A Sportsman's Sketches, by Ivan Turgenev

X The Agent

Twelve miles from my place lives an acquaintance of mine, a landowner and a retired officer in the Guards — Arkady Pavlitch Pyenotchkin. He has a great deal of game on his estate, a house built after the design of a French architect, and servants dressed after the English fashion; he gives capital dinners, and a cordial reception to visitors, and, with all that, one goes to see him reluctantly. He is a sensible and practical man, has received the excellent education now usual, has been in the service, mixed in the highest society, and is now devoting himself to his estate with great success. Arkady Pavlitch is, to judge by his own words, severe but just; he looks after the good of the peasants under his control and punishes them — for their good. ‘One has to treat them like children,’ he says on such occasions; ‘their ignorance, mon cher; il faut prendre cela en considération.’ When this so-called painful necessity arises, he eschews all sharp or violent gestures, and prefers not to raise his voice, but with a straight blow in the culprit’s face, says calmly, ‘I believe I asked you to do something, my friend?’ or ‘What is the matter, my boy? what are you thinking about?’ while he sets his teeth a little, and the corners of his mouth are drawn. He is not tall, but has an elegant figure, and is very good-looking; his hands and nails are kept perfectly exquisite; his rosy cheeks and lips are simply the picture of health. He has a ringing, light-hearted laugh, and there is sometimes a very genial twinkle in his clear brown eyes. He dresses in excellent taste; he orders French books, prints, and papers, though he’s no great lover of reading himself: he has hardly as much as waded through the Wandering Jew. He plays cards in masterly style. Altogether, Arkady Pavlitch is reckoned one of the most cultivated gentlemen and most eligible matches in our province; the ladies are perfectly wild over him, and especially admire his manners. He is wonderfully well conducted, wary as a cat, and has never from his cradle been mixed up in any scandal, though he is fond of making his power felt, intimidating or snubbing a nervous man, when he gets a chance. He has a positive distaste for doubtful society — he is afraid of compromising himself; in his lighter moments, however, he will avow himself a follower of Epicurus, though as a rule he speaks slightingly of philosophy, calling it the foggy food fit for German brains, or at times, simply, rot. He is fond of music too; at the card-table he is given to humming through his teeth, but with feeling; he knows by heart some snatches from Lucia and Somnambula, but he is always apt to sing everything a little sharp. The winters he spends in Petersburg. His house is kept in extraordinarily good order; the very grooms feel his influence, and every day not only rub the harness and brush their coats, but even wash their faces. Arkady Pavlitch’s house-serfs have, it is true, something of a hang-dog look; but among us Russians there’s no knowing what is sullenness and what is sleepiness. Arkady Pavlitch speaks in a soft, agreeable voice, with emphasis and, as it were, with satisfaction; he brings out each word through his handsome perfumed moustaches; he uses a good many French expressions too, such as: Mais c’est impayable! Mais comment donc? and so so. For all that, I, for one, am never over-eager to visit him, and if it were not for the grouse and the partridges, I should probably have dropped his acquaintance altogether. One is possessed by a strange sort of uneasiness in his house; the very comfort is distasteful to one, and every evening when a befrizzed valet makes his appearance in a blue livery with heraldic buttons, and begins, with cringing servility, drawing off one’s boots, one feels that if his pale, lean figure could suddenly be replaced by the amazingly broad cheeks and incredibly thick nose of a stalwart young labourer fresh from the plough, who has yet had time in his ten months of service to tear his new nankin coat open at every seam, one would be unutterably overjoyed, and would gladly run the risk of having one’s whole leg pulled off with the boot. . . .

In spite of my aversion for Arkady Pavlitch, I once happened to pass a night in his house. The next day I ordered my carriage to be ready early in the morning, but he would not let me start without a regular breakfast in the English style, and conducted me into his study. With our tea they served us cutlets, boiled eggs, butter, honey, cheese, and so on. Two footmen in clean white gloves swiftly and silently anticipated our faintest desires. We sat on a Persian divan. Arkady Pavlitch was arrayed in loose silk trousers, a black velvet smoking jacket, a red fez with a blue tassel, and yellow Chinese slippers without heels. He drank his tea, laughed, scrutinised his finger-nails, propped himself up with cushions, and was altogether in an excellent humour. After making a hearty breakfast with obvious satisfaction, Arkady Pavlitch poured himself out a glass of red wine, lifted it to his lips, and suddenly frowned.

‘Why was not the wine warmed?’ he asked rather sharply of one of the footmen.

The footman stood stock-still in confusion, and turned white.

‘Didn’t I ask you a question, my friend?’ Arkady Pavlitch resumed tranquilly, never taking his eyes off the man.

The luckless footman fidgeted in his place, twisted the napkin, and uttered not a word.

Arkady Pavlitch dropped his head and looked up at him thoughtfully from under his eyelids.

Pardon, mon cher‘, he observed, patting my knee amicably, and again he stared at the footman. ‘You can go,’ he added, after a short silence, raising his eyebrows, and he rang the bell.

A stout, swarthy, black-haired man, with a low forehead, and eyes positively lost in fat, came into the room.

‘About Fyodor . . . make the necessary arrangements,’ said Arkady Pavlitch in an undertone, and with complete composure.

‘Yes, sir,’ answered the fat man, and he went out.

Voilà, mon cher, les désagréments de la campagne,’ Arkady Pavlitch remarked gaily. ‘But where are you off to? Stop, you must stay a little.’

‘No,’ I answered; ‘it’s time I was off.’

‘Nothing but sport! Oh, you sportsmen! And where are you going to shoot just now?’

‘Thirty-five miles from here, at Ryabovo.’

‘Ryabovo? By Jove! now in that case I will come with you. Ryabovo’s only four miles from my village Shipilovka, and it’s a long while since I’ve been over to Shipilovka; I’ve never been able to get the time. Well, this is a piece of luck; you can spend the day shooting in Ryabovo and come on in the evening to me. We’ll have supper together — we’ll take the cook with us, and you’ll stay the night with me. Capital! capital!’ he added without waiting for my answer.

C’est arrangé. . . . Hey, you there! Have the carriage brought out, and look sharp. You have never been in Shipilovka? I should be ashamed to suggest your putting up for the night in my agent’s cottage, but you’re not particular, I know, and at Ryabovo you’d have slept in some hayloft. . . . We will go, we will go!’

And Arkady Pavlitch hummed some French song.

‘You don’t know, I dare say,’ he pursued, swaying from side to side; ‘I’ve some peasants there who pay rent. It’s the custom of the place — what was I to do? They pay their rent very punctually, though. I should, I’ll own, have put them back to payment in labour, but there’s so little land. I really wonder how they manage to make both ends meet. However, c’est leur affaire. My agent there’s a fine fellow, une forte tête, a man of real administrative power! You shall see. . . . Really, how luckily things have turned out!’

There was no help for it. Instead of nine o’clock in the morning, we started at two in the afternoon. Sportsmen will sympathise with my impatience. Arkady Pavlitch liked, as he expressed it, to be comfortable when he had the chance, and he took with him such a supply of linen, dainties, wearing apparel, perfumes, pillows, and dressing- cases of all sorts, that a careful and self-denying German would have found enough to last him for a year. Every time we went down a steep hill, Arkady Pavlitch addressed some brief but powerful remarks to the coachman, from which I was able to deduce that my worthy friend was a thorough coward. The journey was, however, performed in safety, except that, in crossing a lately-repaired bridge, the trap with the cook in it broke down, and he got squeezed in the stomach against the hind- wheel.

Arkady Pavlitch was alarmed in earnest at the sight of the fall of Karem, his home-made professor of the culinary art, and he sent at once to inquire whether his hands were injured. On receiving a reassuring reply to this query, his mind was set at rest immediately. With all this, we were rather a long time on the road; I was in the same carriage as Arkady Pavlitch, and towards the end of the journey I was a prey to deadly boredom, especially as in a few hours my companion ran perfectly dry of subjects of conversation, and even fell to expressing his liberal views on politics. At last we did arrive — not at Ryabovo, but at Shipilovka; it happened so somehow. I could have got no shooting now that day in any case, and so, raging inwardly, I submitted to my fate.

The cook had arrived a few minutes before us, and apparently had had time to arrange things and prepare those whom it concerned, for on our very entrance within the village boundaries we were met by the village bailiff (the agent’s son), a stalwart, red-haired peasant of seven feet; he was on horseback, bareheaded, and wearing a new overcoat, not buttoned up. ‘And where’s Sofron?’ Arkady Pavlitch asked him. The bailiff first jumped nimbly off his horse, bowed to his master till he was bent double, and said: ‘Good health to you, Arkady Pavlitch, sir!’ then raised his head, shook himself, and announced that Sofron had gone to Perov, but they had sent after him.

‘Well, come along after us,’ said Arkady Pavlitch. The bailiff deferentially led his horse to one side, clambered on to it, and followed the carriage at a trot, his cap in his hand. We drove through the village. A few peasants in empty carts happened to meet us; they were driving from the threshing-floor and singing songs, swaying backwards and forwards, and swinging their legs in the air; but at the sight of our carriage and the bailiff they were suddenly silent, took off their winter caps (it was summer-time) and got up as though waiting for orders. Arkady Pavlitch nodded to them graciously. A flutter of excitement had obviously spread through the hamlet. Peasant women in check petticoats flung splinters of wood at indiscreet or over-zealous dogs; an old lame man with a beard that began just under his eyes pulled a horse away from the well before it had drunk, gave it, for some obscure reason, a blow on the side, and fell to bowing low. Boys in long smocks ran with a howl to the huts, flung themselves on their bellies on the high door-sills, with their heads down and legs in the air, rolled over with the utmost haste into the dark outer rooms, from which they did not reappear again. Even the hens sped in a hurried scuttle to the turning; one bold cock with a black throat like a satin waistcoat and a red tail, rumpled up to his very comb, stood his ground in the road, and even prepared for a crow, then suddenly took fright and scuttled off too. The agent’s cottage stood apart from the rest in the middle of a thick green patch of hemp. We stopped at the gates. Mr. Pyenotchkin got up, flung off his cloak with a picturesque motion, and got out of the carriage, looking affably about him. The agent’s wife met us with low curtseys, and came up to kiss the master’s hand. Arkady Pavlitch let her kiss it to her heart’s content, and mounted the steps. In the outer room, in a dark corner, stood the bailiff’s wife, and she too curtsied, but did not venture to approach his hand. In the cold hut, as it is called — to the right of the outer room — two other women were still busily at work; they were carrying out all the rubbish, empty tubs, sheepskins stiff as boards, greasy pots, a cradle with a heap of dish-clouts and a baby covered with spots, and sweeping out the dirt with bathbrooms. Arkady Pavlitch sent them away, and installed himself on a bench under the holy pictures. The coachmen began bringing in the trunks, bags, and other conveniences, trying each time to subdue the noise of their heavy boots.

Meantime Arkady Pavlitch began questioning the bailiff about the crops, the sowing, and other agricultural subjects. The bailiff gave satisfactory answers, but spoke with a sort of heavy awkwardness, as though he were buttoning up his coat with benumbed fingers. He stood at the door and kept looking round on the watch to make way for the nimble footman. Behind his powerful shoulders I managed to get a glimpse of the agent’s wife in the outer room surreptitiously belabouring some other peasant woman. Suddenly a cart rumbled up and stopped at the steps; the agent came in.

This man, as Arkady Pavlitch said, of real administrative power, was short, broad-shouldered, grey, and thick-set, with a red nose, little blue eyes, and a beard of the shape of a fan. We may observe, by the way, that ever since Russia has existed, there has never yet been an instance of a man who has grown rich and prosperous without a big, bushy beard; sometimes a man may have had a thin, wedge-shape beard all his life; but then he begins to get one all at once, it is all round his face like a halo — one wonders where the hair has come from! The agent must have been making merry at Perov: his face was unmistakably flushed, and there was a smell of spirits about him.

‘Ah, our father, our gracious benefactor!’ he began in a sing-song voice, and with a face of such deep feeling that it seemed every minute as if he would burst into tears; ‘at last you have graciously deigned to come to us . . . your hand, your honour’s hand,’ he added, his lips protruded in anticipation. Arkady Pavlitch gratified his desire. ‘Well, brother Sofron, how are things going with you?’ he asked in a friendly voice.

‘Ah, you, our father!’ cried Sofron; ‘how should they go ill? how should things go ill, now that you, our father, our benefactor, graciously deign to lighten our poor village with your presence, to make us happy till the day of our death? Thank the Lord for thee, Arkady Pavlitch! thank the Lord for thee! All is right by your gracious favour.’

At this point Sofron paused, gazed upon his master, and, as though carried away by a rush of feeling (tipsiness had its share in it too), begged once more for his hand, and whined more than before.

‘Ah, you, our father, benefactor . . . and . . . There, God bless me! I’m a regular fool with delight. . . . God bless me! I look and can’t believe my eyes! Ah, our father!’

Arkady Pavlitch glanced at me, smiled, and asked: ‘N’est-ce pas que c’est touchant?

‘But, Arkady Pavlitch, your honour,’ resumed the indefatigable agent; ‘what are you going to do? You’ll break my heart, your honour; your honour didn’t graciously let me know of your visit. Where are you to put up for the night? You see here it’s dirty, nasty.’

‘Nonsense, Sofron, nonsense!’ Arkady Pavlitch responded, with a smile; ‘it’s all right here.’

‘But, our father, all right — for whom? For peasants like us it’s all right; but for you . . . oh, our father, our gracious protector! oh, you . . . our father! . . . Pardon an old fool like me; I’m off my head, bless me! I’m gone clean crazy.’

Meanwhile supper was served; Arkady Pavlitch began to eat. The old man packed his son off, saying he smelt too strong.

‘Well, settled the division of land, old chap, hey?’ enquired Mr. Pyenotchkin, obviously trying to imitate the peasant speech, with a wink to me.

‘We’ve settled the land shares, your honour; all by your gracious favour. Day before yesterday the list was made out. The Hlinovsky folks made themselves disagreeable about it at first . . . they were disagreeable about it, certainly. They wanted this . . . and they wanted that . . . and God knows what they didn’t want! but they’re a set of fools, your honour! — an ignorant lot. But we, your honour, graciously please you, gave an earnest of our gratitude, and satisfied Nikolai Nikolaitch, the mediator; we acted in everything according to your orders, your honour; as you graciously ordered, so we did, and nothing did we do unbeknown to Yegor Dmitritch.’

‘Yegor reported to me,’ Arkady Pavlitch remarked with dignity.

‘To be sure, your honour, Yegor Dmitritch, to be sure.’

‘Well, then, now I suppose you ‘re satisfied.’

Sofron had only been waiting for this.

‘Ah, you are our father, our benefactor!’ he began, in the same sing- song as before. ‘Indeed, now, your honour . . . why, for you, our father, we pray day and night to God Almighty. . . . There’s too little land, of course. . . . ’

Pyenotchkin cut him short.

‘There, that’ll do, that’ll do, Sofron; I know you’re eager in my service. . . . Well, and how goes the threshing?’

Sofron sighed.

‘Well, our father, the threshing’s none too good. But there, your honour, Arkady Pavlitch, let me tell you about a little matter that came to pass.’ (Here he came closer to Mr. Pyenotchkin, with his arms apart, bent down, and screwed up one eye.) ‘There was a dead body found on our land.’

‘How was that?’

‘I can’t think myself, your honour; it seems like the doing of the evil one. But, luckily, it was found near the boundary; on our side of it, to tell the truth. I ordered them to drag it on to the neighbour’s strip of land at once, while it was still possible, and set a watch there, and sent word round to our folks. “Mum’s the word,” says I. But I explained how it was to the police officer in case of the worst. “You see how it was,” says I; and of course I had to treat him and slip some notes into his hand. . . . Well, what do you say, your honour? We shifted the burden on to other shoulders; you see a dead body’s a matter of two hundred roubles, as sure as ninepence.’

Mr. Pyenotchkin laughed heartily at his agent’s cunning, and said several times to me, indicating him with a nod, ‘Quel gaillard, eh!’

Meantime it was quite dark out of doors; Arkady Pavlitch ordered the table to be cleared, and hay to be brought in. The valet spread out sheets for us, and arranged pillows; we lay down. Sofron retired after receiving his instructions for the next day. Arkady Pavlitch, before falling asleep, talked a little more about the first-rate qualities of the Russian peasant, and at that point made the observation that since Sofron had had the management of the place, the Shipilovka peasants had never been one farthing in arrears. . . . The watchman struck his board; a baby, who apparently had not yet had time to be imbued with a sentiment of dutiful self-abnegation, began crying somewhere in the cottage . . . we fell asleep.

The next morning we got up rather early; I was getting ready to start for Ryabovo, but Arkady Pavlitch was anxious to show me his estate, and begged me to remain. I was not averse myself to seeing more of the first-rate qualities of that man of administrative power — Sofron — in their practical working. The agent made his appearance. He wore a blue loose coat, tied round the waist with a red handkerchief. He talked much less than on the previous evening, kept an alert, intent eye on his master’s face, and gave connected and sensible answers. We set off with him to the threshing-floor. Sofron’s son, the seven-foot bailiff, by every external sign a very slow-witted fellow, walked after us also, and we were joined farther on by the village constable, Fedosyitch, a retired soldier, with immense moustaches, and an extraordinary expression of face; he looked as though he had had some startling shock of astonishment a very long while ago, and had never quite got over it. We took a look at the threshing-floor, the barn, the corn-stacks, the outhouses, the windmill, the cattle-shed, the vegetables, and the hempfields; everything was, as a fact, in excellent order; only the dejected faces of the peasants rather puzzled me. Sofron had had an eye to the ornamental as well as the useful; he had planted all the ditches with willows, between the stacks he had made little paths to the threshing-floor and strewn them with fine sand; on the windmill he had constructed a weathercock of the shape of a bear with his jaws open and a red tongue sticking out; he had attached to the brick cattle-shed something of the nature of a Greek facade, and on it inscribed in white letters: ‘Construt in the village Shipilovky 1 thousand eight Hunderd farthieth year. This cattle-shed.’ Arkady Pavlitch was quite touched, and fell to expatiating in French to me upon the advantages of the system of rent-payment, adding, however, that labour-dues came more profitable to the owner —‘but, after all, that wasn’t everything.’ He began giving the agent advice how to plant his potatoes, how to prepare cattle-food, and so on. Sofron heard his master’s remarks out with attention, sometimes replied, but did not now address Arkady Pavlitch as his father, or his benefactor, and kept insisting that there was too little land; that it would be a good thing to buy more. ‘Well, buy some then,’ said Arkady Pavlitch; ‘I’ve no objection; in my name, of course.’ To this Sofron made no reply; he merely stroked his beard. ‘And now it would be as well to ride down to the copse,’ observed Mr. Pyenotchkin. Saddle-horses were led out to us at once; we went off to the copse, or, as they call it about us, the ‘enclosure.’ In this ‘enclosure’ we found thick undergrowth and abundance of wild game, for which Arkady Pavlitch applauded Sofron and clapped him on the shoulder. In regard to forestry, Arkady Pavlitch clung to the Russian ideas, and told me on that subject an amusing — in his words — anecdote, of how a jocose landowner had given his forester a good lesson by pulling out nearly half his beard, by way of a proof that growth is none the thicker for being cut back. In other matters, however, neither Sofron nor Arkady Pavlitch objected to innovations. On our return to the village, the agent took us to look at a winnowing machine he had recently ordered from Moscow. The winnowing machine did certainly work beautifully, but if Sofron had known what a disagreeable incident was in store for him and his master on this last excursion, he would doubtless have stopped at home with us.

This was what happened. As we came out of the barn the following spectacle confronted us. A few paces from the door, near a filthy pool, in which three ducks were splashing unconcernedly, there stood two peasants — one an old man of sixty, the other, a lad of twenty — both in patched homespun shirts, barefoot, and with cord tied round their waists for belts. The village constable Fedosyitch was busily engaged with them, and would probably have succeeded in inducing them to retire if we had lingered a little longer in the barn, but catching sight of us, he grew stiff all over, and seemed bereft of all sensation on the spot. Close by stood the bailiff gaping, his fists hanging irresolute. Arkady Pavlitch frowned, bit his lip, and went up to the suppliants. They both prostrated themselves at his feet in silence.

‘What do you want? What are you asking about?’ he inquired in a stern voice, a little through his nose. (The peasants glanced at one another, and did not utter a syllable, only blinked a little as if the sun were in their faces, and their breathing came quicker.)

‘Well, what is it?’ Arkady Pavlitch said again; and turning at once to Sofron, ‘Of what family?’

‘The Tobolyev family,’ the agent answered slowly.

‘Well, what do you want?’ Mr. Pyenotchkin said again; ‘have you lost your tongues, or what? Tell me, you, what is it you want?’ he added, with a nod at the old man. ‘And don’t be afraid, stupid.’

The old man craned forward his dark brown, wrinkled neck, opened his bluish twitching lips, and in a hoarse voice uttered the words, ‘Protect us, lord!’ and again he bent his forehead to the earth. The young peasant prostrated himself too. Arkady Pavlitch looked at their bent necks with an air of dignity, threw back his head, and stood with his legs rather wide apart. ‘What is it? Whom do you complain of?’

‘Have mercy, lord! Let us breathe. . . . We are crushed, worried, tormented to death quite. (The old man spoke with difficulty.)

‘Who worries you?’

‘Sofron Yakovlitch, your honour.’

Arkady Pavlitch was silent a minute.

‘What’s your name?’

‘Antip, your honour.’

‘And who’s this?’

‘My boy, your honour.’

Arkady Pavlitch was silent again; he pulled his moustaches.

‘Well! and how has he tormented you?’ he began again, looking over his moustaches at the old man.

‘Your honour, he has ruined us utterly. Two sons, your honour, he’s sent for recruits out of turn, and now he is taking the third also. Yesterday, your honour, our last cow was taken from the yard, and my old wife was beaten by his worship here: that is all the pity he has for us!’ (He pointed to the bailiff.)

‘Hm!’ commented Arkady Pavlitch.

‘Let him not destroy us to the end, gracious protector!’

Mr. Pyenotchkin scowled, ‘What’s the meaning of this?’ he asked the agent, in a low voice, with an air of displeasure.

‘He’s a drunken fellow, sir,’ answered the agent, for the first time using this deferential address, ‘and lazy too. He’s never been out of arrears this five years back, sir.’

‘Sofron Yakovlitch paid the arrears for me, your honour,’ the old man went on; ‘it’s the fifth year’s come that he’s paid it, he’s paid it — and he’s brought me into slavery to him, your honour, and here —’

‘And why did you get into arrears?’ Mr. Pyenotchkin asked threateningly. (The old man’s head sank.) ‘You’re fond of drinking, hanging about the taverns, I dare say.’ (The old man opened his mouth to speak.) ‘I know you,’ Arkady Pavlitch went on emphatically; ‘you think you’ve nothing to do but drink, and lie on the stove, and let steady peasants answer for you.’

‘And he’s an impudent fellow, too,’ the agent threw in.

‘That’s sure to be so; it’s always the way; I’ve noticed it more than once. The whole year round, he’s drinking and abusive, and then he falls at one’s feet.’

‘Your honour, Arkady Pavlitch,’ the old man began despairingly, ‘have pity, protect us; when have I been impudent? Before God Almighty, I swear it was beyond my strength. Sofron Yakovlitch has taken a dislike to me; for some reason he dislikes me — God be his judge! He will ruin me utterly, your honour. . . . The last . . . here . . . the last boy . . . and him he. . . . ’ (A tear glistened in the old man’s wrinkled yellow eyes). ‘Have pity, gracious lord, defend us!’

‘And it’s not us only,’ the young peasant began. . . .

Arkady Pavlitch flew into a rage at once.

‘And who asked your opinion, hey? Till you’re spoken to, hold your tongue. . . . What’s the meaning of it? Silence, I tell you, silence! . . . Why, upon my word, this is simply mutiny! No, my friend, I don’t advise you to mutiny on my domain . . . on my . . . (Arkady Pavlitch stepped forward, but probably recollected my presence, turned round, and put his hands in his pockets . . . ) ‘Je vous demande bien pardon, mon cher,’ he said, with a forced smile, dropping his voice significantly. ‘C’est le mauvais côté de la médaille . . . There, that’ll do, that’ll do,’ he went on, not looking at the peasants: ‘I say . . . that’ll do, you can go.’ (The peasants did not rise.) ‘Well, haven’t I told you . . . that’ll do. You can go, I tell you.’

Arkady Pavlitch turned his back on them. ‘Nothing but vexation,’ he muttered between his teeth, and strode with long steps homewards. Sofron followed him. The village constable opened his eyes wide, looking as if he were just about to take a tremendous leap into space. The bailiff drove a duck away from the puddle. The suppliants remained as they were a little, then looked at each other, and, without turning their heads, went on their way.

Two hours later I was at Ryabovo, and making ready to begin shooting, accompanied by Anpadist, a peasant I knew well. Pyenotchkin had been out of humour with Sofron up to the time I left. I began talking to Anpadist about the Shipilovka peasants, and Mr. Pyenotchkin, and asked him whether he knew the agent there.

‘Sofron Yakovlitch? . . . ugh!’

‘What sort of man is he?’

‘He’s not a man; he’s a dog; you couldn’t find another brute like him between here and Kursk.’

‘Really?’

‘Why, Shipilovka’s hardly reckoned as — what’s his name? — Mr. Pyenotchkin’s at all; he’s not the master there; Sofron’s the master.’

‘You don’t say so!’

‘He’s master, just as if it were his own. The peasants all about are in debt to him; they work for him like slaves; he’ll send one off with the waggons; another, another way. . . . He harries them out of their lives.’

‘They haven’t much land, I suppose?’

‘Not much land! He rents two hundred acres from the Hlinovsky peasants alone, and two hundred and eighty from our folks; there’s more than three hundred and seventy-five acres he’s got. And he doesn’t only traffic in land; he does a trade in horses and stock, and pitch, and butter, and hemp, and one thing and the other. . . . He’s sharp, awfully sharp, and rich too, the beast! But what’s bad — he beats them. He’s a brute, not a man; a dog, I tell you; a cur, a regular cur; that’s what he is!’

‘How is it they don’t make complaints of him?’

‘I dare say, the master’d be pleased! There’s no arrears; so what does he care? Yes, you’d better,’ he added, after a brief pause; ‘I should advise you to complain! No, he’d let you know . . . yes, you’d better try it on. . . . No, he’d let you know. . . . ’

I thought of Antip, and told him what I had seen.

‘There,’ commented Anpadist, ‘he will eat him up now; he’ll simply eat the man up. The bailiff will beat him now. Such a poor, unlucky chap, come to think of it! And what’s his offence? . . . He had some wrangle in meeting with him, the agent, and he lost all patience, I suppose, and of course he wouldn’t stand it. . . . A great matter, truly, to make so much of! So he began pecking at him, Antip. Now he’ll eat him up altogether. You see, he’s such a dog. Such a cur — God forgive my transgressions! — he knows whom to fall upon. The old men that are a bit richer, or’ve more children, he doesn’t touch, the red-headed devil! but there’s all the difference here! Why he’s sent Antip’s sons for recruits out of turn, the heartless ruffian, the cur! God forgive my transgressions!’

We went on our way.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:19