Polzunkov by Fyodor
I began to scrutinize the man closely. Even in his
exterior there was something so peculiar that it compelled one, however
far away one's thoughts might be, to fix one's eyes upon him and go off
into the most irrepressible roar of laughter. That is what happened to
me. I must observe that the little man's eyes were so mobile, or perhaps
he was so sensitive to the magnetism of every eye fixed upon him, that
he almost by instinct guessed that he was being observed, turned at once
to the observer and anxiously analysed his expression. His continual
mobility, his turning and twisting, made him look strikingly like a
dancing doll. It was strange! He seemed afraid of jeers, in spite of the
fact that he was almost getting his living by being a buffoon for all
the world, and exposed himself to every buffet in a moral sense and even
in a physical one, judging from the company he was in. Voluntary
buffoons are not even to be pitied. But I noticed at once that this
strange creature, this ridiculous man, was by no means a buffoon by
profession. There was still something gentlemanly in him. His very
uneasiness, his continual apprehensiveness about himself, were actually
a testimony in his favour. It seemed to me that his desire to be
obliging was due more to kindness of heart than to mercenary
considerations. He readily allowed them to laugh their loudest at him
and in the most unseemly way, to his face, but at the same
time—and I am ready to take my oath on it—his heart ached
and was sore at the thought that his listeners were so caddishly brutal
as to be capable of laughing, not at anything said or done, but at him,
at his whole being, at his heart, at his head, at his appearance, at his
whole body, flesh and blood. I am convinced that he felt at that moment
all the foolishness of his position; but the protest died away in his
heart at once, though it invariably sprang up again in the most heroic
way. I am convinced that all this was due to nothing else but a kind
heart, and not to fear of the inconvenience of being kicked out and
being unable to borrow money from some one. This gentleman was for ever
borrowing money, that is, he asked for alms in that form, when after
playing the fool and entertaining them at his expense he felt in a
certain sense entitled to borrow money from them. But, good heavens!
what a business the borrowing was! And with what a countenance he asked
for the loan! I could not have imagined that on such a small space as
the wrinkled, angular face of that little man room could be found, at
one and the same time, for so many different grimaces, for such strange,
variously characteristic shades of feeling, such absolutely killing
expressions. Everything was there—shame and an assumption of
insolence, and vexation at the sudden flushing of his face, and anger
and fear of failure, and entreaty to be forgiven for having dared to
pester, and a sense of his own dignity, and a still greater sense of his
own abjectness—all this passed over his face like lightning. For
six whole years he had struggled along in God's world in this way, and
so far had been unable to take up a fitting attitude at the interesting
moment of borrowing money! I need not say that he never could grow
callous and completely abject. His heart was too sensitive, too
passionate! I will say more, indeed: in my opinion, he was one of the
most honest and honourable men in the world, but with a little weakness:
of being ready to do anything abject at any one's bidding,
good-naturedly and disinterestedly, simply to oblige a fellow-creature.
In short, he was what is called "a rag" in the fullest sense of the
word. The most absurd thing was, that he was dressed like any one else,
neither worse nor better, tidily, even with a certain elaborateness, and
actually had pretentions to respectability and personal dignity. This
external equality and internal inequality, his uneasiness about himself
and at the same time his continual self-depreciation—all this was
strikingly incongruous and provocative of laughter and pity. If he had
been convinced in his heart (and in spite of his experience it did
happen to him at moments to believe this) that his audience were the
most good-natured people in the world, who were simply laughing at
something amusing, and not at the sacrifice of his personal dignity, he
would most readily have taken off his coat, put it on wrong side
outwards, and have walked about the streets in that attire for the
diversion of others and his own gratification. But equality he could
never anyhow attain. Another trait: the queer fellow was proud, and
even, by fits and starts, when it was not too risky, generous. It was
worth seeing and hearing how he could sometimes, not sparing himself,
consequently with pluck, almost with heroism, dispose of one of his
patrons who had infuriated him to madness. But that was at moments....
In short, he was a martyr in the fullest sense of the word, but the most
useless and consequently the most comic martyr.
There was a general discussion going on among the guests. All at once
I saw our queer friend jump upon his chair, and call out at the top of
his voice, anxious for the exclusive attention of the company.
"Listen," the master of the house whispered to me. "He sometimes
tells the most curious stories.... Does he interest you?"
I nodded and squeezed myself into the group. The sight of a
well-dressed gentleman jumping upon his chair and shouting at the top of
his voice did, in fact, draw the attention of all. Many who did not know
the queer fellow looked at one another in perplexity, the others roared
"I knew Fedosey Nikolaitch. I ought to know Fedosey Nikolaitch better
than any one!" cried the queer fellow from his elevation. "Gentlemen,
allow me to tell you something. I can tell you a good story about
Fedosey Nikolaitch! I know a story—exquisite!"
"Tell it, Osip Mihalitch, tell it."
"I begin; but, gentlemen, this is a peculiar story...."
"Very good, very good."
"It's a comic story."
"Very good, excellent, splendid. Get on!"
"It is an episode in the private life of your humble...."
"But why do you trouble yourself to announce that it's comic?"
"And even somewhat tragic!"
"In short, the story which it will afford you all pleasure to hear me
now relate, gentlemen—the story, in consequence of which I have
come into company so interesting and profitable...."
"In short the story—make haste and finish the introduction. The
story, which has its value," a fair-haired young man with moustaches
pronounced in a husky voice, dropping his hand into his coat pocket and,
as though by chance, pulling out a purse instead of his
"The story, my dear sirs, after which I should like to see many of
you in my place. And, finally, the story, in consequence of which I have
"Married! A wife! Polzunkov tried to get married!!"
"I confess I should like to see Madame Polzunkov."
"Allow me to inquire the name of the would-be Madame Polzunkov,"
piped a youth, making his way up to the storyteller.
"And so for the first chapter, gentlemen. It was just six years ago,
in spring, the thirty-first of March—note the date,
gentlemen—on the eve...."
"Of the first of April!" cried a young man with ringlets.
"You are extraordinarily quick at guessing. It was evening. Twilight
was gathering over the district town of N., the moon was about to float
out ... everything in proper style, in fact. And so in the very late
twilight I, too, floated out of my poor lodging on the sly—after
taking leave of my restricted granny, now dead. Excuse me, gentlemen,
for making use of such a fashionable expression, which I heard for the
last time from Nikolay Nikolaitch. But my granny was indeed restricted:
she was blind, dumb, deaf, stupid—everything you please.... I
confess I was in a tremor, I was prepared for great deeds; my heart was
beating like a kitten's when some bony hand clutches it by the scruff of
"Excuse me, Monsieur Polzunkov."
"What do you want?"
"Tell it more simply; don't over-exert yourself, please!"
"All right," said Osip Mihalitch, a little taken aback. "I went into
the house of Fedosey Nikolaitch (the house that he had bought). Fedosey
Nikolaitch, as you know, is not a mere colleague, but the full-blown
head of a department. I was announced, and was at once shown into the
study. I can see it now; the room was dark, almost dark, but candles
were not brought. Behold, Fedosey Nikolaitch walks in. There he and I
were left in the darkness...."
"Whatever happened to you?" asked an officer.
"What do you suppose?" asked Polzunkov, turning promptly, with a
convulsively working face, to the young man with ringlets. "Well,
gentlemen, a strange circumstance occurred, though indeed there was
nothing strange in it: it was what is called an everyday affair—I
simply took out of my pocket a roll of paper ... and he a roll of
"Paper notes; and we exchanged."
"I don't mind betting that there's a flavour of bribery about it,"
observed a respectably dressed, closely cropped young gentleman.
"Bribery!" Polzunkov caught him up.
"'Oh, may I be a Liberal,
Such as many I have seen!'
If you, too, when it is your lot to serve in the provinces, do not
warm your hands at your country's hearth.... For as an author said:
'Even the smoke of our native land is sweet to us.' She is our Mother,
gentlemen, our Mother Russia; we are her babes, and so we suck her!"
There was a roar of laughter.
"Only would you believe it, gentlemen, I have never taken bribes?"
said Polzunkov, looking round at the whole company distrustfully.
A prolonged burst of Homeric laughter drowned Polzunkov's words in
"It really is so, gentlemen...."
But here he stopped, still looking round at every one with a strange
expression of face; perhaps—who knows?—at that moment the
thought came into his mind that he was more honest than many of all that
honourable company.... Anyway, the serious expression of his face did
not pass away till the general merriment was quite over.
"And so," Polzunkov began again when all was still, "though I never
did take bribes, yet that time I transgressed; I put in my pocket a
bribe ... from a bribe-taker ... that is, there were certain papers in
my hands which, if I had cared to send to a certain person, it would
have gone ill with Fedosey Nikolaitch."
"So then he bought them from you?"
"Did he give much?"
"He gave as much as many a man nowadays would sell his conscience for
complete, with all its variations ... if only he could get anything for
it. But I felt as though I were scalded when I put the money in my
pocket. I really don't understand what always comes over me,
gentlemen—but I was more dead than alive, my lips twitched and my
legs trembled; well, I was to blame, to blame, entirely to blame. I was
utterly conscience-stricken; I was ready to beg Fedosey Nikolaitch's
"Well, what did he do—did he forgive you?"
"But I didn't ask his forgiveness.... I only mean that that is how I
felt. Then I have a sensitive heart, you know. I saw he was looking me
straight in the face. 'Have you no fear of God, Osip Mihailitch?' said
he. Well, what could I do? From a feeling of propriety I put my head on
one side and I flung up my hands. 'In what way,' said I, 'have I no fear
of God, Fedosey Nikolaitch?' But I just said that from a feeling of
propriety.... I was ready to sink into the earth. 'After being so long a
friend of our family, after being, I may say, like a son—and who
knows what Heaven had in store for us, Osip Mihailitch?—and all of
a sudden to inform against me—to think of that now!... What am I
to think of mankind after that, Osip Mihailitch?' Yes, gentlemen, he did
read me a lecture! 'Come,' he said, 'you tell me what I am to think of
mankind after that, Osip Mihailitch.' 'What is he to think?' I thought;
and do you know, there was a lump in my throat, and my voice was
quivering, and knowing my hateful weakness, I snatched up my hat. 'Where
are you off to, Osip Mihailitch? Surely on the eve of such a day you
cannot bear malice against me? What wrong have I done you?...' 'Fedosey
Nikolaitch,' I said, 'Fedosey Nikolaitch....' In fact, I melted,
gentlemen, I melted like a sugar-stick. And the roll of notes that was
lying in my pocket, that, too, seemed screaming out: 'You ungrateful
brigand, you accursed thief!' It seemed to weigh a hundredweight ... (if
only it had weighed a hundredweight!).... 'I see,' says Fedosey
Nikolaitch, 'I see your penitence ... you know to-morrow....' 'St. Mary
of Egypt's day....' 'Well, don't weep,' said Fedosey Nikolaitch, 'that's
enough: you've erred, and you are penitent! Come along! Maybe I may
succeed in bringing you back again into the true path,' says he ...
'maybe, my modest Penates' (yes,'Penates,' I remember he used that
expression, the rascal) 'will warm,' says he, 'your harden ... I will
not say hardened, but erring heart....' He took me by the arm,
gentlemen, and led me to his family circle. A cold shiver ran down my
back; I shuddered! I thought with what eyes shall I present
myself—you must know, gentlemen ... eh, what shall I say?—a
delicate position had arisen here."
"Not Madame Polzunkov?"
"Marya Fedosyevna, only she was not destined, you know, to bear the
name you have given her; she did not attain that honour. Fedosey
Nikolaitch was right, you see, when he said that I was almost looked
upon as a son in the house; it had been so, indeed, six months before,
when a certain retired junker called Mihailo Maximitch Dvigailov, was
still living. But by God's will he died, and he put off settling his
affairs till death settled his business for him."
"Well, never mind, gentlemen, forgive me, it was a slip of the
tongue. It's a bad pun, but it doesn't matter it's being bad—what
happened was far worse, when I was left, so to say, with nothing in
prospect but a bullet through the brain, for that junker, though he
would not admit me into his house (he lived in grand style, for he had
always known how to feather his nest), yet perhaps correctly he believed
me to be his son."
"Yes, that was how it was! So they began to cold-shoulder me at
Fedosey Nikolaitch's. I noticed things, I kept quiet; but all at once,
unluckily for me (or perhaps luckily!), a cavalry officer galloped into
our little town like snow on our head. His business—buying horses
for the army—was light and active, in cavalry style, but he
settled himself solidly at Fedosey Nikolaitch's, as though he were
laying siege to it! I approached the subject in a roundabout way, as my
nasty habit is; I said one thing and another, asking him what I had done
to be treated so, saying that I was almost like a son to him, and when
might I expect him to behave more like a father.... Well, he began
answering me. And when he begins to speak you are in for a regular epic
in twelve cantos, and all you can do is to listen, lick your lips and
throw up your hands in delight. And not a ha'p'orth of sense, at least
there's no making out the sense. You stand puzzled like a fool—he
puts you in a fog, he twists about like an eel and wriggles away from
you. It's a special gift, a real gift—it's enough to frighten
people even if it is no concern of theirs. I tried one thing and
another, and went hither and thither. I took the lady songs and
presented her with sweets and thought of witty things to say to her. I
tried sighing and groaning. 'My heart aches,' I said, 'it aches from
love.' And I went in for tears and secret explanations. Man is foolish,
you know.... I never reminded myself that I was thirty ... not a bit of
it! I tried all my arts. It was no go. It was a failure, and I gained
nothing but jeers and gibes. I was indignant, I was choking with anger.
I slunk off and would not set foot in the house. I thought and thought
and made up my mind to denounce him. Well, of course, it was a shabby
thing—I meant to give away a friend, I confess. I had heaps of
material and splendid material—a grand case. It brought me fifteen
hundred roubles when I changed it and my report on it for bank
"Ah, so that was the bribe!"
"Yes, sir, that was the bribe—and it was a bribe-taker who had
to pay it—and I didn't do wrong, I can assure you! Well, now I
will go on: he drew me, if you will kindly remember, more dead than
alive into the room where they were having tea. They all met me, seeming
as it were offended, that is, not exactly offended, but hurt—so
hurt that it was simply.... They seemed shattered, absolutely shattered,
and at the same time there was a look of becoming dignity on their
faces, a gravity in their expression, something fatherly, parental ...
the prodigal son had come back to them—that's what it had come to!
They made me sit down to tea, but there was no need to do that: I felt
as though a samovar was toiling in my bosom and my feet were like ice. I
was humbled, I was cowed. Marya Fominishna, his wife, addressed me
familiarly from the first word.
"'How is it you have grown so thin, my boy?'
"'I've not been very well, Marya Fominishna,' I said. My wretched
"And then quite suddenly—she must have been waiting for a
chance to get a dig at me, the old snake—she said—
"'I suppose your conscience felt ill at ease, Osip Mihalitch, my
dear! Our fatherly hospitality was a reproach to you! You have been
punished for the tears I have shed.'
"Yes, upon my word, she really said that—she had the conscience
to say it. Why, that was nothing to her, she was a terror! She did
nothing but sit there and pour out tea. But if you were in the market,
my darling, I thought you'd shout louder than any fishwife there....
That's the kind of woman she was. And then, to my undoing, the daughter,
Marya Fedosyevna, came in, in all her innocence, a little pale and her
eyes red as though she had been weeping. I was bowled over on the spot
like a fool. But it turned out afterwards that the tears were a tribute
to the cavalry officer. He had made tracks for home and taken his hook
for good and all; for you know it was high time for him to be
off—I may as well mention the fact here; not that his leave was up
precisely, but you see.... It was only later that the loving parents
grasped the position and had found out all that had happened.... What
could they do? They hushed their trouble up—an addition to the
"Well, I could not help it—as soon as I looked at her I was
done for; I stole a glance at my hat, I wanted to get up and make off.
But there was no chance of that, they took away my hat.... I must
confess, I did think of getting off without it. 'Well!' I
thought—but no, they latched the doors. There followed friendly
jokes, winking, little airs and graces. I was overcome with
embarrassment, said something stupid, talked nonsense, about love. My
charmer sat down to the piano and with an air of wounded feeling sang
the song about the hussar who leaned upon the sword—that finished
"'Well,' said Fedosey Nikolaitch, 'all is forgotten, come to my
"I fell just as I was, with my face on his waistcoat.
"'My benefactor! You are a father to me!' said I. And I shed floods
of hot tears. Lord, have mercy on us, what a to-do there was! He cried,
his good lady cried, Mashenka cried ... there was a flaxen-headed
creature there, she cried too.... That wasn't enough: the younger
children crept out of all the corners (the Lord had filled their quiver
full) and they howled too.... Such tears, such emotion, such joy! They
found their prodigal, it was like a soldier's return to his home. Then
followed refreshments, we played forfeits, and 'I have a
pain'—'Where is it?'—'In my heart'—'Who gave it you?'
My charmer blushed. The old man and I had some punch—they won me
over and did for me completely.
"I returned to my grandmother with my head in a whirl. I was laughing
all the way home; for full two hours I paced up and down our little
room. I waked up my old granny and told her of my happiness.
"'But did he give you any money, the brigand?'
"'He did, granny, he did, my dear—luck has come to us all of a
heap: we've only to open our hand and take it.'
"I waked up Sofron.
"'Sofron,' I said, 'take off my boots.'
"Sofron pulled off my boots.
"'Come, Sofron, congratulate me now, give me a kiss! I am going to
get married, my lad, I am going to get married. You can get jolly drunk
to-morrow, you can have a spree, my dear soul—your master is
"My heart was full of jokes and laughter. I was beginning to drop off
to sleep, but something made me get up again. I sat in thought:
to-morrow is the first of April, a bright and playful day—what
should I do? And I thought of something. Why, gentlemen, I got out of
bed, lighted a candle, and sat down to the writing-table just as I was.
I was in a fever of excitement, quite carried away—you know,
gentlemen, what it is when a man is quite carried away? I wallowed
joyfully in the mud, my dear friends. You see what I am like; they take
something from you, and you give them something else as well and say,
'Take that, too.' They strike you on the cheek and in your joy you offer
them your whole back. Then they try to lure you like a dog with a bun,
and you embrace them with your foolish paws and fall to kissing them
with all your heart and soul. Why, see what I am doing now, gentlemen!
You are laughing and whispering—I see it! After I have told you
all my story you will begin to turn me into ridicule, you will begin to
attack me, but yet I go on talking and talking and talking! And who
tells me to? Who drives me to do it? Who is standing behind my back
whispering to me, 'Speak, speak and tell them'? And yet I do talk, I go
on telling you, I try to please you as though you were my brothers, all
my dearest friends.... Ech!"
The laughter which had sprung up by degrees on all sides completely
drowned at last the voice of the speaker, who really seemed worked up
into a sort of ecstasy. He paused, for several minutes his eyes strayed
about the company, then suddenly, as though carried away by a whirlwind,
he waved his hand, burst out laughing himself, as though he really found
his position amusing, and fell to telling his story again.
"I scarcely slept all night, gentlemen. I was scribbling all night:
you see, I thought of a trick. Ech, gentlemen, the very thought of it
makes me ashamed. It wouldn't have been so bad if it all had been done
at night—I might have been drunk, blundered, been silly and talked
nonsense—but not a bit of it! I woke up in the morning as soon as
it was light, I hadn't slept more than an hour or two, and was in the
same mind. I dressed, I washed, I curled and pomaded my hair, put on my
new dress coat and went straight off to spend the holiday with Fedosey
Nikolaitch, and I kept the joke I had written in my hat. He met me again
with open arms, and invited me again to his fatherly waistcoat. But I
assumed an air of dignity. I had the joke I thought of the night before
in my mind. I drew a step back.
"'No, Fedosey Nikolaitch, but will you please read this letter,' and
I gave it him together with my daily report. And do you know what was in
it? Why, 'for such and such reasons the aforesaid Osip Mihalitch asks to
be discharged,' and under my petition I signed my full rank! Just think
what a notion! Good Lord, it was the cleverest thing I could think of!
As to-day was the first of April, I was pretending, for the sake of a
joke, that my resentment was not over, that I had changed my mind in the
night and was grumpy, and more offended than ever, as though to say, 'My
dear benefactor, I don't want to know you nor your daughter either. I
put the money in my pocket yesterday, so I am secure—so here's my
petition for a transfer to be discharged. I don't care to serve under
such a chief as Fedosey Nikolaitch. I want to go into a different office
and then, maybe, I'll inform.' I pretended to be a regular scoundrel, I
wanted to frighten them. And a nice way of frightening them, wasn't it?
A pretty thing, gentlemen, wasn't it? You see, my heart had grown tender
towards them since the day before, so I thought I would have a little
joke at the family—I would tease the fatherly heart of Fedosey
"As soon as he took my letter and opened it, I saw his whole
"'What's the meaning of this, Osip Mihalitch?'
"And like a little fool I said—
"'The first of April! Many happy returns of the day, Fedosey
Nikolaitch!' just like a silly school-boy who hides behind his
grandmother's arm-chair and then shouts 'oof' into her ear suddenly at
the top of his voice, meaning to frighten her. Yes ... yes, I feel quite
ashamed to talk about it, gentlemen! No, I won't tell you."
"Nonsense! What happened then?"
"Nonsense, nonsense! Tell us! Yes, do," rose on all sides.
"There was an outcry and a hullabaloo, my dear friends! Such
exclamations of surprise! And 'you mischievous fellow, you naughty man,'
and what a fright I had given them—and all so sweet that I felt
ashamed and wondered how such a holy place could be profaned by a sinner
"'Well, my dear boy,' piped the mamma, 'you gave me such a fright
that my legs are all of a tremble still, I can hardly stand on my feet!
I ran to Masha as though I were crazy: "Mashenka," I said, "what will
become of us! See how your friend has turned out!" and I was
unjust to you, my dear boy. You must forgive an old woman like me, I was
taken in! Well, I thought, when he got home last night, he got home
late, he began thinking and perhaps he fancied that we sent for him on
purpose, yesterday, that we wanted to get hold of him. I turned cold at
the thought! Give over, Mashenka, don't go on winking at me—Osip
Mihalitch isn't a stranger! I am your mother, I am not likely to say any
harm! Thank God, I am not twenty, but turned forty-five.'
"Well, gentlemen, I almost flopped at her feet on the spot. Again
there were tears, again there were kisses. Jokes began. Fedosey
Nikolaitch, too, thought he would make April fools of us. He told us the
fiery bird had flown up with a letter in her diamond beak! He tried to
take us in, too—didn't we laugh? weren't we touched? Foo! I feel
ashamed to talk about it.
"Well, my good friends, the end is not far off now. One day passed,
two, three, a week; I was regularly engaged to her. I should think so!
The wedding rings were ordered, the day was fixed, only they did not
want to make it public for a time—they wanted to wait for the
Inspector's visit to be over. I was all impatience for the Inspector's
arrival—my happiness depended upon him. I was in a hurry to get
his visit over. And in the excitement and rejoicing Fedosey Nikolaitch
threw all the work upon me: writing up the accounts, making up the
reports, checking the books, balancing the totals. I found things in
terrible disorder—everything had been neglected, there were
muddles and irregularities everywhere. Well, I thought, I must do my
best for my father-in-law! And he was ailing all the time, he was taken
ill, it appears; he seemed to get worse day by day. And, indeed, I grew
as thin as a rake myself, I was afraid I would break down. However, I
finished the work grandly. I got things straight for him in time.
"Suddenly they sent a messenger for me. I ran headlong—what
could it be? I saw my Fedosey Nikolaitch, his head bandaged up in a
vinegar compress, frowning, sighing, and moaning.
"'My dear boy, my son,' he said, 'if I die, to whom shall I leave
you, my darlings?'
"His wife trailed in with all his children; Mashenka was in tears and
I blubbered, too.
"'Oh no,' he said. 'God will be merciful, He will not visit my
transgressions on you.'
"Then he dismissed them all, told me to shut the door after them, and
we were left alone, tête-à-tête.
"'I have a favour to ask of you.'
"'Well, my dear boy, there is no rest for me even on my deathbed. I
am in want.'
"'How so?' I positively flushed crimson, I could hardly speak.
"'Why, I had to pay some of my own money into the Treasury. I grudge
nothing for the public weal, my boy! I don't grudge my life. Don't you
imagine any ill. I am sad to think that slanderers have blackened my
name to you.... You were mistaken, my hair has gone white from grief.
The Inspector is coming down upon us and Matveyev is seven thousand
roubles short, and I shall have to answer for it.... Who else? It will
be visited upon me, my boy: where were my eyes? And how can we get it
from Matveyev? He has had trouble enough already: why should I bring the
poor fellow to ruin?'
"'Holy saints!' I thought, 'what a just man! What a heart!'
"'And I don't want to take my daughter's money, which has been set
aside for her dowry: that sum is sacred. I have money of my own, it's
true, but I have lent it all to friends—how is one to collect it
all in a minute?'
"I simply fell on my knees before him. 'My benefactor!' I cried,
'I've wronged you, I have injured you; it was slanderers who wrote
against you; don't break my heart, take back your money!'
"He looked at me and there were tears in his eyes. 'That was just
what I expected from you, my son. Get up! I forgave you at the time for
the sake of my daughter's tears—now my heart forgives you freely!
You have healed my wounds. I bless you for all time!'
"Well, when he blessed me, gentlemen, I scurried home as soon as I
could. I got the money:
"'Here, father, here's the money. I've only spent fifty roubles.'
"'Well, that's all right,' he said. 'But now every trifle may count;
the time is short, write a report dated some days ago that you were
short of money and had taken fifty roubles on account. I'll tell the
authorities you had it in advance.'
"Well, gentlemen, what do you think? I did write that report,
"Well, what then? What happened? How did it end?"
"As soon as I had written the report, gentlemen, this is how it
ended. The next day, in the early morning, an envelope with a government
seal arrived. I looked at it and what had I got? The sack! That is,
instructions to hand over my work, to deliver the accounts—and to
go about my business!"
"That's just what I cried at the top of my voice, 'How so?'
Gentlemen, there was a ringing in my ears. I thought there was no
special reason for it—but no, the Inspector had arrived in the
town. My heart sank. 'It's not for nothing,' I thought. And just as I
was I rushed off to Fedosey Nikolaitch.
"'How is this?' I said.
"'What do you mean?' he said.
"'Why, I am dismissed.'
"'Why, look at this!'
"'Well, what of it?'
"'Why, but I didn't ask for it!'
"'Yes, you did—you sent in your papers on the first
of—April.' (I had never taken that letter back!)
"'Fedosey Nikolaitch! I can't believe my ears, I can't believe my
eyes! Is this you?'
"'It is me, why?'
"'I am sorry, sir. I am very sorry that you made up your mind to
retire from the service so early. A young man ought to be in the
service, and you've begun to be a little light-headed of late. And as
for your character, set your mind at rest: I'll see to that! Your
behaviour has always been so exemplary!'
"'But that was a little joke, Fedosey Nikolaitch! I didn't mean it, I
just gave you the letter for your fatherly ... that's all.'
"'That's all? A queer joke, sir! Does one jest with documents like
that? Why, you are sometimes sent to Siberia for such jokes. Now,
good-bye. I am busy. We have the Inspector here—the duties of the
service before everything; you can kick up your heels, but we have to
sit here at work. But I'll get you a character——Oh, another
thing: I've just bought a house from Matveyev. We are moving in in a day
or two. So I expect I shall not have the pleasure of seeing you at our
new residence. Bon voyage!'
"I ran home.
"'We are lost, granny!'
"She wailed, poor dear, and then I saw the page from Fedosey
Nikolaitch's running up with a note and a bird-cage, and in the cage
there was a starling. In the fullness of my heart I had given her the
starling. And in the note there were the words: 'April 1st,' and nothing
more. What do you think of that, gentlemen?"
"What happened then? What happened then?"
"What then! I met Fedosey Nikolaitch once, I meant to tell him to his
face he was a scoundrel."
"But somehow I couldn't bring myself to it, gentlemen."