Dead Souls, by Nikolai Gogol

Chapter IV

Next 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?”

“God knows.”

“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.”

50 Here, in the original, a word is missing.

“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!”

Platon laughed.

“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 be