adopts. Our folk are by no means fools. They do not look upon the current fashion as the Tsar’s ukaz any more than they look upon St. Petersburg as the Church.”
“Naturally,” said Chichikov. “But tell me more of the particulars of the quarrel.”
“They are these. He needs additional land and, had he not acted as he has done, I would have given him some land elsewhere for nothing; but, as it is, the pestilent fellow has taken it into his head to—”
“I think I had better go and have a talk with him. That might settle the affair. Several times have people charged me with similar commissions, and never have they repented of it. General Betristchev is an example.”
“Nevertheless I am ashamed that you should be put to the annoyance of having to converse with such a fellow.”
[At this point there occurs a long hiatus.]
“And above all things, such a transaction would need to be carried through in secret,” said Chichikov. “True, the law does not forbid such things, but there is always the risk of a scandal.”
“Quite so, quite so,” said Lienitsin with head bent down.
“Then we agree!” exclaimed Chichikov. “How charming! As I say, my business is both legal and illegal. Though needing to effect a mortgage, I desire to put no one to the risk of having to pay the two roubles on each living soul; wherefore I have conceived the idea of relieving landowners of that distasteful obligation by acquiring dead and absconded souls who have failed to disappear from the revision list. This enables me at once to perform an act of Christian charity and to remove from the shoulders of our more impoverished proprietors the burden of tax-payment upon souls of the kind specified. Should you yourself care to do business with me, we will draw up a formal purchase agreement as though the souls in question were still alive.”
“But it would be such a curious arrangement,” muttered Lienitsin, moving his chair and himself a little further away. “It would be an arrangement which, er—er—”
“Would involve you in no scandal whatever, seeing that the affair would be carried through in secret. Moreover, between friends who are well-disposed towards one another—”
Chichikov adopted a firmer and more decided tone. “I repeat that there would be no scandal,” he said. “The transaction would take place as between good friends, and as between friends of mature age, and as between friends of good status, and as between friends who know how to keep their own counsel.” And, so saying, he looked his interlocutor frankly and generously in the eyes.
Nevertheless Lienitsin’s resourcefulness and acumen in business matters failed to relieve his mind of a certain perplexity—and the less so since he had contrived to become caught in his own net. Yet, in general, he possessed neither a love for nor a talent for underhand dealings, and, had not fate and circumstances favoured Chichikov by causing Lienitsin’s wife to enter the room at that moment, things might have turned out very differently from what they did. Madame was a pale, thin, insignificant-looking young lady, but none the less a lady who wore her clothes a la St. Petersburg, and cultivated the society of persons who were unimpeachably comme il faut. Behind her, borne in a nurse’s arms, came the first fruits of the love of husband and wife. Adopting his most telling method of approach (the method accompanied with a sidelong inclination of the head and a sort of hop), Chichikov hastened to greet the lady from the metropolis, and then the baby. At first the latter started to bellow disapproval, but the words “Agoo, agoo, my pet!” added to a little cracking of the fingers and a sight of a beautiful seal on a watch chain, enabled Chichikov to weedle the infant into his arms; after which he fell to swinging it up and down until he had contrived to raise a smile on its face—a circumstance which greatly delighted the parents, and finally inclined the father in his visitor’s favour. Suddenly, however—whether from pleasure or from some other cause—the infant misbehaved itself!
“My God!” cried Madame. “He has gone and spoilt your frockcoat!”
True enough, on glancing downwards, Chichikov saw that the sleeve of his brand-new garment had indeed suffered a hurt. “If I could catch you alone, you little devil,” he muttered to himself, “I’d shoot you!”
Host, hostess and nurse all ran for eau-de-Cologne, and from three sides set themselves to rub the spot affected.
“Never mind, never mind; it is nothing,” said Chichikov as he strove to communicate to his features as cheerful an expression as possible. “What does it matter what a child may spoil during the golden age of its infancy?”
To himself he remarked: “The little brute! Would it could be devoured by wolves. It has made only too good a shot, the cussed young ragamuffin!”
How, after this—after the guest had shown such innocent affection for the little one, and magnanimously paid for his so doing with a brand-new suit—could the father remain obdurate? Nevertheless, to avoid setting a bad example to the countryside, he and Chichikov agreed to carry through the transaction PRIVATELY, lest, otherwise, a scandal should arise.
“In return,” said Chichikov, “would you mind doing me the following favour? I desire to mediate in the matter of your difference with the Brothers Platonov. I believe that you wish to acquire some additional land? Is not that so?”
[Here there occurs a hiatus in the original.]
Everything in life fulfils its function, and Chichikov’s tour in search of a fortune was carried out so successfully that not a little money passed into his pockets. The system employed was a good one: he did not steal, he merely used. And every one of us at times does the same: one man with regard to Government timber, and another with regard to a sum belonging to his employer, while a third defrauds his children for the sake of an actress, and a fourth robs his peasantry for the sake of smart furniture or a carriage. What can one do when one is surrounded on every side with roguery, and everywhere there are insanely expensive restaurants, masked balls, and dances to the music of gipsy bands? To abstain when every one else is indulging in these things, and fashion commands, is difficult indeed!
Chichikov was for setting forth again, but the roads had now got into a bad state, and, in addition, there was in preparation a second fair—one for the dvoriane only. The former fair had been held for the sale of horses, cattle, cheese, and other peasant produce, and the buyers had been merely cattle-jobbers and kulaks; but this time the function was to be one for the sale of manorial produce which had been bought up by wholesale dealers at Nizhni Novgorod, and then transferred hither. To the fair, of course, came those ravishers of the Russian purse who, in the shape of Frenchmen with pomades and Frenchwomen with hats, make away with money earned by blood and hard work, and, like the locusts of Egypt (to use Kostanzhoglo’s term) not only devour their prey, but also dig holes in the ground and leave behind their eggs.
Although, unfortunately, the occurrence of a bad harvest retained many landowners at their country houses, the local tchinovniks (whom the failure of the harvest did NOT touch) proceeded to let themselves go—as also, to their undoing, did their wives. The reading of books of the type diffused, in these modern days, for the inoculation of humanity with a craving for new and superior amenities of life had caused every one to conceive a passion for experimenting with the latest luxury; and to meet this want the French wine merchant opened a new establishment in the shape of a restaurant as had never before been heard of in the province—a restaurant where supper could be procured on credit as regarded one-half, and for an unprecedentedly low sum as regarded the other. This exactly suited both heads of boards and clerks who were living in hope of being able some day to resume their bribes-taking from suitors. There also developed a tendency to compete in the matter of horses and liveried flunkeys; with the result that despite the damp and snowy weather exceedingly elegant turnouts took to parading backwards and forwards. Whence these equipages had come God only knows, but at least they would not have disgraced St. Petersburg. From within them merchants and attorneys doffed their caps to ladies, and inquired after their health, and likewise it became a rare sight to see a bearded man in a rough fur cap, since every one now went about clean-shaven and with dirty teeth, after the European fashion.
“Sir, I beg of you to inspect my goods,” said a tradesman as Chichikov was passing his establishment. “Within my doors you will find a large variety of clothing.”
“Have you a cloth of bilberry-coloured check?” inquired the person addressed.
“I have cloths of the finest kind,” replied the tradesman, raising his cap with one hand, and pointing to his shop with the other. Chichikov entered, and in a trice the proprietor had dived beneath the counter, and appeared on the other side of it, with his back to his wares and his face towards the customer. Leaning forward on the tips of his fingers, and indicating his merchandise with just the suspicion of a nod, he requested the gentleman to specify exactly the species of cloth which he required.
“A cloth with an olive-coloured or a bottle-tinted spot in its pattern—anything in the nature of bilberry,” explained Chichikov.
“That being so, sir, I may say that I am about to show you clothes of a quality which even our illustrious capitals could not surpass. Hi, boy! Reach down that roll up there—number 34. No, NOT that one, fool! Such fellows as you are always too good for your job. There—hand it to me. This is indeed a nice pattern!”
Unfolding the garment, the tradesman thrust it close to Chichikov’s nose in order that he might not only handle, but also smell it.
“Excellent, but not what I want,” pronounced Chichikov. “Formerly I was in the Custom’s Department, and therefore wear none but cloth of the latest make. What I want is of a ruddier pattern than this—not exactly a bottle-tinted pattern, but something approaching bilberry.”
“I understand, sir. Of course you require only the very newest thing. A cloth of that kind I DO possess, sir, and though excessive in price, it is of a quality to match.”
Carrying the roll of stuff to the light—even stepping into the street for the purpose—the shopman unfolded his prize with the words, “A truly beautiful shade! A cloth of smoked grey, shot with flame colour!”
The material met with the customer’s approval, a price was agreed upon, and with incredible celerity the vendor made up the purchase into a brown-paper parcel, and stowed it away in Chichikov’s koliaska.
At this moment a voice asked to be shown a black frockcoat.
“The devil take me if it isn’t Khlobuev!” muttered our hero, turning his back upon the newcomer. Unfortunately the other had seen him.
“Come, come, Paul Ivanovitch!” he expostulated. “Surely you do not intend to overlook me? I have been searching for you everywhere, for I have something important to say to you.”
“My dear sir, my very dear sir,” said Chichikov as he pressed Khlobuev’s hand, “I can assure you that, had I the necessary leisure, I should at all times be charmed to converse with you.” And mentally he added: “Would that the Evil One would fly away with you!”
Almost at the same time Murazov, the great landowner, entered the shop. As he did so our hero hastened to exclaim: “Why, it is Athanasi Vassilievitch! How ARE you, my very dear sir?”
“Well enough,” replied Murazov, removing his cap (Khlobuev and the shopman had already done the same). “How, may I ask, are YOU?”
“But poorly,” replied Chichikov, “for of late I have been troubled with indigestion, and my sleep is bad. I do not get sufficient exercise.”
However, instead of probing deeper into the subject of Chichikov’s ailments, Murazov turned to Khlobuev.
“I saw you enter the shop,” he said, “and therefore followed you, for I have something important for your ear. Could you spare me a minute or two?”
“Certainly, certainly,” said Khlobuev, and the pair left the shop together.
“I wonder what is afoot between them,” said Chichikov to himself.
“A wise and noble gentleman, Athanasi Vassilievitch!” remarked the tradesman. Chichikov made no reply save a gesture.
“Paul Ivanovitch, I have been looking for you everywhere,” Lienitsin’s voice said from behind him, while again the tradesman hastened to remove his cap. “Pray come home with me, for I have something to say to you.”
Chichikov scanned the speaker’s face, but could make nothing of it. Paying the tradesman for the cloth, he left the shop.
Meanwhile Murazov had conveyed Khlobuev to his rooms.
“Tell me,” he said to his guest, “exactly how your affairs stand. I take it that, after all, your aunt left you something?”
“It would be difficult to say whether or not my affairs are improved,” replied Khlobuev. “True, fifty souls and thirty thousand roubles came to me from Madame Khanasarova, but I had to pay them away to satisfy my debts. Consequently I am once more destitute. But the important point is that there was trickery connected with the legacy, and shameful trickery at that. Yes, though it may surprise you, it is a fact that that fellow Chichikov—”
“Yes, Semen Semenovitch, but, before you go on to speak of Chichikov, pray tell me something about yourself, and how much, in your opinion, would be sufficient to clear you of your difficulties?”
“My difficulties are grievous,” replied Khlobuev. “To rid myself of them, and also to have enough to go on with, I should need to acquire at least a hundred thousand roubles, if not more. In short, things are becoming impossible for me.”
“And, had you the money, what should you do with it?”
“I should rent a tenement, and devote myself to the education of my children. Not a thought should I give to myself, for my career is over, seeing that it is impossible for me to re-enter the Civil Service and I am good for nothing else.”
“Nevertheless, when a man is leading an idle life he is apt to incur temptations which shun his better-employed brother.”
“Yes, but beyond question I am good for nothing, so broken is my health, and such a martyr I am to dyspepsia.”
“But how to you propose to live without working? How can a man like you exist without a post or a position of any kind? Look around you at the works of God. Everything has its proper function, and pursues its proper course. Even a stone can be used for one purpose or another. How, then, can it be right for a man who is a thinking being to remain a drone?”
“But I should not be a drone, for I should employ myself with the education of my children.”
“No, Semen Semenovitch—no: THAT you would find the hardest task of all. For how can a man educate his children who has never even educated himself? Instruction can be imparted to children only through the medium of example; and would a life like yours furnish them with a profitable example—a life which has been spent in idleness and the playing of cards? No, Semen Semenovitch. You had far better hand your children over to me. Otherwise they will be ruined. Do not think that I am jesting. Idleness has wrecked your life, and you must flee from it. Can a man live with nothing to keep him in place? Even a journeyman labourer who earns the barest pittance may take an interest in his occupation.”
“Athanasi Vassilievitch, I have tried to overcome myself, but what further resource lies open to me? Can I who am old and incapable re-enter the Civil Service and spend year after year at a desk with youths who are just starting their careers? Moreover, I have lost the trick of taking bribes; I should only hinder both myself and others; while, as you know, it is a department which has an established caste of its own. Therefore, though I have considered, and even attempted to obtain, every conceivable post, I find myself incompetent for them all. Only in a monastery should I—”
“Nay, nay. Monasteries, again, are only for those who have worked. To those who have spent their youth in dissipation such havens say what the ant said to the dragonfly—namely, ‘Go you away, and return to your dancing.’ Yes, even in a monastery do folk toil and toil—they do not sit playing whist.” Murazov looked at Khlobuev, and added: “Semen Semenovitch, you are deceiving both yourself and me.”
Poor Khlobuev could not utter a word in reply, and Murazov began to feel sorry for him.
“Listen, Semen Semenovitch,” he went on. “I know that you say your prayers, and that you go to church, and that you observe both Matins and Vespers, and that, though averse to early rising, you leave your bed at four o’clock in the morning before the household fires have been lit.”
“Ah, Athanasi Vassilievitch,” said Khlobuev, “that is another matter altogether. That I do, not for man’s sake, but for the sake of Him who has ordered all things here on earth. Yes, I believe that He at least can feel compassion for me, that He at least, though I be foul and lowly, will pardon me and receive me when all men have cast me out, and my best friend has betrayed me and boasted that he has done it for a good end.”
Khlobuev’s face was glowing with emotion, and from the older man’s eyes also a tear had started.
“You will do well to hearken unto Him who is merciful,” he said. “But remember also that, in the eyes of the All-Merciful, honest toil is of equal merit with a prayer. Therefore take unto yourself whatsoever task you may, and do it as though you were doing it, not unto man, but unto God. Even though to your lot there should fall but the cleaning of a floor, clean that floor as though it were being cleaned for Him alone. And thence at least this good you will reap: that there will remain to you no time for what is evil—for card playing, for feasting, for all the life of this gay world. Are you acquainted with Ivan Potapitch?”
“Yes, not only am I acquainted with him, but I also greatly respect him.”
“Time was when Ivan Potapitch was a merchant worth half a million roubles. In everything did he look but for gain, and his affairs prospered exceedingly, so much so that he was able to send his son to be educated in France, and to marry his daughter to a General. And whether in his office or at the Exchange, he would stop any friend whom he encountered and carry him off to a tavern to drink, and spend whole days thus employed. But at last he became bankrupt, and God sent him other misfortunes also. His son! Ah, well! Ivan Potapitch is now my steward, for he had to begin life over again. Yet once more his affairs are in order, and, had it been his wish, he could have restarted in business with a capital of half a million roubles. ‘But no,’ he said. ‘A steward am I, and a steward will I remain to the end; for, from being full-stomached and heavy with dropsy, I have become strong and well.’ Not a drop of liquor passes his lips, but only cabbage soup and gruel. And he prays as none of the rest of us pray, and he helps the poor as none of the rest of us help them; and to this he would add yet further charity if his means permitted him to do so.”
Poor Khlobuev remained silent, as before.
The elder man took his two hands in his.
“Semen Semenovitch,” he said, “you cannot think how much I pity you, or how much I have had you in my thoughts. Listen to me. In the monastery there is a recluse who never looks upon a human face. Of all men whom I know he has the broadest mind, and he breaks not his silence save to give advice. To him I went and said that I had a friend (though I did not actually mention your name) who was in great trouble of soul. Suddenly the recluse interrupted me with the words: ‘God’s work first, and our own last. There is need for a church to be built, but no money wherewith to build it. Money must be collected to that end.’ Then he shut to the wicket. I wondered to myself what this could mean, and concluded that the recluse had been unwilling to accord me his counsel. Next I repaired to the Archimandrite, and had scarce reached his door when he inquired of me whether I could commend to him a man meet to be entrusted with the collection of alms for a church—a man who should belong to the dvoriane or to the more lettered merchants, but who would guard the trust as he would guard the salvation of his soul. On the instant thought I to myself: ‘Why should not the Holy Father appoint my friend Semen Semenovitch? For the way of suffering would benefit him greatly; and as he passed with his ledger from landowner to peasant, and from peasant to townsman, he would learn where folk dwell, and who stands in need of aught, and thus would become better acquainted with the countryside than folk who dwell in cities. And, thus become, he would find that his services were always in demand.’ Only of late did the Governor-General say to me that, could he but be furnished with the name of a secretary who should know his work not only by the book but also by experience, he would give him a great sum, since nothing is to be learned by the former means, and, through it, much confusion arises.”
“You confound me, you overwhelm me!” said Khlobuev, staring at his companion in open-eyed astonishment. “I can scarcely believe that your words are true, seeing that for such a trust an active, indefatigable man would be necessary. Moreover, how could I leave my wife and children unprovided for?”
“Have no fear,” said Murazov, “I myself will take them under my care, as well as procure for the children a tutor. Far better and nobler were it for you to be travelling with a wallet, and asking alms on behalf of God, then to be remaining here and asking alms for yourself alone. Likewise, I will furnish you with a tilt-waggon, so that you may be saved some of the hardships of the journey, and thus be preserved in good health. Also, I will give you some money for the journey, in order that, as you pass on your way, you may give to those who stand in greater need than their fellows. Thus, if, before giving, you assure yourself that the recipient of the alms is worthy of the same, you will do much good; and as you travel you will become acquainted with all men and sundry, and they will treat you, not as a tchinovnik to be feared, but as one to whom, as a petitioner on behalf of the Church, they may unloose their tongues without peril.”
“I feel that the scheme is a splendid one, and would gladly bear my part in it were it not likely to exceed my strength.”
“What is there that does NOT exceed your strength?” said Murazov. “Nothing is wholly proportionate to it—everything surpasses it. Help from above is necessary: otherwise we are all powerless. Strength comes of prayer, and of prayer alone. When a man crosses himself, and cries, ‘Lord, have mercy upon me!’ he soon stems the current and wins to the shore. Nor need you take any prolonged thought concerning this matter. All that you need do is to accept it as a commission sent of God. The tilt-waggon can be prepared for you immediately; and then, as soon as you have been to the Archimandrite for your book of accounts and his blessing, you will be free to start on your journey.”
“I submit myself to you, and accept the commission as a divine trust.”
And even as Khlobuev spoke he felt renewed vigour and confidence arise in his soul, and his mind begin to awake to a sense of hopefulness of eventually being able to put to flight his troubles. And even as it was, the world seemed to be growing dim to his eyes….
Meanwhile, plea after plea had been presented to the legal authorities, and daily were relatives whom no one had before heard of putting in an appearance. Yes, like vultures to a corpse did these good folk come flocking to the immense property which Madam Khanasarov had left behind her. Everywhere were heard rumours against Chichikov, rumours with regard to the validity of the second will, rumours with regard to will number one, and rumours of larceny and concealment of funds. Also, there came to hand information with regard both to Chichikov’s purchase of dead souls and to his conniving at contraband goods during his service in the Customs Department. In short, every possible item of evidence was exhumed, and the whole of his previous history investigated. How the authorities had come to suspect and to ascertain all this God only knows, but the fact remains that there had fallen into the hands of those authorities information concerning matters of which Chichikov had believed only himself and the four walls to be aware. True, for a time these matters remained within the cognisance of none but the functionaries concerned, and failed to reach Chichikov’s ears; but at length a letter from a confidential friend gave him reason to think that the fat was about to fall into the fire. Said the letter briefly: “Dear sir, I beg to advise you that possibly legal trouble is pending, but that you have no cause for uneasiness, seeing that everything will be attended to by yours very truly.” Yet, in spite of its tenor, the epistle reassured its recipient. “What a genius the fellow is!” thought Chichikov to himself. Next, to complete his satisfaction, his tailor arrived with the new suit which he had ordered. Not without a certain sense of pride did our hero inspect the frockcoat of smoked grey shot with flame colour and look at it from every point of view, and then try on the breeches—the latter fitting him like a picture, and quite concealing any deficiencies in the matter of his thighs and calves (though, when buckled behind, they left his stomach projecting like a drum). True, the customer remarked that there appeared to be a slight tightness under the right armpit, but the smiling tailor only rejoined that that would cause the waist to fit all the better. “Sir,” he said triumphantly, “you may rest assured that the work has been executed exactly as it ought to have been executed. No one, except in St. Petersburg, could have done it better.” As a matter of fact, the tailor himself hailed from St. Petersburg, but called himself on his signboard “Foreign Costumier from London and Paris”—the truth being that by the use of a double-barrelled flourish of cities superior to mere “Karlsruhe” and “Copenhagen” he designed to acquire business and cut out his local rivals.
Chichikov graciously settled the man’s account, and, as soon as he had gone, paraded at leisure, and con amore, and after the manner of an artist of aesthetic taste, before the mirror. Somehow he seemed to look better than ever in the suit, for his cheeks had now taken on a still more interesting air, and his chin an added seductiveness, while his white collar lent tone to his neck, the blue satin tie heightened the effect of the collar, the fashionable dickey set off the tie, the rich satin waistcoat emphasised the dickey, and the smoked-grey-shot-with-flame-colour frockcoat, shining like silk, splendidly rounded off the whole. When he turned to the right he looked well: when he turned to the left he looked even better. In short, it was a costume worthy of a Lord Chamberlain or the species of dandy who shrinks from swearing in the Russian language, but amply relieves his feelings in the language of France. Next, inclining his head slightly to one side, our hero endeavoured to pose as though he were addressing a middle-aged lady of exquisite refinement; and the result of these efforts was a picture which any artist might have yearned to portray. Next, his delight led him gracefully to execute a hop in ballet fashion, so that the wardrobe trembled and a bottle of eau-de-Cologne came crashing to the floor. Yet even this contretemps did not upset him; he merely called the offending bottle a fool, and then debated whom first he should visit in his attractive guise.
Suddenly there resounded through the hall a clatter of spurred heels, and then the voice of a gendarme saying: “You are commanded to present yourself before the Governor-General!” Turning round, Chichikov stared in horror at the spectacle presented; for in the doorway there was standing an apparition wearing a huge moustache, a helmet surmounted with a horsehair plume, a pair of crossed shoulder-belts, and a gigantic sword! A whole army might have been combined into a single individual! And when Chichikov opened his mouth to speak the apparition repeated, “You are commanded to present yourself before the Governor-General,” and at the same moment our hero caught sight both of a second apparition outside the door and of a coach waiting beneath the window. What was to be done? Nothing whatever was possible. Just as he stood—in his smoked-grey-shot-with-flame-colour suit—he had then and there to enter the vehicle, and, shaking in every limb, and with a gendarme seated by his side, to start for the residence of the Governor-General.
And even in the hall of that establishment no time was given him to pull himself together, for at once an aide-de-camp said: “Go inside immediately, for the Prince is awaiting you.” And as in a dream did our hero see a vestibule where couriers were being handed dispatches, and then a salon which he crossed with the thought, “I suppose I am not to be allowed a trial, but shall be sent straight to Siberia!” And at the thought his heart started beating in a manner which the most jealous of lovers could not have rivalled. At length there opened a door, and before him he saw a study full of portfolios, ledgers, and dispatch-boxes, with, standing behind them, the gravely menacing figure of the Prince.
“There stands my executioner,” thought Chichikov to himself. “He is about to tear me to pieces as a wolf tears a lamb.”
Indeed, the Prince’s lips were simply quivering with rage.
“Once before did I spare you,” he said, “and allow you to remain in the town when you ought to have been in prison: yet your only return for my clemency has been to revert to a career of fraud—and of fraud as dishonourable as ever a man engaged in.”
“To what dishonourable fraud do you refer, your Highness?” asked Chichikov, trembling from head to foot.
The Prince approached, and looked him straight in the eyes.
“Let me tell you,” he said, “that the woman whom you induced to witness a certain will has been arrested, and that you will be confronted with her.”
The world seemed suddenly to grow dim before Chichikov’s sight.
“Your Highness,” he gasped, “I will tell you the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I am guilty—yes, I am guilty; but I am not so guilty as you think, for I was led away by rascals.”
“That any one can have led you away is impossible,” retorted the Prince. “Recorded against your name there stand more felonies than even the most hardened liar could have invented. I believe that never in your life have you done a deed not innately dishonourable—that not a kopeck have you ever obtained by aught but shameful methods of trickery and theft, the penalty for which is Siberia and the knut. But enough of this! From this room you will be conveyed to prison, where, with other rogues and thieves, you will be confined until your trial may come on. And this is lenient treatment on my part, for you are worse, far worse, than the felons who will be your companions. THEY are but poor men in smocks and sheepskins, whereas YOU—” Without concluding his words, the Prince shot a glance at Chichikov’s smoked-grey-shot-with-flame-colour apparel.
Then he touched a bell.
“Your Highness,” cried Chichikov, “have mercy upon me! You are the father of a family! Spare me for the sake of my aged mother!”
“Rubbish!” exclaimed the Prince. “Even as before you besought me for the sake of a wife and children whom you did not even possess, so now you would speak to me of an aged mother!”
“Your Highness,” protested Chichikov, “though I am a wretch and the lowest of rascals, and though it is true that I lied when I told you that I possessed a wife and children, I swear that, as God is my witness, it has always been my DESIRE to possess a wife, and to fulfil all the duties of a man and a citizen, and to earn the respect of my fellows and the authorities. But what could be done against the force of circumstances? By hook or by crook I have ever been forced to win a living, though confronted at every step by wiles and temptations and traitorous enemies and despoilers. So much has this been so that my life has, throughout, resembled a barque tossed by tempestuous waves, a barque driven at the mercy of the winds. Ah, I am only a man, your Highness!”
And in a moment the tears had gushed in torrents from his eyes, and he had fallen forward at the Prince’s feet—fallen forward just as he was, in his smoked-grey-shot-with-flame-colour frockcoat, his velvet waistcoat, his satin tie, and his exquisitely fitting breeches, while from his neatly brushed pate, as again and again he struck his hand against his forehead, there came an odorous whiff of best-quality eau-de-Cologne.
“Away with him!” exclaimed the Prince to the gendarme who had just entered. “Summon the escort to remove him.”
“Your Highness!” Chichikov cried again as he clasped the Prince’s knees; but, shuddering all over, and struggling to free himself, the Prince repeated his order for the prisoner’s removal.
“Your Highness, I say that I will not leave this room until you have accorded me mercy!” cried Chichikov as he clung to the Prince’s leg with such tenacity that, frockcoat and all, he began to be dragged along the floor.
“Away with him, I say!” once more the Prince exclaimed with the sort of indefinable aversion which one feels at the sight of a repulsive insect which he cannot summon up the courage to crush with his boot. So convulsively did the Prince shudder that Chichikov, clinging to his leg, received a kick on the nose. Yet still the prisoner retained his hold; until at length a couple of burly gendarmes tore him away and, grasping his arms, hurried him—pale, dishevelled, and in that strange, half-conscious condition into which a man sinks when he sees before him only the dark, terrible figure of death, the phantom which is so abhorrent to all our natures—from the building. But on the threshold the party came face to face with Murazov, and in Chichikov’s heart the circumstance revived a ray of hope. Wresting himself with almost supernatural strength from the grasp of the escorting gendarmes, he threw himself at the feet of the horror-stricken old man.
“Paul Ivanovitch,” Murazov exclaimed, “what has happened to you?”
“Save me!” gasped Chichikov. “They are taking me away to prison and death!”
Yet almost as he spoke the gendarmes seized him again, and hurried him away so swiftly that Murazov’s reply escaped his ears.
A damp, mouldy cell which reeked of soldiers’ boots and leggings, an unvarnished table, two sorry chairs, a window closed with a grating, a crazy stove which, while letting the smoke emerge through its cracks, gave out no heat—such was the den to which the man who had just begun to taste the sweets of life, and to attract the attention of his fellows with his new suit of smoked-grey-shot-with-flame-colour, now found himself consigned. Not even necessaries had he been allowed to bring away with him, nor his dispatch-box which contained all his booty. No, with the indenture deeds of the dead souls, it was lodged in the hands of a tchinovnik; and as he thought of these things Chichikov rolled about the floor, and felt the cankerous worm of remorse seize upon and gnaw at his heart, and bite its way ever further and further into that heart so defenceless against its ravages, until he made up his mind that, should he have to suffer another twenty-four hours of this misery, there would no longer be a Chichikov in the world. Yet over him, as over every one, there hung poised the All-Saving Hand; and, an hour after his arrival at the prison, the doors of the gaol opened to admit Murazov.
Compared with poor Chichikov’s sense of relief when the old man entered his cell, even the pleasure experienced by a thirsty, dusty traveller when he is given a drink of clear spring water to cool his dry, parched throat fades into insignificance.
“Ah, my deliverer!” he cried as he rose from the floor, where he had been grovelling in heartrending paroxysms of grief. Seizing the old man’s hand, he kissed it and pressed it to his bosom. Then, bursting into tears, he added: “God Himself will reward you for having come to visit an unfortunate wretch!”
Murazov looked at him sorrowfully, and said no more than “Ah, Paul Ivanovitch, Paul Ivanovitch! What has happened?”
“What has happened?” cried Chichikov. “I have been ruined by an accursed woman. That was because I could not do things in moderation—I was powerless to stop myself in time, Satan tempted me, and drove me from my senses, and bereft me of human prudence. Yes, truly I have sinned, I have sinned! Yet how came I so to sin? To think that a dvorianin—yes, a dvorianin—should be thrown into prison without process or trial! I repeat, a dvorianin! Why was I not given time to go home and collect my effects? Whereas now they are left with no one to look after them! My dispatch-box, my dispatch-box! It contained my whole property, all that my heart’s blood and years of toil and want have been needed to acquire. And now everything will be stolen, Athanasi Vassilievitch—everything will be taken from me! My God!”
And, unable to stand against the torrent of grief which came rushing over his heart once more, he sobbed aloud in tones which penetrated even the thickness of the prison walls, and made dull echoes awake behind them. Then, tearing off his satin tie, and seizing by the collar, the smoked-grey-shot-with-flame-colour frockcoat, he stripped the latter from his shoulders.
“Ah, Paul Ivanovitch,” said the old man, “how even now the property which you have acquired is blinding your eyes, and causing you to fail to realise your terrible position!”
“Yes, my good friend and benefactor,” wailed poor Chichikov despairingly, and clasping Murazov by the knees. “Yet save me if you can! The Prince is fond of you, and would do anything for your sake.”
“No, Paul Ivanovitch; however much I might wish to save you, and however much I might try to do so, I could not help you as you desire; for it is to the power of an inexorable law, and not to the authority of any one man, that you have rendered yourself subject.”
“Satan tempted me, and has ended by making of me an outcast from the human race!” Chichikov beat his head against the wall and struck the table with his fist until the blood spurted from his hand. Yet neither his head nor his hand seemed to be conscious of the least pain.
“Calm yourself, Paul Ivanovitch,” said Murazov. “Calm yourself, and consider how best you can make your peace with God. Think of your miserable soul, and not of the judgment of man.”
“I will, Athanasi Vassilievitch, I will. But what a fate is mine! Did ever such a fate befall a man? To think of all the patience with which I have gathered my kopecks, of all the toil and trouble which I have endured! Yet what I have done has not been done with the intention of robbing any one, nor of cheating the Treasury. Why, then, did I gather those kopecks? I gathered them to the end that one day I might be able to live in plenty, and also to have something to leave to the wife and children whom, for the benefit and welfare of my country, I hoped eventually to win and maintain. That was why I gathered those kopecks. True, I worked by devious methods—that I fully admit; but what else could I do? And even devious methods I employed only when I saw that the straight road would not serve my purpose so well as a crooked. Moreover, as I toiled, the appetite for those methods grew upon me. Yet what I took I took only from the rich; whereas villains exist who, while drawing thousands a year from the Treasury, despoil the poor, and take from the man with nothing even that which he has. Is it not the cruelty of fate, therefore, that, just when I was beginning to reap the harvest of my toil—to touch it, so to speak, with the tip of one finger—there should have arisen a sudden storm which has sent my barque to pieces on a rock? My capital had nearly reached the sum of three hundred thousand roubles, and a three-storied house was as good as mine, and twice over I could have bought a country estate. Why, then, should such a tempest have burst upon me? Why should I have sustained such a blow? Was not my life already like a barque tossed to and fro by the billows? Where is Heaven’s justice—where is the reward for all my patience, for my boundless perseverance? Three times did I have to begin life afresh, and each time that I lost my all I began with a single kopeck at a moment when other men would have given themselves up to despair and drink. How much did I not have to overcome. How much did I not have to bear! Every kopeck which I gained I had to make with my whole strength; for though, to others, wealth may come easily, every coin of mine had to be ‘forged with a nail worth three kopecks’ as the proverb has it. With such a nail—with the nail of an iron, unwearying perseverance—did I forge my kopecks.”
Convulsively sobbing with a grief which he could not repress, Chichikov sank upon a chair, tore from his shoulders the last ragged, trailing remnants of his frockcoat, and hurled them from him. Then, thrusting his fingers into the hair which he had once been so careful to preserve, he pulled it out by handfuls at a time, as though he hoped through physical pain to deaden the mental agony which he was suffering.
Meanwhile Murazov sat gazing in silence at the unwonted spectacle of a man who had lately been mincing with the gait of a worldling or a military fop now writhing in dishevelment and despair as he poured out upon the hostile forces by which human ingenuity so often finds itself outwitted a flood of invective.
“Paul Ivanovitch, Paul Ivanovitch,” at length said Murazov, “what could not each of us rise to be did we but devote to good ends the same measure of energy and of patience which we bestow upon unworthy objects! How much good would not you yourself have effected! Yet I do not grieve so much for the fact that you have sinned against your fellow as I grieve for the fact that you have sinned against yourself and the rich store of gifts and opportunities which has been committed to your care. Though originally destined to rise, you have wandered from the path and fallen.”
“Ah, Athanasi Vassilievitch,” cried poor Chichikov, clasping his friends hands, “I swear to you that, if you would but restore me my freedom, and recover for me my lost property, I would lead a different life from this time forth. Save me, you who alone can work my deliverance! Save me!”
“How can I do that? So to do I should need to procure the setting aside of a law. Again, even if I were to make the attempt, the Prince is a strict administrator, and would refuse on any consideration to release you.”
“Yes, but for you all things are possible. It is not the law that troubles me: with that I could find a means to deal. It is the fact that for no offence at all I have been cast into prison, and treated like a dog, and deprived of my papers and dispatch-box and all my property. Save me if you can.”
Again clasping the old man’s knees, he bedewed them with his tears.
“Paul Ivanovitch,” said Murazov, shaking his head, “how that property of yours still seals your eyes and ears, so that you cannot so much as listen to the promptings of your own soul!”
“Ah, I will think of my soul, too, if only you will save me.”
“Paul Ivanovitch,” the old man began again, and then stopped. For a little while there was a pause.
“Paul Ivanovitch,” at length he went on, “to save you does not lie within my power. Surely you yourself see that? But, so far as I can, I will endeavour to, at all events, lighten your lot and procure your eventual release. Whether or not I shall succeed I do not know; but I will make the attempt. And should I, contrary to my expectations, prove successful, I beg of you, in return for these my efforts, to renounce all thought of benefit from the property which you have acquired. Sincerely do I assure you that, were I myself to be deprived of my property (and my property greatly exceeds yours in magnitude), I should not shed a single tear. It is not the property of which men can deprive us that matters, but the property of which no one on earth can deprive or despoil us. You are a man who has seen something of life—to use your own words, you have been a barque tossed hither and thither by tempestuous waves: yet still will there be left to you a remnant of substance on which to live, and therefore I beseech you to settle down in some quiet nook where there is a church, and where none but plain, good-hearted folk abide. Or, should you feel a yearning to leave behind you posterity, take in marriage a good woman who shall bring you, not money, but an aptitude for simple, modest domestic life. But this life—the life of turmoil, with its longings and its temptations—forget, and let it forget YOU; for there is no peace in it. See for yourself how, at every step, it brings one but hatred and treachery and deceit.”
“Indeed, yes!” agreed the repentant Chichikov. “Gladly will I do as you wish, since for many a day past have I been longing to amend my life, and to engage in husbandry, and to reorder my affairs. A demon, the tempter Satan himself, has beguiled me and led me from the right path.”
Suddenly there had recurred to Chichikov long-unknown, long-unfamiliar feelings. Something seemed to be striving to come to life again in him—something dim and remote, something which had been crushed out of his boyhood by the dreary, deadening education of his youthful days, by his desolate home, by his subsequent lack of family ties, by the poverty and niggardliness of his early impressions, by the grim eye of fate—an eye which had always seemed to be regarding him as through a misty, mournful, frost-encrusted window-pane, and to be mocking at his struggles for freedom. And as these feelings came back to the penitent a groan burst from his lips, and, covering his face with his hands, he moaned: “It is all true, it is all true!”
“Of little avail are knowledge of the world and experience of men unless based upon a secure foundation,” observed Murazov. “Though you have fallen, Paul Ivanovitch, awake to better things, for as yet there is time.”
“No, no!” groaned Chichikov in a voice which made Murazov’s heart bleed. “It is too late, too late. More and more is the conviction gaining upon me that I am powerless, that I have strayed too far ever to be able to do as you bid me. The fact that I have become what I am is due to my early schooling; for, though my father taught me moral lessons, and beat me, and set me to copy maxims into a book, he himself stole land from his neighbours, and forced me to help him. I have even known him to bring an unjust suit, and defraud the orphan whose guardian he was! Consequently I know and feel that, though my life has been different from his, I do not hate roguery as I ought to hate it, and that my nature is coarse, and that in me there is no real love for what is good, no real spark of that beautiful instinct for well-doing which becomes a second nature, a settled habit. Also, never do I yearn to strive for what is right as I yearn to acquire property. This is no more than the truth. What else could I do but confess it?”
The old man sighed.
“Paul Ivanovitch,” he said, “I know that you possess will-power, and that you possess also perseverance. A medicine may be bitter, yet the patient will gladly take it when assured that only by its means can he recover. Therefore, if it really be that you have no genuine love for doing good, do good by FORCING yourself to do so. Thus you will benefit yourself even more than you will benefit him for whose sake the act is performed. Only force yourself to do good just once and again, and, behold, you will suddenly conceive the TRUE love for well-doing. That is so, believe me. ‘A kingdom is to be won only by striving,’ says the proverb. That is to say, things are to be attained only by putting forth one’s whole strength, since nothing short of one’s whole strength will bring one to the desired goal. Paul Ivanovitch, within you there is a source of strength denied to many another man. I refer to the strength of an iron perseverance. Cannot THAT help you to overcome? Most men are weak and lack will-power, whereas I believe that you possess the power to act a hero’s part.”
Sinking deep into Chichikov’s heart, these words would seem to have aroused in it a faint stirring of ambition, so much so that, if it was not fortitude which shone in his eyes, at all events it was something virile, and of much the same nature.
“Athanasi Vassilievitch,” he said firmly, “if you will but petition for my release, as well as for permission for me to leave here with a portion of my property, I swear to you on my word of honour that I will begin a new life, and buy a country estate, and become the head of a household, and save money, nor for myself, but for others, and do good everywhere, and to the best of my ability, and forget alike myself and the feasting and debauchery of town life, and lead, instead, a plain, sober existence.”
“In that resolve may God strengthen you!” cried the old man with unbounded joy. “And I, for my part, will do my utmost to procure your release. And though God alone knows whether my efforts will be successful, at all events I hope to bring about a mitigation of your sentence. Come, let me embrace you! How you have filled my heart with gladness! With God’s help, I will now go to the Prince.”
And the next moment Chichikov found himself alone. His whole nature felt shaken and softened, even as, when the bellows have fanned the furnace to a sufficient heat, a plate compounded even of the hardest and most fire-resisting metal dissolves, glows, and turns to the liquefied state.
“I myself can feel but little,” he reflected, “but I intend to use my every faculty to help others to feel. I myself am but bad and worthless, but I intend to do my utmost to set others on the right road. I myself am but an indifferent Christian, but I intend to strive never to yield to temptation, but to work hard, and to till my land with the sweat of my brow, and to engage only in honourable pursuits, and to influence my fellows in the same direction. For, after all, am I so very useless? At least I could maintain a household, for I am frugal and active and intelligent and steadfast. The only thing is to make up my mind to it.”
Thus Chichikov pondered; and as he did so his half-awakened energies of soul touched upon something. That is to say, dimly his instinct divined that every man has a duty to perform, and that that duty may be performed here, there, and everywhere, and no matter what the circumstances and the emotions and the difficulties which compass a man about. And with such clearness did Chichikov mentally picture to himself the life of grateful toil which lies removed from the bustle of towns and the temptations which man, forgetful of the obligation of labour, has invented to beguile an hour of idleness that almost our hero forgot his unpleasant position, and even felt ready to thank Providence for the calamity which had befallen him, provided that it should end in his being released, and in his receiving back a portion of his property.
Presently the massive door of the cell opened to admit a tchinovnik named Samosvitov, a robust, sensual individual who was reputed by his comrades to be something of a rake. Had he served in the army, he would have done wonders, for he would have stormed any point, however dangerous and inaccessible, and captured cannon under the very noses of the foe; but, as it was, the lack of a more warlike field for his energies caused him to devote the latter principally to dissipation. Nevertheless he enjoyed great popularity, for he was loyal to the point that, once his word had been given, nothing would ever make him break it. At the same time, some reason or another led him to regard his superiors in the light of a hostile battery which, come what might, he must breach at any weak or unguarded spot or gap which might be capable of being utilised for the purpose.
“We have all heard of your plight,” he began as soon as the door had been safely closed behind him. “Yes, every one has heard of it. But never mind. Things will yet come right. We will do our very best for you, and act as your humble servants in everything. Thirty thousand roubles is our price—no more.”
“Indeed?” said Chichikov. “And, for that, shall I be completely exonerated?”
“Yes, completely, and also given some compensation for your loss of time.”
“And how much am I to pay in return, you say?”
“Thirty thousand roubles, to be divided among ourselves, the Governor-General’s staff, and the Governor-General’s secretary.”
“But how is even that to be managed, for all my effects, including my dispatch-box, will have been sealed up and taken away for examination?”
“In an hour’s time they will be within your hands again,” said Samosvitov. “Shall we shake hands over the bargain?”
Chichikov did so with a beating heart, for he could scarcely believe his ears.
“For the present, then, farewell,” concluded Samosvitov. “I have instructed a certain mutual friend that the important points are silence and presence of mind.”
“Hm!” thought Chichikov. “It is to my lawyer that he is referring.”
Even when Samosvitov had departed the prisoner found it difficult to credit all that had been said. Yet not an hour had elapsed before a messenger arrived with his dispatch-box and the papers and money therein practically undisturbed and intact! Later it came out that Samosvitov had assumed complete authority in the matter. First, he had rebuked the gendarmes guarding Chichikov’s effects for lack of vigilance, and then sent word to the Superintendent that additional men were required for the purpose; after which he had taken the dispatch-box into his own charge, removed from it every paper which could possibly compromise Chichikov, sealed up the rest in a packet, and ordered a gendarme to convey the whole to their owner on the pretence of forwarding him sundry garments necessary for the night. In the result Chichikov received not only his papers, but also some warm clothing for his hypersensitive limbs. Such a swift recovery of his treasures delighted him beyond expression, and, gathering new hope, he began once more to dream of such allurements as theatre-going and the ballet girl after whom he had for some time past been dangling. Gradually did the country estate and the simple life begin to recede into the distance: gradually did the town house and the life of gaiety begin to loom larger and larger in the foreground. Oh, life, life!
Meanwhile in Government offices and chancellories there had been set on foot a boundless volume of work. Clerical pens slaved, and brains skilled in legal casus toiled; for each official had the artist’s liking for the curved line in preference to the straight. And all the while, like a hidden magician, Chichikov’s lawyer imparted driving power to that machine which caught up a man into its mechanism before he could even look round. And the complexity of it increased and increased, for Samosvitov surpassed himself in importance and daring. On learning of the place of confinement of the woman who had been arrested, he presented himself at the doors, and passed so well for a smart young officer of gendarmery that the sentry saluted and sprang to attention.
“Have you been on duty long?” asked Samosvitov.
“Since this morning, your Excellency.”
“And shall you soon be relieved?”
“In three hours from now, your Excellency.”
“Presently I shall want you, so I will instruct your officer to have you relieved at once.”
“Very good, your Excellency.”
Hastening home, thereafter, at top speed, and donning the uniform of a gendarme, with a false moustache and a pair of false whiskers—an ensemble in which the devil himself would not have known him, Samosvitov then made for the gaol where Chichikov was confined, and, en route, impressed into the service the first street woman whom he encountered, and handed her over to the care of two young fellows of like sort with himself. The next step was to hurry back to the prison where the original woman had been interned, and there to intimate to the sentry that he, Samosvitov (with whiskers and rifle complete), had been sent to relieve the said sentry at his post—a proceeding which, of course, enabled the newly-arrived relief to ensure, while performing his self-assumed turn of duty, that for the woman lying under arrest there should be substituted the woman recently recruited to the plot, and that the former should then be conveyed to a place of concealment where she was highly unlikely to be discovered.
Meanwhile, Samosvitov’s feats in the military sphere were being rivalled by the wonders worked by Chichikov’s lawyer in the civilian field of action. As a first step, the lawyer caused it to be intimated to the local Governor that the Public Prosecutor was engaged in drawing up a report to his, the local Governor’s, detriment; whereafter the lawyer caused it to be intimated also to the Chief of Gendarmery that a certain confidential official was engaged in doing the same by HIM; whereafter, again, the lawyer confided to the confidential official in question that, owing to the documentary exertions of an official of a still more confidential nature than the first, he (the confidential official first-mentioned) was in a fair way to find himself in the same boat as both the local Governor and the Chief of Gendarmery: with the result that the whole trio were reduced to a frame of mind in which they were only too glad to turn to him (Samosvitov) for advice. The ultimate and farcical upshot was that report came crowding upon report, and that such alleged doings were brought to light as the sun had never before beheld. In fact, the documents in question employed anything and everything as material, even to announcing that such and such an individual had an illegitimate son, that such and such another kept a paid mistress, and that such and such a third was troubled with a gadabout wife; whereby there became interwoven with and welded into Chichikov’s past history and the story of the dead souls such a crop of scandals and innuendoes that by no manner of means could any mortal decide to which of these rubbishy romances to award the palm, since all them presented an equal claim to that honour. Naturally, when, at length, the dossier reached the Governor-General himself it simply flabbergasted the poor man; and even the exceptionally clever and energetic secretary to whom he deputed the making of an abstract of the same very nearly lost his reason with the strain of attempting to lay hold of the tangled end of the skein. It happened that just at that time the Prince had several other important affairs on hand, and affairs of a very unpleasant nature. That is to say, famine had made its appearance in one portion of the province, and the tchinovniks sent to distribute food to the people had done their work badly; in another portion of the province certain Raskolniki 51 were in a state of ferment, owing to the spreading of a report than an Antichrist had arisen who would not even let the dead rest, but was purchasing them wholesale—wherefore the said Raskolniki were summoning folk to prayer and repentance, and, under cover of capturing the Antichrist in question, were bludgeoning non-Antichrists in batches; lastly, the peasants of a third portion of the province had risen against the local landowners and superintendents of police, for the reason that certain rascals had started a rumour that the time was come when the peasants themselves were to become landowners, and to wear frockcoats, while the landowners in being were about to revert to the peasant state, and to take their own wares to market; wherefore one of the local volosts52, oblivious of the fact that an order of things of that kind would lead to a superfluity alike of landowners and of superintendents of police, had refused to pay its taxes, and necessitated recourse to forcible measures. Hence it was in a mood of the greatest possible despondency that the poor Prince was sitting plunged when word was brought to him that the old man who had gone bail for Chichikov was waiting to see him.
“Show him in,” said the Prince; and the old man entered.
“A fine fellow your Chichikov!” began the Prince angrily. “You defended him, and went bail for him, even though he had been up to business which even the lowest thief would not have touched!”
“Pardon me, your Highness; I do not understand to what you are referring.”
“I am referring to the matter of the fraudulent will. The fellow ought to have been given a public flogging for it.”
“Although to exculpate Chichikov is not my intention, might I ask you whether you do not think the case is non-proven? At all events, sufficient evidence against him is still lacking.”
“What? We have as chief witness the woman who personated the deceased, and I will have her interrogated in your presence.”
Touching a bell, the Prince ordered her to be sent for.
“It is a most disgraceful affair,” he went on; “and, ashamed though I am to have to say it, some of our leading tchinovniks, including the local Governor himself, have become implicated in the matter. Yet you tell me that this Chichikov ought not to be confined among thieves and rascals!” Clearly the Governor-General’s wrath was very great indeed.
“Your Highness,” said Murazov, “the Governor of the town is one of the heirs under the will: wherefore he has a certain right to intervene. Also, the fact that extraneous persons have meddled in the matter is only what is to be expected from human nature. A rich woman dies, and no exact, regular disposition of her property is made. Hence there comes flocking from every side a cloud of fortune hunters. What else could one expect? Such is human nature.”
“Yes, but why should such persons go and commit fraud?” asked the Prince irritably. “I feel as though not a single honest tchinovnik were available—as though every one of them were a rogue.”
“Your Highness, which of us is altogether beyond reproach? The tchinovniks of our town are human beings, and no more. Some of them are men of worth, and nearly all of them men skilled in business—though also, unfortunately, largely inter-related.”
“Now, tell me this, Athanasi Vassilievitch,” said the Prince, “for you are about the only honest man of my acquaintance. What has inspired in you such a penchant for defending rascals?”
“This,” replied Murazov. “Take any man you like of the persons whom you thus term rascals. That man none the less remains a human being. That being so, how can one refuse to defend him when all the time one knows that half his errors have been committed through ignorance and stupidity? Each of us commits faults with every step that we take; each of us entails unhappiness upon others with every breath that we draw—and that although we may have no evil intention whatever in our minds. Your Highness himself has, before now, committed an injustice of the gravest nature.”
“I have?” cried the Prince, taken aback by this unexpected turn given to the conversation.
Murazov remained silent for a moment, as though he were debating something in his thoughts. Then he said:
“Nevertheless it is as I say. You committed the injustice in the case of the lad Dierpiennikov.”
“What, Athanasi Vassilievitch? The fellow had infringed one of the Fundamental Laws! He had been found guilty of treason!”
“I am not seeking to justify him; I am only asking you whether you think it right that an inexperienced youth who had been tempted and led away by others should have received the same sentence as the man who had taken the chief part in the affair. That is to say, although Dierpiennikov and the man Voron-Drianni received an equal measure of punishment, their CRIMINALITY was not equal.”
“If,” exclaimed the Prince excitedly, “you know anything further concerning the case, for God’s sake tell it me at once. Only the other day did I forward a recommendation that St. Petersburg should remit a portion of the sentence.”
“Your Highness,” replied Murazov, “I do not mean that I know of anything which does not lie also within your own cognisance, though one circumstance there was which might have told in the lad’s favour had he not refused to admit it, lest another should suffer injury. All that I have in my mind is this. On that occasion were you not a little over-hasty in coming to a conclusion? You will understand, of course, that I am judging only according to my own poor lights, and for the reason that on more than one occasion you have urged me to be frank. In the days when I myself acted as a chief of gendarmery I came in contact with a great number of accused—some of them bad, some of them good; and in each case I found it well also to consider a man’s past career, for the reason that, unless one views things calmly, instead of at once decrying a man, he is apt to take alarm, and to make it impossible thereafter to get any real confession from him. If, on the other hand, you question a man as friend might question friend, the result will be that straightway he will tell you everything, nor ask for mitigation of his penalty, nor bear you the least malice, in that he will understand that it is not you who have punished him, but the law.”
The Prince relapsed into thought; until presently there entered a young tchinovnik. Portfolio in hand, this official stood waiting respectfully. Care and hard work had already imprinted their insignia upon his fresh young face; for evidently he had not been in the Service for nothing. As a matter of fact, his greatest joy was to labour at a tangled case, and successfully to unravel it.
[At this point a long hiatus occurs in the original.]
“I will send corn to the localities where famine is worst,” said Murazov, “for I understand that sort of work better than do the tchinovniks, and will personally see to the needs of each person. Also, if you will allow me, your Highness, I will go and have a talk with the Raskolniki. They are more likely to listen to a plain man than to an official. God knows whether I shall succeed in calming them, but at least no tchinovnik could do so, for officials of the kind merely draw up reports and lose their way among their own documents—with the result that nothing comes of it. Nor will I accept from you any money for these purposes, since I am ashamed to devote as much as a thought to my own pocket at a time when men are dying of hunger. I have a large stock of grain lying in my granaries; in addition to which, I have sent orders to Siberia that a new consignment shall be forwarded me before the coming summer.”
“Of a surety will God reward you for your services, Athanasi Vassilievitch! Not another word will I say to you on the subject, for you yourself feel that any words from me would be inadequate. Yet tell me one thing: I refer to the case of which you know. Have I the right to pass over the case? Also, would it be just and honourable on my part to let the offending tchinovniks go unpunished?”
“Your Highness, it is impossible to return a definite answer to those two questions: and the more so because many rascals are at heart men of rectitude. Human problems are difficult things to solve. Sometimes a man may be drawn into a vicious circle, so that, having once entered it, he ceases to be himself.”
“But what would the tchinovniks say if I allowed the case to be passed over? Would not some of them turn up their noses at me, and declare that they have effected my intimidation? Surely they would be the last persons in the world to respect me for my action?”
“Your Highness, I think this: that your best course would be to call them together, and to inform them that you know everything, and to explain to them your personal attitude (exactly as you have explained it to me), and to end by at once requesting their advice and asking them what each of them would have done had he been placed in similar circumstances.”
“What? You think that those tchinovniks would be so accessible to lofty motives that they would cease thereafter to be venal and meticulous? I should be laughed at for my pains.”
“I think not, your Highness. Even the baser section of humanity possesses a certain sense of equity. Your wisest plan, your Highness, would be to conceal nothing and to speak to them as you have just spoken to me. If, at present, they imagine you to be ambitious and proud and unapproachable and self-assured, your action would afford them an opportunity of seeing how the case really stands. Why should you hesitate? You would but be exercising your undoubted right. Speak to them as though delivering not a message of your own, but a message from God.”
“I will think it over,” the Prince said musingly, “and meanwhile I thank you from my heart for your good advice.”
“Also, I should order Chichikov to leave the town,” suggested Murazov.
“Yes, I will do so. Tell him from me that he is to depart hence as quickly as possible, and that the further he should remove himself, the better it will be for him. Also, tell him that it is only owing to your efforts that he has received a pardon at my hands.”
Murazov bowed, and proceeded from the Prince’s presence to that of Chichikov. He found the prisoner cheerfully enjoying a hearty dinner which, under hot covers, had been brought him from an exceedingly excellent kitchen. But almost the first words which he uttered showed Murazov that the prisoner had been having dealings with the army of bribe-takers; as also that in those transactions his lawyer had played the principal part.
“Listen, Paul Ivanovitch,” the old man said. “I bring you your freedom, but only on this condition—that you depart out of the town forthwith. Therefore gather together your effects, and waste not a moment, lest worse befall you. Also, of all that a certain person has contrived to do on your behalf I am aware; wherefore let me tell you, as between ourselves, that should the conspiracy come to light, nothing on earth can save him, and in his fall he will involve others rather then be left unaccompanied in the lurch, and not see the guilt shared. How is it that when I left you recently you were in a better frame of mind than you are now? I beg of you not to trifle with the matter. Ah me! what boots that wealth for which men dispute and cut one another’s throats? Do they think that it is possible to prosper in this world without thinking of the world to come? Believe me when I say that, until a man shall have renounced all that leads humanity to contend without giving a thought to the ordering of spiritual wealth, he will never set his temporal goods either upon a satisfactory foundation. Yes, even as times of want and scarcity may come upon nations, so may they come upon individuals. No matter what may be said to the contrary, the body can never dispense with the soul. Why, then, will you not try to walk in the right way, and, by thinking no longer of dead souls, but only of your only living one, regain, with God’s help, the better road? I too am leaving the town to-morrow. Hasten, therefore, lest, bereft of my assistance, you meet with some dire misfortune.”
And the old man departed, leaving Chichikov plunged in thought. Once more had the gravity of life begun to loom large before him.
“Yes, Murazov was right,” he said to himself. “It is time that I were moving.”
Leaving the prison—a warder carrying his effects in his wake—he found Selifan and Petrushka overjoyed at seeing their master once more at liberty.
“Well, good fellows?” he said kindly. “And now we must pack and be off.”
“True, true, Paul Ivanovitch,” agreed Selifan. “And by this time the roads will have become firmer, for much snow has fallen. Yes, high time is it that we were clear of the town. So weary of it am I that the sight of it hurts my eyes.”
“Go to the coachbuilder’s,” commanded Chichikov, “and have sledge-runners fitted to the koliaska.”
Chichikov then made his way into the town—though not with the object of paying farewell visits (in view of recent events, that might have given rise to some awkwardness), but for the purpose of paying an unobtrusive call at the shop where he had obtained the cloth for his latest suit. There he now purchased four more arshins of the same smoked-grey-shot-with-flame-colour material as he had had before, with the intention of having it made up by the tailor who had fashioned the previous costume; and by promising double remuneration he induced the tailor in question so to hasten the cutting out of the garments that, through sitting up all night over the work, the man might have the whole ready by break of day. True, the goods were delivered a trifle after the appointed hour, yet the following morning saw the coat and breeches completed; and while the horses were being put to, Chichikov tried on the clothes, and found them equal to the previous creation, even though during the process he caught sight of a bald patch on his head, and was led mournfully to reflect: “Alas! Why did I give way to such despair? Surely I need not have torn my hair out so freely?”
Then, when the tailor had been paid, our hero left the town. But no longer was he the old Chichikov—he was only a ruin of what he had been, and his frame of mind might have been compared to a building recently pulled down to make room for a new one, while the new one had not yet been erected owing to the non-receipt of the plans from the architect. Murazov, too, had departed, but at an earlier hour, and in a tilt-waggon with Ivan Potapitch.
An hour later the Governor-General issued to all and sundry officials a notice that, on the occasion of his departure for St. Petersburg, he would be glad to see the corps of tchinovniks at a private meeting. Accordingly all ranks and grades of officialdom repaired to his residence, and there awaited—not without a certain measure of trepidation and of searching of heart—the Governor-General’s entry. When that took place he looked neither clear nor dull. Yet his bearing was proud, and his step assured. The tchinovniks bowed—some of them to the waist, and he answered their salutations with a slight inclination of the head. Then he spoke as follows:
“Since I am about to pay a visit to St. Petersburg, I have thought it right to meet you, and to explain to you privately my reasons for doing so. An affair of a most scandalous character has taken place in our midst. To what affair I am referring I think most of those present will guess. Now, an automatic process has led to that affair bringing about the discovery of other matters. Those matters are no less dishonourable than the primary one; and to that I regret to have to add that there stand involved in them certain persons whom I had hitherto believed to be honourable. Of the object aimed at by those who have complicated matters to the point of making their resolution almost impossible by ordinary methods I am aware; as also I am aware of the identity of the ringleader, despite the skill with which he has sought to conceal his share in the scandal. But the principal point is, that I propose to decide these matters, not by formal documentary process, but by the more summary process of court-martial, and that I hope, when the circumstances have been laid before his Imperial Majesty, to receive from him authority to adopt the course which I have mentioned. For I conceive that when it has become impossible to resolve a case by civil means, and some of the necessary documents have been burnt, and attempts have been made (both through the adduction of an excess of false and extraneous evidence and through the framing of fictitious reports) to cloud an already sufficiently obscure investigation with an added measure of complexity,—when all these circumstances have arisen, I conceive that the only possible tribunal to deal with them is a military tribunal. But on that point I should like your opinion.”
The Prince paused for a moment or two, as though awaiting a reply; but none came, seeing that every man had his eyes bent upon the floor, and many of the audience had turned white in the face.
“Then,” he went on, “I may say that I am aware also of a matter which those who have carried it through believe to lie only within the cognisance of themselves. The particulars of that matter will not be set forth in documentary form, but only through process of myself acting as plaintiff and petitioner, and producing none but ocular evidence.”
Among the throng of tchinovniks some one gave a start, and thereby caused others of the more apprehensive sort to fall to trembling in their shoes.
“Without saying does it go that the prime conspirators ought to undergo deprivation of rank and property, and that the remainder ought to be dismissed from their posts; for though that course would cause a certain proportion of the innocent to suffer with the guilty, there would seem to be no other course available, seeing that the affair is one of the most disgraceful nature, and calls aloud for justice. Therefore, although I know that to some my action will fail to serve as a lesson, since it will lead to their succeeding to the posts of dismissed officials, as well as that others hitherto considered honourable will lose their reputation, and others entrusted with new responsibilities will continue to cheat and betray their trust,—although all this is known to me, I still have no choice but to satisfy the claims of justice by proceeding to take stern measures. I am also aware that I shall be accused of undue severity; but, lastly, I am aware that it is my duty to put aside all personal feeling, and to act as the unconscious instrument of that retribution which justice demands.”
Over ever face there passed a shudder. Yet the Prince had spoken calmly, and not a trace of anger or any other kind of emotion had been visible on his features.
“Nevertheless,” he went on, “the very man in whose hands the fate of so many now lies, the very man whom no prayer for mercy could ever have influenced, himself desires to make a request of you. Should you grant that request, all will be forgotten and blotted out and pardoned, for I myself will intercede with the Throne on your behalf. That request is this. I know that by no manner of means, by no preventive measures, and by no penalties will dishonesty ever be completely extirpated from our midst, for the reason that its roots have struck too deep, and that the dishonourable traffic in bribes has become a necessity to, even the mainstay of, some whose nature is not innately venal. Also, I know that, to many men, it is an impossibility to swim against the stream. Yet now, at this solemn and critical juncture, when the country is calling aloud for saviours, and it is the duty of every citizen to contribute and to sacrifice his all, I feel that I cannot but issue an appeal to every man in whom a Russian heart and a spark of what we understand by the word ‘nobility’ exist. For, after all, which of us is more guilty than his fellow? It may be to ME the greatest culpability should be assigned, in that at first I may have adopted towards you too reserved an attitude, that I may have been over-hasty in repelling those who desired but to serve me, even though of their services I did not actually stand in need. Yet, had they really loved justice and the good of their country, I think that they would have been less prone to take offence at the coldness of my attitude, but would have sacrificed their feelings and their personality to their superior convictions. For hardly can it be that I failed to note their overtures and the loftiness of their motives, or that I would not have accepted any wise and useful advice proffered. At the same time, it is for a subordinate to adapt himself to the tone of his superior, rather than for a superior to adapt himself to the tone of his subordinate. Such a course is at once more regular and more smooth of working, since a corps of subordinates has but one director, whereas a director may have a hundred subordinates. But let us put aside the question of comparative culpability. The important point is, that before us all lies the duty of rescuing our fatherland. Our fatherland is suffering, not from the incursion of a score of alien tongues, but from our own acts, in that, in addition to the lawful administration, there has grown up a second administration possessed of infinitely greater powers than the system established by law. And that second administration has established its conditions, fixed its tariff of prices, and published that tariff abroad; nor could any ruler, even though the wisest of legislators and administrators, do more to correct the evil than limit it in the conduct of his more venal tchinovniks by setting over them, as their supervisors, men of superior rectitude. No, until each of us shall come to feel that, just as arms were taken up during the period of the upheaval of nations, so now each of us must make a stand against dishonesty, all remedies will end in failure. As a Russian, therefore—as one bound to you by consanguinity and identity of blood—I make to you my appeal. I make it to those of you who understand wherein lies nobility of thought. I invite those men to remember the duty which confronts us, whatsoever our respective stations; I invite them to observe more closely their duty, and to keep more constantly in mind their obligations of holding true to their country, in that before us the future looms dark, and that we can scarcely….”
[Here the manuscript of the original comes abruptly to an end.]