Why 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 barstchina40, 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.
40 In the days of serfdom, the rate of forced labour — so many hours or so many days per week — which the serf had to perform for his proprietor.
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?”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08