Translated from the Russian
By CONSTANCE GARNETT
I. HOR AND KALINITCH
II. YERMOLAÏ AND THE MILLER'S WIFE
III. RASPBERRY SPRING
IV. THE DISTRICT DOCTOR
V. MY NEIGHBOUR RADILOV
VI. THE PEASANT PROPRIETOR OVSYANIKOV
VIII. BYEZHIN PRAIRIE
IX. KASSYAN OF FAIR SPRINGS
X. THE AGENT
XI. THE COUNTING-HOUSE
XIII. TWO COUNTRY GENTLEMEN
HOR AND KALINITCH
Anyone who has chanced to pass from the Bolhovsky district into the
Zhizdrinsky district, must have been impressed by the striking
difference between the race of people in the province of Orel and the
population of the province of Kaluga. The peasant of Orel is not tall,
is bent in figure, sullen and suspicious in his looks; he lives in
wretched little hovels of aspen-wood, labours as a serf in the fields,
and engages in no kind of trading, is miserably fed, and wears slippers
of bast: the rent-paying peasant of Kaluga lives in roomy cottages of
pine-wood; he is tall, bold, and cheerful in his looks, neat and clean
of countenance; he carries on a trade in butter and tar, and on
holidays he wears boots. The village of the Orel province (we are
speaking now of the eastern part of the province) is usually situated
in the midst of ploughed fields, near a water-course which has been
converted into a filthy pool. Except for a few of the
ever-accommodating willows, and two or three gaunt birch-trees, you do
not see a tree for a mile round; hut is huddled up against hut, their
roofs covered with rotting thatch…. The villages of Kaluga, on the
contrary, are generally surrounded by forest; the huts stand more
freely, are more upright, and have boarded roofs; the gates fasten
closely, the hedge is not broken down nor trailing about; there are no
gaps to invite the visits of the passing pig…. And things are much
better in the Kaluga province for the sportsman. In the Orel province
the last of the woods and copses will have disappeared five years
hence, and there is no trace of moorland left; in Kaluga, on the
contrary, the moors extend over tens, the forest over hundreds of
miles, and a splendid bird, the grouse, is still extant there; there
are abundance of the friendly larger snipe, and the loud-clapping
partridge cheers and startles the sportsman and his dog by its abrupt
On a visit to the Zhizdrinsky district in search of sport, I met in the
fields a petty proprietor of the Kaluga province called Polutikin, and
made his acquaintance. He was an enthusiastic sportsman; it follows,
therefore, that he was an excellent fellow. He was liable, indeed, to a
few weaknesses; he used, for instance, to pay his addresses to every
unmarried heiress in the province, and when he had been refused her
hand and house, broken-hearted he confided his sorrows to all his
friends and acquaintances, and continued to shower offerings of sour
peaches and other raw produce from his garden upon the young lady's
relatives; he was fond of repeating one and the same anecdote, which,
in spite of Mr. Polutikin's appreciation of its merits, had certainly
never amused anyone; he admired the works of Akim Nahimov and the novel
Pinna; he stammered; he called his dog Astronomer; instead of
'however' said 'howsomever'; and had established in his household a
French system of cookery, the secret of which consisted, according to
his cook's interpretation, in a complete transformation of the natural
taste of each dish; in this artiste's hands meat assumed the flavour
of fish, fish of mushrooms, macaroni of gunpowder; to make up for this,
not a single carrot went into the soup without taking the shape of a
rhombus or a trapeze. But, with the exception of these few and
insignificant failings, Mr. Polutikin was, as has been said already, an
On the first day of my acquaintance with Mr. Polutikin, he invited me
to stay the night at his house.
'It will be five miles farther to my house,' he added; 'it's a long way
to walk; let us first go to Hor's.' (The reader must excuse my omitting
'Who is Hor?'
'A peasant of mine. He is quite close by here.'
We went in that direction. In a well-cultivated clearing in the middle
of the forest rose Hor's solitary homestead. It consisted of several
pine-wood buildings, enclosed by plank fences; a porch ran along the
front of the principal building, supported on slender posts. We went
in. We were met by a young lad of twenty, tall and good-looking.
'Ah, Fedya! is Hor at home?' Mr. Polutikin asked him.
'No. Hor has gone into town,' answered the lad, smiling and showing a
row of snow-white teeth. 'You would like the little cart brought out?'
'Yes, my boy, the little cart. And bring us some kvas.'
We went into the cottage. Not a single cheap glaring print was pasted
up on the clean boards of the walls; in the corner, before the heavy,
holy picture in its silver setting, a lamp was burning; the table of
linden-wood had been lately planed and scrubbed; between the joists and
in the cracks of the window-frames there were no lively Prussian
beetles running about, nor gloomy cockroaches in hiding. The young lad
soon reappeared with a great white pitcher filled with excellent kvas,
a huge hunch of wheaten bread, and a dozen salted cucumbers in a wooden
bowl. He put all these provisions on the table, and then, leaning with
his back against the door, began to gaze with a smiling face at us. We
had not had time to finish eating our lunch when the cart was already
rattling before the doorstep. We went out. A curly-headed, rosy-cheeked
boy of fifteen was sitting in the cart as driver, and with difficulty
holding in the well-fed piebald horse. Round the cart stood six young
giants, very like one another, and Fedya.
'All of these Hor's sons!' said Polutikin.
'These are all Horkies' (i.e. wild cats), put in Fedya, who had come
after us on to the step; 'but that's not all of them: Potap is in the
wood, and Sidor has gone with old Hor to the town. Look out, Vasya,' he
went on, turning to the coachman; 'drive like the wind; you are driving
the master. Only mind what you're about over the ruts, and easy a
little; don't tip the cart over, and upset the master's stomach!'
The other Horkies smiled at Fedya's sally. 'Lift Astronomer in!' Mr.
Polutikin called majestically. Fedya, not without amusement, lifted the
dog, who wore a forced smile, into the air, and laid her at the bottom
of the cart. Vasya let the horse go. We rolled away. 'And here is my
counting-house,' said Mr. Polutikin suddenly to me, pointing to a
little low-pitched house. 'Shall we go in?' 'By all means.' 'It is no
longer used,' he observed, going in; 'still, it is worth looking at.'
The counting-house consisted of two empty rooms. The caretaker, a
one-eyed old man, ran out of the yard. 'Good day, Minyaitch,' said Mr.
Polutikin; 'bring us some water.' The one-eyed old man disappeared, and
at once returned with a bottle of water and two glasses. 'Taste it,'
Polutikin said to me; 'it is splendid spring water.' We drank off a
glass each, while the old man bowed low. 'Come, now, I think we can go
on,' said my new Friend. 'In that counting-house I sold the merchant
Alliluev four acres of forest-land for a good price.' We took our seats
in the cart, and in half-an-hour we had reached the court of the
'Tell me, please,' I asked Polutikin at supper; 'why does Hor live
apart from your other peasants?'
'Well, this is why; he is a clever peasant. Twenty-five years ago his
cottage was burnt down; so he came up to my late father and said:
"Allow me, Nikolai Kouzmitch," says he, "to settle in your forest, on
the bog. I will pay you a good rent." "But what do you want to settle
on the bog for?" "Oh, I want to; only, your honour, Nikolai Kouzmitch,
be so good as not to claim any labour from me, but fix a rent as you
think best." "Fifty roubles a year!" "Very well." "But I'll have no
arrears, mind!" "Of course, no arrears"; and so he settled on the bog.
Since then they have called him Hor' (i.e. wild cat).
'Well, and has he grown rich?' I inquired.
'Yes, he has grown rich. Now he pays me a round hundred for rent, and I
shall raise it again, I dare say. I have said to him more than once,
"Buy your freedom, Hor; come, buy your freedom." … But he declares,
the rogue, that he can't; has no money, he says…. As though that were
The next day, directly after our morning tea, we started out hunting
again. As we were driving through the village, Mr. Polutikin ordered
the coachman to stop at a low-pitched cottage and called loudly,
'Kalinitch!' 'Coming, your honour, coming' sounded a voice from the
yard; 'I am tying on my shoes.' We went on at a walk; outside the
village a man of about forty over-took us. He was tall and thin, with a
small and erect head. It was Kalinitch. His good-humoured; swarthy
face, somewhat pitted with small-pox, pleased me from the first glance.
Kalinitch (as I learnt afterwards) went hunting every day with his
master, carried his bag, and sometimes also his gun, noted where game
was to be found, fetched water, built shanties, and gathered
strawberries, and ran behind the droshky; Mr. Polutikin could not stir
a step without him. Kalinitch was a man of the merriest and gentlest
disposition; he was constantly singing to himself in a low voice, and
looking carelessly about him. He spoke a little through his nose, with
a laughing twinkle in his light blue eyes, and he had a habit of
plucking at his scanty, wedge-shaped beard with his hand. He walked not
rapidly, but with long strides, leaning lightly on a long thin staff.
He addressed me more than once during the day, and he waited on me
without, obsequiousness, but he looked after his master as if he were a
child. When the unbearable heat drove us at mid-day to seek shelter, he
took us to his beehouse in the very heart of the forest. There
Kalinitch opened the little hut for us, which was hung round with
bunches of dry scented herbs. He made us comfortable on some dry hay,
and then put a kind of bag of network over his head, took a knife, a
little pot, and a smouldering stick, and went to the hive to cut us out
some honey-comb. We had a draught of spring water after the warm
transparent honey, and then dropped asleep to the sound of the
monotonous humming of the bees and the rustling chatter of the leaves.
A slight gust of wind awakened me…. I opened my eyes and saw
Kalinitch: he was sitting on the threshold of the half-opened door,
carving a spoon with his knife. I gazed a long time admiring his face,
as sweet and clear as an evening sky. Mr. Polutikin too woke up. We did
not get up at once. After our long walk and our deep sleep it was
pleasant to lie without moving in the hay; we felt weary and languid in
body, our faces were in a slight glow of warmth, our eyes were closed
in delicious laziness. At last we got up, and set off on our wanderings
again till evening. At supper I began again to talk of Hor and
Kalinitch. 'Kalinitch is a good peasant,' Mr. Polutikin told me; 'he is
a willing and useful peasant; he can't farm his land properly; I am
always taking him away from it. He goes out hunting every day with
me…. You can judge for yourself how his farming must fare.'
I agreed with him, and we went to bed.
The next day Mr. Polutikin was obliged to go to town about some
business with his neighbour Pitchukoff. This neighbour Pitchukoff had
ploughed over some land of Polutikin's, and had flogged a peasant woman
of his on this same piece of land. I went out hunting alone, and before
evening I turned into Hor's house. On the threshold of the cottage I
was met by an old man—bald, short, broad-shouldered, and stout—Hor
himself. I looked with curiosity at the man. The cut of his face
recalled Socrates; there was the same high, knobby forehead, the same
little eyes, the same snub nose. We went into the cottage together. The
same Fedya brought me some milk and black bread. Hor sat down on a
bench, and, quietly stroking his curly beard, entered into conversation
with me. He seemed to know his own value; he spoke and moved slowly;
from time to time a chuckle came from between his long moustaches.
We discussed the sowing, the crops, the peasant's life…. He always
seemed to agree with me; only afterwards I had a sense of awkwardness
and felt I was talking foolishly…. In this way our conversation was
rather curious. Hor, doubtless through caution, expressed himself very
obscurely at times…. Here is a specimen of our talk.
"Tell me, Hor," I said to him, "why don't you buy your freedom from
"And what would I buy my freedom for? Now I know my master, and I know
my rent…. We have a good master."
'It's always better to be free,' I remarked. Hor gave me a dubious look.
'Surely,' he said.
'Well, then, why don't you buy your freedom?' Hor shook his head.
'What would you have me buy it with, your honour?'
'Oh, come, now, old man!'
'If Hor were thrown among free men,' he continued in an undertone, as
though to himself, 'everyone without a beard would be a better man than
'Then shave your beard.'
'What is a beard? a beard is grass: one can cut it.'
'But Hor will be a merchant straight away; and merchants have a fine
life, and they have beards.'
'Why, do you do a little trading too?' I asked him.
'We trade a little in a little butter and a little tar…. Would your
honour like the cart put to?'
'You're a close man and keep a tight rein on your tongue,' I thought to
myself. 'No,' I said aloud, 'I don't want the cart; I shall want to be
near your homestead to-morrow, and if you will let me, I will stay the
night in your hay-barn.'
'You are very welcome. But will you be comfortable in the barn? I will
tell the women to lay a sheet and put you a pillow…. Hey, girls!' he
cried, getting up from his place; 'here, girls!… And you, Fedya, go
with them. Women, you know, are foolish folk.'
A quarter of an hour later Fedya conducted me with a lantern to the
barn. I threw myself down on the fragrant hay; my dog curled himself up
at my feet; Fedya wished me good-night; the door creaked and slammed
to. For rather a long time I could not get to sleep. A cow came up to
the door, and breathed heavily twice; the dog growled at her with
dignity; a pig passed by, grunting pensively; a horse somewhere near
began to munch the hay and snort…. At last I fell asleep.
At sunrise Fedya awakened me. This brisk, lively young man pleased me;
and, from what I could see, he was old Hor's favourite too. They used
to banter one another in a very friendly way. The old man came to meet
me. Whether because I had spent the night under his roof, or for some
other reason, Hor certainly treated me far more cordially than the day
'The samovar is ready,' he told me with a smile; 'let us come and have
We took our seats at the table. A robust-looking peasant woman, one of
his daughters-in-law, brought in a jug of milk. All his sons came one
after another into the cottage.
'What a fine set of fellows you have!' I remarked to the old man.
'Yes,' he said, breaking off a tiny piece of sugar with his teeth; 'me
and my old woman have nothing to complain of, seemingly.'
'And do they all live with you?'
'Yes; they choose to, themselves, and so they live here.'
'And are they all married?'
'Here's one not married, the scamp!' he answered, pointing to Fedya,
who was leaning as before against the door. 'Vaska, he's still too
young; he can wait.'
'And why should I get married?' retorted Fedya; 'I'm very well off as I
am. What do I want a wife for? To squabble with, eh?'
'Now then, you … ah, I know you! you wear a silver ring…. You'd
always be after the girls up at the manor house…. "Have done, do, for
shame!"' the old man went on, mimicking the servant girls. 'Ah, I know
you, you white-handed rascal!'
'But what's the good of a peasant woman?'
'A peasant woman—is a labourer,' said Hor seriously; 'she is the
'And what do I want with a labourer?'
'I dare say; you'd like to play with the fire and let others burn their
fingers: we know the sort of chap you are.'
'Well, marry me, then. Well, why don't you answer?'
'There, that's enough, that's enough, giddy pate! You see we're
disturbing the gentleman. I'll marry you, depend on it…. And you,
your honour, don't be vexed with him; you see, he's only a baby; he's
not had time to get much sense.'
Fedya shook his head.
'Is Hor at home?' sounded a well-known voice; and Kalinitch came into
the cottage with a bunch of wild strawberries in his hands, which he
had gathered for his friend Hor. The old man gave him a warm welcome. I
looked with surprise at Kalinitch. I confess I had not expected such a
delicate attention on the part of a peasant.
That day I started out to hunt four hours later than usual, and the
following three days I spent at Hor's. My new friends interested me. I
don't know how I had gained their confidence, but they began to talk to
me without constraint. The two friends were not at all alike. Hor was a
positive, practical man, with a head for management, a rationalist;
Kalinitch, on the other hand, belonged to the order of idealists and
dreamers, of romantic and enthusiastic spirits. Hor had a grasp of
actuality—that is to say, he looked ahead, was saving a little money,
kept on good terms with his master and the other authorities; Kalinitch
wore shoes of bast, and lived from hand to mouth. Hor had reared a
large family, who were obedient and united; Kalinitch had once had a
wife, whom he had been afraid of, and he had had no children. Hor took
a very critical view of Mr. Polutikin; Kalinitch revered his master.
Hor loved Kalinitch, and took protecting care of him; Kalinitch loved
and respected Hor. Hor spoke little, chuckled, and thought for himself;
Kalinitch expressed himself with warmth, though he had not the flow of
fine language of a smart factory hand. But Kalinitch was endowed with
powers which even Hor recognised; he could charm away haemorrhages,
fits, madness, and worms; his bees always did well; he had a light
hand. Hor asked him before me to introduce a newly bought horse to his
stable, and with scrupulous gravity Kalinitch carried out the old
sceptic's request. Kalinitch was in closer contact with nature; Hor
with men and society. Kalinitch had no liking for argument, and
believed in everything blindly; Hor had reached even an ironical point
of view of life. He had seen and experienced much, and I learnt a good
deal from him. For instance, from his account I learnt that every year
before mowing-time a small, peculiar-looking cart makes its appearance
in the villages. In this cart sits a man in a long coat, who sells
scythes. He charges one rouble twenty-five copecks—a rouble and a half
in notes—for ready money; four roubles if he gives credit. All the
peasants, of course, take the scythes from him on credit. In two or
three weeks he reappears and asks for the money. As the peasant has
only just cut his oats, he is able to pay him; he goes with the
merchant to the tavern, and there the debt is settled. Some landowners
conceived the idea of buying the scythes themselves for ready money and
letting the peasants have them on credit for the same price; but the
peasants seemed dissatisfied, even dejected; they had deprived them of
the pleasure of tapping the scythe and listening to the ring of the
metal, turning it over and over in their hands, and telling the
scoundrelly city-trader twenty times over, 'Eh, my friend, you won't
take me in with your scythe!' The same tricks are played over the sale
of sickles, only with this difference, that the women have a hand in
the business then, and they sometimes drive the trader himself to the
necessity—for their good, of course—of beating them. But the women
suffer most ill-treatment through the following circumstances.
Contractors for the supply of stuff for paper factories employ for the
purchase of rags a special class of men, who in some districts are
called eagles. Such an 'eagle' receives two hundred roubles in
bank-notes from the merchant, and starts off in search of his prey.
But, unlike the noble bird from whom he has derived his name, he does
not swoop down openly and boldly upon it; quite the contrary; the
'eagle' has recourse to deceit and cunning. He leaves his cart
somewhere in a thicket near the village, and goes himself to the
back-yards and back-doors, like someone casually passing, or simply a
tramp. The women scent out his proximity and steal out to meet him. The
bargain is hurriedly concluded. For a few copper half-pence a woman
gives the 'eagle' not only every useless rag she has, but often even
her husband's shirt and her own petticoat. Of late the women have
thought it profitable to steal even from themselves, and to sell hemp
in the same way—a great extension and improvement of the business for
the 'eagles'! To meet this, however, the peasants have grown more
cunning in their turn, and on the slightest suspicion, on the most
distant rumors of the approach of an 'eagle,' they have prompt and
sharp recourse to corrective and preventive measures. And, after all,
wasn't it disgraceful? To sell the hemp was the men's business—and
they certainly do sell it—not in the town (they would have to drag it
there themselves), but to traders who come for it, who, for want of
scales, reckon forty handfuls to the pood—and you know what a
Russian's hand is and what it can hold, especially when he 'tries his
best'! As I had had no experience and was not 'country-bred' (as they
say in Orel) I heard plenty of such descriptions. But Hor was not
always the narrator; he questioned me too about many things. He learned
that I had been in foreign parts, and his curiosity was aroused….
Kalinitch was not behind him in curiosity; but he was more attracted by
descriptions of nature, of mountains and waterfalls, extraordinary
buildings and great towns; Hor was interested in questions of
government and administration. He went through everything in order.
'Well, is that with them as it is with us, or different?… Come, tell
us, your honour, how is it?' 'Ah, Lord, thy will be done!' Kalinitch
would exclaim while I told my story; Hor did not speak, but frowned
with his bushy eyebrows, only observing at times, 'That wouldn't do for
us; still, it's a good thing—it's right.' All his inquiries, I cannot
recount, and it is unnecessary; but from our conversations I carried
away one conviction, which my readers will certainly not anticipate …
the conviction that Peter the Great was pre-eminently a
Russian—Russian, above all, in his reforms. The Russian is so
convinced of his own strength and powers that he is not afraid of
putting himself to severe strain; he takes little interest in his past,
and looks boldly forward. What is good he likes, what is sensible he
will have, and where it comes from he does not care. His vigorous sense
is fond of ridiculing the thin theorising of the German; but, in Hor's
words, 'The Germans are curious folk,' and he was ready to learn from
them a little. Thanks to his exceptional position, his practical
independence, Hor told me a great deal which you could not screw or—as
the peasants say—grind with a grindstone, out of any other man. He
did, in fact, understand his position. Talking with Hor, I for the
first time listened to the simple, wise discourse of the Russian
peasant. His acquirements were, in his own opinion, wide enough; but he
could not read, though Kalinitch could. 'That ne'er-do-weel has
school-learning,' observed Hor, 'and his bees never die in the winter.'
'But haven't you had your children taught to read?' Hor was silent a
minute. 'Fedya can read.' 'And the others?' 'The others can't.' 'And
why?' The old man made no answer, and changed the subject. However,
sensible as he was, he had many prejudices and crotchets. He despised
women, for instance, from the depths of his soul, and in his merry
moments he amused himself by jesting at their expense. His wife was a
cross old woman who lay all day long on the stove, incessantly
grumbling and scolding; her sons paid no attention to her, but she kept
her daughters-in-law in the fear of God. Very significantly the
mother-in-law sings in the Russian ballad: 'What a son art thou to me!
What a head of a household! Thou dost not beat thy wife; thou dost not
beat thy young wife….' I once attempted to intercede for the
daughters-in-law, and tried to rouse Hor's sympathy; but he met me with
the tranquil rejoinder, 'Why did I want to trouble about such …
trifles; let the women fight it out. … If anything separates them, it
only makes it worse … and it's not worth dirtying one's hands over.'
Sometimes the spiteful old woman got down from the stove and called the
yard dog out of the hay, crying, 'Here, here, doggie'; and then beat it
on its thin back with the poker, or she would stand in the porch and
'snarl,' as Hor expressed it, at everyone that passed. She stood in awe
of her husband though, and would return, at his command, to her place
on the stove. It was specially curious to hear Hor and Kalinitch
dispute whenever Mr. Polutikin was touched upon.
'There, Hor, do let him alone,' Kalinitch would say. 'But why doesn't
he order some boots for you?' Hor retorted. 'Eh? boots!… what do I
want with boots? I am a peasant.' 'Well, so am I a peasant, but look!'
And Hor lifted up his leg and showed Kalinitch a boot which looked as
if it had been cut out of a mammoth's hide. 'As if you were like one of
us!' replied Kalinitch. 'Well, at least he might pay for your bast
shoes; you go out hunting with him; you must use a pair a day.' 'He
does give me something for bast shoes.' 'Yes, he gave you two coppers
Kalinitch turned away in vexation, but Hor went off into a chuckle,
during which his little eyes completely disappeared.
Kalinitch sang rather sweetly and played a little on the balalaëca. Hor
was never weary of listening to him: all at once he would let his head
drop on one side and begin to chime in, in a lugubrious voice. He was
particularly fond of the song, 'Ah, my fate, my fate!' Fedya never lost
an opportunity of making fun of his father, saying, 'What are you so
mournful about, old man?' But Hor leaned his cheek on his hand, covered
his eyes, and continued to mourn over his fate…. Yet at other times
there could not be a more active man; he was always busy over
something—mending the cart, patching up the fence, looking after the
harness. He did not insist on a very high degree of cleanliness,
however; and, in answer to some remark of mine, said once, 'A cottage
ought to smell as if it were lived in.'
'Look,' I answered, 'how clean it is in Kalinitch's beehouse.'
'The bees would not live there else, your honour,' he said with a sigh.
'Tell me,' he asked me another time, 'have you an estate of your own?'
'Yes.' 'Far from here?' 'A hundred miles.' 'Do you live on your land,
your honour?' 'Yes.'
'But you like your gun best, I dare say?'
'Yes, I must confess I do.' 'And you do well, your honour; shoot grouse
to your heart's content, and change your bailiff pretty often.'
On the fourth day Mr. Polutikin sent for me in the evening. I was sorry
to part from the old man. I took my seat with Kalinitch in the trap.
'Well, good-bye, Hor—good luck to you,' I said; 'good-bye, Fedya.'
'Good-bye, your honour, good-bye; don't forget us.' We started; there
was the first red glow of sunset. 'It will be a fine day to-morrow,' I
remarked looking at the clear sky. 'No, it will rain,' Kalinitch
replied; 'the ducks yonder are splashing, and the scent of the grass is
strong.' We drove into the copse. Kalinitch began singing in an
undertone as he was jolted up and down on the driver's seat, and he
kept gazing and gazing at the sunset.
The next day I left the hospitable roof of Mr. Polutikin.
YERMOLAÏ AND THE MILLER'S WIFE
One evening I went with the huntsman Yermolaï 'stand-shooting.' … But
perhaps all my readers may not know what 'stand-shooting' is. I will
A quarter of an hour before sunset in spring-time you go out into the
woods with your gun, but without your dog. You seek out a spot for
yourself on the outskirts of the forest, take a look round, examine
your caps, and glance at your companion. A quarter of an hour passes;
the sun has set, but it is still light in the forest; the sky is clear
and transparent; the birds are chattering and twittering; the young
grass shines with the brilliance of emerald…. You wait. Gradually the
recesses of the forest grow dark; the blood-red glow of the evening sky
creeps slowly on to the roots and the trunks of the trees, and keeps
rising higher and higher, passes from the lower, still almost leafless
branches, to the motionless, slumbering tree-tops…. And now even the
topmost branches are darkened; the purple sky fades to dark-blue. The
forest fragrance grows stronger; there is a scent of warmth and damp
earth; the fluttering breeze dies away at your side. The birds go to
sleep—not all at once—but after their kinds; first the finches are
hushed, a few minutes later the warblers, and after them the yellow
buntings. In the forest it grows darker and darker. The trees melt
together into great masses of blackness; in the dark-blue sky the first
stars come timidly out. All the birds are asleep. Only the redstarts
and the nuthatches are still chirping drowsily…. And now they too are
still. The last echoing call of the pee-wit rings over our heads; the
oriole's melancholy cry sounds somewhere in the distance; then the
nightingale's first note. Your heart is weary with suspense, when
suddenly—but only sportsmen can understand me—suddenly in the deep
hush there is a peculiar croaking and whirring sound, the measured
sweep of swift wings is heard, and the snipe, gracefully bending its
long beak, sails smoothly down behind a dark bush to meet your shot.
That is the meaning of 'stand-shooting.' And so I had gone out
stand-shooting with Yermolaï; but excuse me, reader: I must first
introduce you to Yermolaï.
Picture to yourself a tall gaunt man of forty-five, with a long thin
nose, a narrow forehead, little grey eyes, a bristling head of hair,
and thick sarcastic lips. This man wore, winter and summer alike, a
yellow nankin coat of German cut, but with a sash round the waist; he
wore blue pantaloons and a cap of astrakhan, presented to him in a
merry hour by a spendthrift landowner. Two bags were fastened on to his
sash, one in front, skilfully tied into two halves, for powder and for
shot; the other behind for game: wadding Yermolaï used to produce out
of his peculiar, seemingly inexhaustible cap. With the money he gained
by the game he sold, he might easily have bought himself a
cartridge-box and powder-flask; but he never once even contemplated
such a purchase, and continued to load his gun after his old fashion,
exciting the admiration of all beholders by the skill with which he
avoided the risks of spilling or mixing his powder and shot. His gun
was a single-barrelled flint-lock, endowed, moreover, with a villainous
habit of 'kicking.' It was due to this that Yermolaï's right cheek was
permanently swollen to a larger size than the left. How he ever
succeeded in hitting anything with this gun, it would take a shrewd man
to discover—but he did. He had too a setter-dog, by name Valetka, a
most extraordinary creature. Yermolaï never fed him. 'Me feed a dog!'
he reasoned; 'why, a dog's a clever beast; he finds a living for
himself.' And certainly, though Valetka's extreme thinness was a shock
even to an indifferent observer, he still lived and had a long life;
and in spite of his pitiable position he was not even once lost, and
never showed an inclination to desert his master. Once indeed, in his
youth, he had absented himself for two days, on courting bent, but this
folly was soon over with him. Valetka's most noticeable peculiarity was
his impenetrable indifference to everything in the world…. If it were
not a dog I was speaking of, I should have called him 'disillusioned.'
He usually sat with his cropped tail curled up under him, scowling and
twitching at times, and he never smiled. (It is well known that dogs
can smile, and smile very sweetly.) He was exceedingly ugly; and the
idle house-serfs never lost an opportunity of jeering cruelly at his
appearance; but all these jeers, and even blows, Valetka bore with
astonishing indifference. He was a source of special delight to the
cooks, who would all leave their work at once and give him chase with
shouts and abuse, whenever, through a weakness not confined to dogs, he
thrust his hungry nose through the half-open door of the kitchen,
tempting with its warmth and appetising smells. He distinguished
himself by untiring energy in the chase, and had a good scent; but if
he chanced to overtake a slightly wounded hare, he devoured it with
relish to the last bone, somewhere in the cool shade under the green
bushes, at a respectful distance from Yermolaï, who was abusing him in
every known and unknown dialect. Yermolaï belonged to one of my
neighbours, a landowner of the old style. Landowners of the old style
don't care for game, and prefer the domestic fowl. Only on
extraordinary occasions, such as birthdays, namedays, and elections,
the cooks of the old-fashioned landowners set to work to prepare some
long-beaked birds, and, falling into the state of frenzy peculiar to
Russians when they don't quite know what to do, they concoct such
marvellous sauces for them that the guests examine the proffered dishes
curiously and attentively, but rarely make up their minds to try them.
Yermolaï was under orders to provide his master's kitchen with two
brace of grouse and partridges once a month. But he might live where
and how he pleased. They had given him up as a man of no use for work
of any kind—'bone lazy,' as the expression is among us in Orel. Powder
and shot, of course, they did not provide him, following precisely the
same principle in virtue of which he did not feed his dog. Yermolaï was
a very strange kind of man; heedless as a bird, rather fond of talking,
awkward and vacant-looking; he was excessively fond of drink, and never
could sit still long; in walking he shambled along, and rolled from
side to side; and yet he got over fifty miles in the day with his
rolling, shambling gait. He exposed himself to the most varied
adventures: spent the night in the marshes, in trees, on roofs, or
under bridges; more than once he had got shut up in lofts, cellars, or
barns; he sometimes lost his gun, his dog, his most indispensable
garments; got long and severe thrashings; but he always returned home,
after a little while, in his clothes, and with his gun and his dog. One
could not call him a cheerful man, though one almost always found him
in an even frame of mind; he was looked on generally as an eccentric.
Yermolaï liked a little chat with a good companion, especially over a
glass, but he would not stop long; he would get up and go. 'But where
the devil are you going? It's dark out of doors.' 'To Tchaplino.' 'But
what's taking you to Tchaplino, ten miles away?' 'I am going to stay
the night at Sophron's there.' 'But stay the night here.' 'No, I
can't.' And Yermolaï, with his Valetka, would go off into the dark
night, through woods and water-courses, and the peasant Sophron very
likely did not let him into his place, and even, I am afraid, gave him
a blow to teach him 'not to disturb honest folks.' But none could
compare with Yermolaï in skill in deep-water fishing in spring-time, in
catching crayfish with his hands, in tracking game by scent, in snaring
quails, in training hawks, in capturing the nightingales who had the
greatest variety of notes. … One thing he could not do, train a dog;
he had not patience enough. He had a wife too. He went to see her once
a week. She lived in a wretched, tumble-down little hut, and led a
hand-to-mouth existence, never knowing overnight whether she would have
food to eat on the morrow; and in every way her lot was a pitiful one.
Yermolaï, who seemed such a careless and easy-going fellow, treated his
wife with cruel harshness; in his own house he assumed a stern, and
menacing manner; and his poor wife did everything she could to please
him, trembled when he looked at her, and spent her last farthing to buy
him vodka; and when he stretched himself majestically on the stove and
fell into an heroic sleep, she obsequiously covered him with a
sheepskin. I happened myself more than once to catch an involuntary
look in him of a kind of savage ferocity; I did not like the expression
of his face when he finished off a wounded bird with his teeth. But
Yermolaï never remained more than a day at home, and away from home he
was once more the same 'Yermolka' (i.e. the shooting-cap), as he was
called for a hundred miles round, and as he sometimes called himself.
The lowest house-serf was conscious of being superior to this
vagabond—and perhaps this was precisely why they treated him with
friendliness; the peasants at first amused themselves by chasing him
and driving him like a hare over the open country, but afterwards they
left him in God's hands, and when once they recognised him as 'queer,'
they no longer tormented him, and even gave him bread and entered into
talk with him…. This was the man I took as my huntsman, and with him
I went stand-shooting to a great birch-wood on the banks of the Ista.
Many Russian rivers, like the Volga, have one bank rugged and
precipitous, the other bounded by level meadows; and so it is with the
Ista. This small river winds extremely capriciously, coils like a
snake, and does not keep a straight course for half-a-mile together; in
some places, from the top of a sharp declivity, one can see the river
for ten miles, with its dykes, its pools and mills, and the gardens on
its banks, shut in with willows and thick flower-gardens. There are
fish in the Ista in endless numbers, especially roaches (the peasants
take them in hot weather from under the bushes with their hands);
little sand-pipers flutter whistling along the stony banks, which are
streaked with cold clear streams; wild ducks dive in the middle of the
pools, and look round warily; in the coves under the overhanging cliffs
herons stand out in the shade…. We stood in ambush nearly an hour,
killed two brace of wood snipe, and, as we wanted to try our luck again
at sunrise (stand-shooting can be done as well in the early morning),
we resolved to spend the night at the nearest mill. We came out of the
wood, and went down the slope. The dark-blue waters of the river ran
below; the air was thick with the mists of night. We knocked at the
gate. The dogs began barking in the yard.
'Who is there?' asked a hoarse and sleepy voice.
'We are sportsmen; let us stay the night.' There was no reply. 'We will
'I will go and tell the master—Sh! Curse the dogs! Go to the devil
We listened as the workman went into the cottage; he soon came back to
the gate. 'No,' he said; 'the master tells me not to let you in.'
'He is afraid; you are sportsmen; you might set the mill on fire;
you've firearms with you, to be sure.'
'But what nonsense!'
'We had our mill on fire like that last year; some fish-dealers stayed
the night, and they managed to set it on fire somehow.'
'But, my good friend, we can't sleep in the open air!'
'That's your business.' He went away, his boots clacking as he walked.
Yermolaï promised him various unpleasant things in the future. 'Let us
go to the village,' he brought out at last, with a sigh. But it was two
miles to the village.
'Let us stay the night here,' I said, 'in the open air—the night is
warm; the miller will let us have some straw if we pay for it.'
Yermolaï agreed without discussion. We began again to knock.
'Well, what do you want?' the workman's voice was heard again; 'I've
told you we can't.'
We explained to him what we wanted. He went to consult the master of
the house, and returned with him. The little side gate creaked. The
miller appeared, a tall, fat-faced man with a bull-neck, round-bellied
and corpulent. He agreed to my proposal. A hundred paces from the mill
there was a little outhouse open to the air on all sides. They carried
straw and hay there for us; the workman set a samovar down on the grass
near the river, and, squatting on his heels, began to blow vigorously
into the pipe of it. The embers glowed, and threw a bright light on his
young face. The miller ran to wake his wife, and suggested at last that
I myself should sleep in the cottage; but I preferred to remain in the
open air. The miller's wife brought us milk, eggs, potatoes and bread.
Soon the samovar boiled, and we began drinking tea. A mist had risen
from the river; there was no wind; from all round came the cry of the
corn-crake, and faint sounds from the mill-wheels of drops that dripped
from the paddles and of water gurgling through the bars of the lock. We
built a small fire on the ground. While Yermolaï was baking the
potatoes in the embers, I had time to fall into a doze. I was waked by
a discreetly-subdued whispering near me. I lifted my head; before the
fire, on a tub turned upside down, the miller's wife sat talking to my
huntsman. By her dress, her movements, and her manner of speaking, I
had already recognised that she had been in domestic service, and was
neither peasant nor city-bred; but now for the first time I got a clear
view of her features. She looked about thirty; her thin, pale face
still showed the traces of remarkable beauty; what particularly charmed
me was her eyes, large and mournful in expression. She was leaning her
elbows on her knees, and had her face in her hands. Yermolaï was
sitting with his back to me, and thrusting sticks into the fire.
'They've the cattle-plague again at Zheltonhiny,' the miller's wife was
saying; 'father Ivan's two cows are dead—Lord have mercy on them!'
'And how are your pigs doing?' asked Yermolaï, after a brief pause.
'You ought to make me a present of a sucking pig.'
The miller's wife was silent for a while, then she sighed.
'Who is it you're with?' she asked.
'A gentleman from Kostomarovo.'
Yermolaï threw a few pine twigs on the fire; they all caught fire at
once, and a thick white smoke came puffing into his face.
'Why didn't your husband let us into the cottage?'
'Afraid! the fat old tub! Arina Timofyevna, my darling, bring me a
little glass of spirits.'
The miller's wife rose and vanished into the darkness. Yermolaï began
to sing in an undertone—
'When I went to see my sweetheart,
I wore out all my shoes.'
Arina returned with a small flask and a glass. Yermolaï got up, crossed
himself, and drank it off at a draught. 'Good!' was his comment.
The miller's wife sat down again on the tub.
'Well, Arina Timofyevna, are you still ill?'
'What is it?'
'My cough troubles me at night.'
'The gentleman's asleep, it seems,' observed Yermolaï after a short
silence. 'Don't go to a doctor, Arina; it will be worse if you do.'
'Well, I am not going.'
'But come and pay me a visit.'
Arina hung down her head dejectedly.
'I will drive my wife out for the occasion,' continued Yermolaï 'Upon
my word, I will.'
'You had better wake the gentleman, Yermolaï Petrovitch; you see, the
potatoes are done.'
'Oh, let him snore,' observed my faithful servant indifferently; 'he's
tired with walking, so he sleeps sound.'
I turned over in the hay. Yermolaï got up and came to me. 'The potatoes
are ready; will you come and eat them?'
I came out of the outhouse; the miller's wife got up from the tub and
was going away. I addressed her.
'Have you kept this mill long?'
'It's two years since I came on Trinity day.'
'And where does your husband come from?'
Arina had not caught my question.
'Where's your husband from?' repeated Yermolaï, raising his voice.
'From Byelev. He's a Byelev townsman.'
'And are you too from Byelev?'
'No, I'm a serf; I was a serf.'
'Zvyerkoff was my master. Now I am free.'
'Weren't you his wife's lady's maid?'
'How did you know? Yes.'
I looked at Arina with redoubled curiosity and sympathy.
'I know your master,' I continued.
'Do you?' she replied in a low voice, and her head drooped.
I must tell the reader why I looked with such sympathy at Arina. During
my stay at Petersburg I had become by chance acquainted with Mr.
Zvyerkoff. He had a rather influential position, and was reputed a man
of sense and education. He had a wife, fat, sentimental, lachrymose and
spiteful—a vulgar and disagreeable creature; he had too a son, the
very type of the young swell of to-day, pampered and stupid. The
exterior of Mr. Zvyerkoff himself did not prepossess one in his favour;
his little mouse-like eyes peeped slyly out of a broad, almost square,
face; he had a large, prominent nose, with distended nostrils; his
close-cropped grey hair stood up like a brush above his scowling brow;
his thin lips were for ever twitching and smiling mawkishly. Mr.
Zvyerkoff's favourite position was standing with his legs wide apart
and his fat hands in his trouser pockets. Once I happened somehow to be
driving alone with Mr. Zvyerkoff in a coach out of town. We fell into
conversation. As a man of experience and of judgment, Mr. Zvyerkoff
began to try to set me in 'the path of truth.'
'Allow me to observe to you,' he drawled at last; 'all you young people
criticise and form judgments on everything at random; you have little
knowledge of your own country; Russia, young gentlemen, is an unknown
land to you; that's where it is!… You are for ever reading German.
For instance, now you say this and that and the other about anything;
for instance, about the house-serfs…. Very fine; I don't dispute it's
all very fine; but you don't know them; you don't know the kind of
people they are.' (Mr. Zvyerkoff blew his nose loudly and took a pinch
of snuff.) 'Allow me to tell you as an illustration one little
anecdote; it may perhaps interest you.' (Mr. Zvyerkoff cleared his
throat.) 'You know, doubtless, what my wife is; it would be difficult,
I should imagine, to find a more kind-hearted woman, you will agree.
For her waiting-maids, existence is simply a perfect paradise, and no
mistake about it…. But my wife has made it a rule never to keep
married lady's maids. Certainly it would not do; children come—and one
thing and the other—and how is a lady's maid to look after her
mistress as she ought, to fit in with her ways; she is no longer able
to do it; her mind is in other things. One must look at things through
human nature. Well, we were driving once through our village, it must
be—let me be correct—yes, fifteen years ago. We saw, at the
bailiff's, a young girl, his daughter, very pretty indeed; something
even—you know—something attractive in her manners. And my wife said
to me: "Kokó"—you understand, of course, that is her pet name for
me—"let us take this girl to Petersburg; I like her, Kokó…." I said,
"Let us take her, by all means." The bailiff, of course, was at our
feet; he could not have expected such good fortune, you can imagine….
Well, the girl of course cried violently. Of course, it was hard for
her at first; the parental home … in fact … there was nothing
surprising in that. However, she soon got used to us: at first we put
her in the maidservants' room; they trained her, of course. And what do
you think? The girl made wonderful progress; my wife became simply
devoted to her, promoted her at last above the rest to wait on herself
… observe…. And one must do her the justice to say, my wife had
never such a maid, absolutely never; attentive, modest, and
obedient—simply all that could be desired. But my wife, I must
confess, spoilt her too much; she dressed her well, fed her from our
own table, gave her tea to drink, and so on, as you can imagine! So she
waited on my wife like this for ten years. Suddenly, one fine morning,
picture to yourself, Arina—her name was Arina—rushes unannounced into
my study, and flops down at my feet. That's a thing, I tell you
plainly, I can't endure. No human being ought ever to lose sight of
their personal dignity. Am I not right? What do you say? "Your honour,
Alexandr Selitch, I beseech a favour of you." "What favour?" "Let me be
married." I must confess I was taken aback. "But you know, you stupid,
your mistress has no other lady's maid?" "I will wait on mistress as
before." "Nonsense! nonsense! your mistress can't endure married lady's
maids," "Malanya could take my place." "Pray don't argue." "I obey your
will." I must confess it was quite a shock, I assure you, I am like
that; nothing wounds me so—nothing, I venture to say, wounds me so
deeply as ingratitude. I need not tell you—you know what my wife is;
an angel upon earth, goodness inexhaustible. One would fancy even the
worst of men would be ashamed to hurt her. Well, I got rid of Arina. I
thought, perhaps, she would come to her senses; I was unwilling, do you
know, to believe in wicked, black ingratitude in anyone. What do you
think? Within six months she thought fit to come to me again with the
same request. I felt revolted. But imagine my amazement when, some time
later, my wife comes to me in tears, so agitated that I felt positively
alarmed. "What has happened?" "Arina…. You understand … I am
ashamed to tell it." … "Impossible! … Who is the man?" "Petrushka,
the footman." My indignation broke out then. I am like that. I don't
like half measures! Petrushka was not to blame. We might flog him, but
in my opinion he was not to blame. Arina…. Well, well, well! what
more's to be said? I gave orders, of course, that her hair should be
cut off, she should be dressed in sackcloth, and sent into the country.
My wife was deprived of an excellent lady's maid; but there was no help
for it: immorality cannot be tolerated in a household in any case.
Better to cut off the infected member at once. There, there! now you
can judge the thing for yourself—you know that my wife is … yes,
yes, yes! indeed!… an angel! She had grown attached to Arina, and
Arina knew it, and had the face to … Eh? no, tell me … eh? And
what's the use of talking about it. Any way, there was no help for it.
I, indeed—I, in particular, felt hurt, felt wounded for a long time by
the ingratitude of this girl. Whatever you say—it's no good to look
for feeling, for heart, in these people! You may feed the wolf as you
will; he has always a hankering for the woods. Education, by all means!
But I only wanted to give you an example….'
And Mr. Zvyerkoff, without finishing his sentence, turned away his
head, and, wrapping himself more closely into his cloak, manfully
repressed his involuntary emotion.
The reader now probably understands why I looked with sympathetic
interest at Arina.
'Have you long been married to the miller?' I asked her at last.
'How was it? Did your master allow it?'
'They bought my freedom.'
'Who is that?'
'My husband.' (Yermolaï smiled to himself.) 'Has my master perhaps
spoken to you of me?' added Arina, after a brief silence.
I did not know what reply to make to her question.
'Arina!' cried the miller from a distance. She got up and walked away.
'Is her husband a good fellow?' I asked Yermolaï.
'Have they any children?'
'There was one, but it died.'
'How was it? Did the miller take a liking to her? Did he give much to
buy her freedom?'
'I don't know. She can read and write; in their business it's of use. I
suppose he liked her.'
'And have you known her long?'
'Yes. I used to go to her master's. Their house isn't far from here.'
'And do you know the footman Petrushka?'
'Piotr Vassilyevitch? Of course, I knew him.'
'Where is he now?'
'He was sent for a soldier.'
We were silent for a while.
'She doesn't seem well?' I asked Yermolaï at last.
'I should think not! To-morrow, I say, we shall have good sport. A
little sleep now would do us no harm.'
A flock of wild ducks swept whizzing over our heads, and we heard them
drop down into the river not far from us. It was now quite dark, and it
began to be cold; in the thicket sounded the melodious notes of a
nightingale. We buried ourselves in the hay and fell asleep.
At the beginning of August the heat often becomes insupportable. At
that season, from twelve to three o'clock, the most determined and
ardent sportsman is not able to hunt, and the most devoted dog begins
to 'clean his master's spurs,' that is, to follow at his heels, his
eyes painfully blinking, and his tongue hanging out to an exaggerated
length; and in response to his master's reproaches he humbly wags his
tail and shows his confusion in his face; but he does not run forward.
I happened to be out hunting on exactly such a day. I had long been
fighting against the temptation to lie down somewhere in the shade, at
least for a moment; for a long time my indefatigable dog went on
running about in the bushes, though he clearly did not himself expect
much good from his feverish activity. The stifling heat compelled me at
last to begin to think of husbanding our energies and strength. I
managed to reach the little river Ista, which is already known to my
indulgent readers, descended the steep bank, and walked along the damp,
yellow sand in the direction of the spring, known to the whole
neighbourhood as Raspberry Spring. This spring gushes out of a cleft in
the bank, which widens out by degrees into a small but deep creek, and,
twenty paces beyond it, falls with a merry babbling sound into the
river; the short velvety grass is green about the source: the sun's
rays scarcely ever reach its cold, silvery water. I came as far as the
spring; a cup of birch-wood lay on the grass, left by a passing peasant
for the public benefit. I quenched my thirst, lay down in the shade,
and looked round. In the cave, which had been formed by the flowing of
the stream into the river, and hence marked for ever with the trace of
ripples, two old men were sitting with their backs to me. One, a rather
stout and tall man in a neat dark-green coat and lined cap, was
fishing; the other was thin and little; he wore a patched fustian coat
and no cap; he held a little pot full of worms on his knees, and
sometimes lifted his hand up to his grizzled little head, as though he
wanted to protect it from the sun. I looked at him more attentively,
and recognised in him Styopushka of Shumihino. I must ask the reader's
leave to present this man to him.
A few miles from my place there is a large village called Shumihino,
with a stone church, erected in the name of St. Kosmo and St. Damian.
Facing this church there had once stood a large and stately
manor-house, surrounded by various outhouses, offices, workshops,
stables and coach-houses, baths and temporary kitchens, wings for
visitors and for bailiffs, conservatories, swings for the people, and
other more or less useful edifices. A family of rich landowners lived
in this manor-house, and all went well with them, till suddenly one
morning all this prosperity was burnt to ashes. The owners removed to
another home; the place was deserted. The blackened site of the immense
house was transformed into a kitchen-garden, cumbered up in parts by
piles of bricks, the remains of the old foundations. A little hut had
been hurriedly put together out of the beams that had escaped the fire;
it was roofed with timber bought ten years before for the construction
of a pavilion in the Gothic style; and the gardener, Mitrofan, with his
wife Axinya and their seven children, was installed in it. Mitrofan
received orders to send greens and garden-stuff for the master's table,
a hundred and fifty miles away; Axinya was put in charge of a Tyrolese
cow, which had been bought for a high price in Moscow, but had not
given a drop of milk since its acquisition; a crested smoke-coloured
drake too had been left in her hands, the solitary 'seignorial' bird;
for the children, in consideration of their tender age, no special
duties had been provided, a fact, however, which had not hindered them
from growing up utterly lazy. It happened to me on two occasions to
stay the night at this gardener's, and when I passed by I used to get
cucumbers from him, which, for some unknown reason, were even in summer
peculiar for their size, their poor, watery flavour, and their thick
yellow skin. It was there I first saw Styopushka. Except Mitrofan and
his family, and the old deaf churchwarden Gerasim, kept out of charity
in a little room at the one-eyed soldier's widow's, not one man among
the house-serfs had remained at Shumihino; for Styopushka, whom I
intend to introduce to the reader, could not be classified under the
special order of house-serfs, and hardly under the genus 'man' at all.
Every man has some kind of position in society, and at least some ties
of some sort; every house-serf receives, if not wages, at least some
so-called 'ration.' Styopushka had absolutely no means of subsistence
of any kind; had no relationship to anyone; no one knew of his
existence. This man had not even a past; there was no story told of
him; he had probably never been enrolled on a census-revision. There
were vague rumours that he had once belonged to someone as a valet; but
who he was, where he came from, who was his father, and how he had come
to be one of the Shumihino people; in what way he had come by the
fustian coat he had worn from immemorial times; where he lived and what
he lived on—on all these questions no one had the least idea; and, to
tell the truth, no one took any interest in the subject. Grandfather
Trofimitch, who knew all the pedigrees of all the house-serfs in the
direct line to the fourth generation, had once indeed been known to say
that he remembered that Styopushka was related to a Turkish woman whom
the late master, the brigadier Alexy Romanitch had been pleased to
bring home from a campaign in the baggage waggon. Even on holidays,
days of general money-giving and of feasting on buckwheat dumplings and
vodka, after the old Russian fashion—even on such days Styopushka did
not put in an appearance at the trestle-tables nor at the barrels; he
did not make his bow nor kiss the master's hand, nor toss off to the
master's health and under the master's eye a glass filled by the fat
hands of the bailiff. Some kind soul who passed by him might share an
unfinished bit of dumpling with the poor beggar, perhaps. At Easter
they said 'Christ is risen!' to him; but he did not pull up his greasy
sleeve, and bring out of the depths of his pocket a coloured egg, to
offer it, panting and blinking, to his young masters or to the mistress
herself. He lived in summer in a little shed behind the chicken-house,
and in winter in the ante-room of the bathhouse; in the bitter frosts
he spent the night in the hayloft. The house-serfs had grown used to
seeing him; sometimes they gave him a kick, but no one ever addressed a
remark to him; as for him, he seems never to have opened his lips from
the time of his birth. After the conflagration, this forsaken creature
sought a refuge at the gardener Mitrofan's. The gardener left him
alone; he did not say 'Live with me,' but he did not drive him away.
And Styopushka did not live at the gardener's; his abode was the
garden. He moved and walked about quite noiselessly; he sneezed and
coughed behind his hand, not without apprehension; he was for ever busy
and going stealthily to and fro like an ant; and all to get
food—simply food to eat. And indeed, if he had not toiled from morning
till night for his living, our poor friend would certainly have died of
hunger. It's a sad lot not to know in the morning what you will find to
eat before night! Sometimes Styopushka sits under the hedge and gnaws a
radish or sucks a carrot, or shreds up some dirty cabbage-stalks; or he
drags a bucket of water along, for some object or other, groaning as he
goes; or he lights a fire under a small pot, and throws in some little
black scraps which he takes from out of the bosom of his coat; or he is
hammering in his little wooden den—driving in a nail, putting up a
shelf for bread. And all this he does silently, as though on the sly:
before you can look round, he's in hiding again. Sometimes he suddenly
disappears for a couple of days; but of course no one notices his
absence…. Then, lo and behold! he is there again, somewhere under the
hedge, stealthily kindling a fire of sticks under a kettle. He had a
small face, yellowish eyes, hair coming down to his eyebrows, a sharp
nose, large transparent ears, like a bat's, and a beard that looked as
if it were a fortnight's growth, and never grew more nor less. This,
then, was Styopushka, whom I met on the bank of the Ista in company
with another old man.
I went up to him, wished him good-day, and sat down beside him.
Styopushka's companion too I recognised as an acquaintance; he was a
freed serf of Count Piotr Ilitch's, one Mihal Savelitch, nicknamed
Tuman (i.e. fog). He lived with a consumptive Bolhovsky man, who kept
an inn, where I had several times stayed. Young officials and other
persons of leisure travelling on the Orel highroad (merchants, buried
in their striped rugs, have other things to do) may still see at no
great distance from the large village of Troitska, and almost on the
highroad, an immense two-storied wooden house, completely deserted,
with its roof falling in and its windows closely stuffed up. At mid-day
in bright, sunny weather nothing can be imagined more melancholy than
this ruin. Here there once lived Count Piotr Ilitch, a rich grandee of
the olden time, renowned for his hospitality. At one time the whole
province used to meet at his house, to dance and make merry to their
heart's content to the deafening sound of a home-trained orchestra, and
the popping of rockets and Roman candles; and doubtless more than one
aged lady sighs as she drives by the deserted palace of the boyar and
recalls the old days and her vanished youth. The count long continued
to give balls, and to walk about with an affable smile among the crowd
of fawning guests; but his property, unluckily, was not enough to last
his whole life. When he was entirely ruined, he set off to Petersburg
to try for a post for himself, and died in a room at a hotel, without
having gained anything by his efforts. Tuman had been a steward of his,
and had received his freedom already in the count's lifetime. He was a
man of about seventy, with a regular and pleasant face. He was almost
continually smiling, as only men of the time of Catherine ever do
smile—a smile at once stately and indulgent; in speaking, he slowly
opened and closed his lips, winked genially with his eyes, and spoke
slightly through his nose. He blew his nose and took snuff too in a
leisurely fashion, as though he were doing something serious.
'Well, Mihal Savelitch,' I began, 'have you caught any fish?'
'Here, if you will deign to look in the basket: I have caught two perch
and five roaches…. Show them, Styopka.'
Styopushka stretched out the basket to me.
'How are you, Styopka?' I asked him.
'Oh—oh—not—not—not so badly, your honour,' answered Stepan,
stammering as though he had a heavy weight on his tongue.
'And is Mitrofan well?'
'Well—yes, yes—your honour.'
The poor fellow turned away.
'But there are not many bites,' remarked Tuman; 'it's so fearfully hot;
the fish are all tired out under the bushes; they're asleep. Put on a
worm, Styopka.' (Styopushka took out a worm, laid it on his open hand,
struck it two or three times, put it on the hook, spat on it, and gave
it to Tuman.) 'Thanks, Styopka…. And you, your honour,' he continued,
turning to me, 'are pleased to be out hunting?'
'As you see.'
'Ah—and is your dog there English or German?'
The old man liked to show off on occasion, as though he would say, 'I,
too, have lived in the world!'
'I don't know what breed it is, but it's a good dog.'
'Ah! and do you go out with the hounds too?'
'Yes, I have two leashes of hounds.'
Tuman smiled and shook his head.
'That's just it; one man is devoted to dogs, and another doesn't want
them for anything. According to my simple notions, I fancy dogs should
be kept rather for appearance' sake … and all should be in style too;
horses too should be in style, and huntsmen in style, as they ought to
be, and all. The late count—God's grace be with him!—was never, I
must own, much of a hunter; but he kept dogs, and twice a year he was
pleased to go out with them. The huntsmen assembled in the courtyard,
in red caftans trimmed with galloon, and blew their horns; his
excellency would be pleased to come out, and his excellency's horse
would be led up; his excellency would mount, and the chief huntsman
puts his feet in the stirrups, takes his hat off, and puts the reins in
his hat to offer them to his excellency. His excellency is pleased to
click his whip like this, and the huntsmen give a shout, and off they
go out of the gate away. A huntsman rides behind the count, and holds
in a silken leash two of the master's favourite dogs, and looks after
them well, you may fancy…. And he, too, this huntsman, sits up high,
on a Cossack saddle: such a red-cheeked fellow he was, and rolled his
eyes like this…. And there were guests too, you may be sure, on such
occasions, and entertainment, and ceremonies observed…. Ah, he's got
away, the Asiatic!' He interrupted himself suddenly, drawing in his
'They say the count used to live pretty freely in his day?' I asked.
The old man spat on the worm and lowered the line in again.
'He was a great gentleman, as is well-known. At times the persons of
the first rank, one may say, at Petersburg, used to visit him. With
coloured ribbons on their breasts they used to sit down to table and
eat. Well, he knew how to entertain them. He called me sometimes.
"Tuman," says he, "I want by to-morrow some live sturgeon; see there
are some, do you hear?" "Yes, your excellency." Embroidered coats,
wigs, canes, perfumes, eau de Cologne of the best sort, snuff-boxes,
huge pictures: he would order them all from Paris itself! When he gave
a banquet, God Almighty, Lord of my being! there were fireworks, and
carriages driving up! They even fired off the cannon. The orchestra
alone consisted of forty men. He kept a German as conductor of the
band, but the German gave himself dreadful airs; he wanted to eat at
the same table as the masters; so his excellency gave orders to get rid
of him! "My musicians," says he, "can do their work even without a
conductor." Of course he was master. Then they would fall to dancing,
and dance till morning, especially at the écossaise-matrador. …
Ah—ah—there's one caught!' (The old man drew a small perch out of the
water.) 'Here you are, Styopka! The master was all a master should be,'
continued the old man, dropping his line in again, 'and he had a kind
heart too. He would give you a blow at times, and before you could look
round, he'd forgotten it already. There was only one thing: he kept
mistresses. Ugh, those mistresses! God forgive them! They were the ruin
of him too; and yet, you know, he took them most generally from a low
station. You would fancy they would not want much? Not a bit—they must
have everything of the most expensive in all Europe! One may say, "Why
shouldn't he live as he likes; it's the master's business" … but
there was no need to ruin himself. There was one especially; Akulina
was her name. She is dead now; God rest her soul! the daughter of the
watchman at Sitoia; and such a vixen! She would slap the count's face
sometimes. She simply bewitched him. My nephew she sent for a soldier;
he spilt some chocolate on a new dress of hers … and he wasn't the
only one she served so. Ah, well, those were good times, though!' added
the old man with a deep sigh. His head drooped forward and he was
'Your master, I see, was severe, then?' I began after a brief silence.
'That was the fashion then, your honour,' he replied, shaking his head.
'That sort of thing is not done now?' I observed, not taking my eyes
He gave me a look askance.
'Now, surely it's better,' he muttered, and let out his line further.
We were sitting in the shade; but even in the shade it was stifling.
The sultry atmosphere was faint and heavy; one lifted one's burning
face uneasily, seeking a breath of wind; but there was no wind. The sun
beat down from blue and darkening skies; right opposite us, on the
other bank, was a yellow field of oats, overgrown here and there with
wormwood; not one ear of the oats quivered. A little lower down a
peasant's horse stood in the river up to its knees, and slowly shook
its wet tail; from time to time, under an overhanging bush, a large
fish shot up, bringing bubbles to the surface, and gently sank down to
the bottom, leaving a slight ripple behind it. The grasshoppers chirped
in the scorched grass; the quail's cry sounded languid and reluctant;
hawks sailed smoothly over the meadows, often resting in the same spot,
rapidly fluttering their wings and opening their tails into a fan. We
sat motionless, overpowered with the heat. Suddenly there was a sound
behind us in the creek; someone came down to the spring. I looked
round, and saw a peasant of about fifty, covered with dust, in a smock,
and wearing bast slippers; he carried a wickerwork pannier and a cloak
on his shoulders. He went down to the spring, drank thirstily, and got
'Ah, Vlass!' cried Tuman, staring at him; 'good health to you, friend!
Where has God sent you from?'
'Good health to you, Mihal Savelitch!' said the peasant, coming nearer
to us; 'from a long way off.'
'Where have you been?' Tuman asked him.
'I have been to Moscow, to my master.'
'I went to ask him a favour.'
'Oh, to lessen my rent, or to let me work it out in labour, or to put
me on another piece of land, or something…. My son is dead—so I
can't manage it now alone.'
'Your son is dead?'
'He is dead. My son,' added the peasant, after a pause, 'lived in
Moscow as a cabman; he paid, I must confess, rent for me.'
'Then are you now paying rent?'
'Yes, we pay rent.'
'What did your master say?'
'What did the master say! He drove me away! Says he, "How dare you come
straight to me; there is a bailiff for such things. You ought first,"
says he, "to apply to the bailiff … and where am I to put you on
other land? You first," says he, "bring the debt you owe." He was angry
'What then—did you come back?'
'I came back. I wanted to find out if my son had not left any goods of
his own, but I couldn't get a straight answer. I say to his employer,
"I am Philip's father"; and he says, "What do I know about that? And
your son," says he, "left nothing; he was even in debt to me." So I
The peasant related all this with a smile, as though he were speaking
of someone else; but tears were starting into his small, screwed-up
eyes, and his lips were quivering.
'Well, are you going home then now?'
'Where can I go? Of course I'm going home. My wife, I suppose, is
pretty well starved by now.'
'You should—then,' Styopushka said suddenly. He grew confused, was
silent, and began to rummage in the worm-pot.
'And shall you go to the bailiff?' continued Tuman, looking with some
amazement at Styopka.
'What should I go to him for?—I'm in arrears as it is. My son was ill
for a year before his death; he could not pay even his own rent. But it
can't hurt me; they can get nothing from me…. Yes, my friend, you can
be as cunning as you please—I'm cleaned out!' (The peasant began to
laugh.) 'Kintlyan Semenitch'll have to be clever if—'
Vlass laughed again.
'Oh! things are in a sad way, brother Vlass,' Tuman ejaculated
'Sad! No!' (Vlass's voice broke.) 'How hot it is!' he went on, wiping
his face with his sleeve.
'Who is your master?' I asked him.
'Count Valerian Petrovitch.'
'The son of Piotr Ilitch?'
'The son of Piotr Ilitch,' replied Tuman. 'Piotr Hitch gave him Vlass's
village in his lifetime.'
'Is he well?'
'He is well, thank God!' replied Vlass. 'He has grown so red, and his
face looks as though it were padded.'
'You see, your honour,' continued Tuman, turning to me, 'it would be
very well near Moscow, but it's a different matter to pay rent here.'
'And what is the rent for you altogether?'
'Ninety-five roubles,' muttered Vlass.
'There, you see; and it's the least bit of land; all there is is the
'And that, they say, they have sold,' observed the peasant.
'There, you see. Styopka, give me a worm. Why, Styopka, are you
Styopushka started. The peasant sat down by us. We sank into silence
again. On the other bank someone was singing a song—but such a
mournful one. Our poor Vlass grew deeply dejected.
Half-an-hour later we parted.
THE DISTRICT DOCTOR
One day in autumn on my way back from a remote part of the country I
caught cold and fell ill. Fortunately the fever attacked me in the
district town at the inn; I sent for the doctor. In half-an-hour the
district doctor appeared, a thin, dark-haired man of middle height. He
prescribed me the usual sudorific, ordered a mustard-plaster to be put
on, very deftly slid a five-rouble note up his sleeve, coughing drily
and looking away as he did so, and then was getting up to go home, but
somehow fell into talk and remained. I was exhausted with feverishness;
I foresaw a sleepless night, and was glad of a little chat with a
pleasant companion. Tea was served. My doctor began to converse freely.
He was a sensible fellow, and expressed himself with vigour and some
humour. Queer things happen in the world: you may live a long while
with some people, and be on friendly terms with them, and never once
speak openly with them from your soul; with others you have scarcely
time to get acquainted, and all at once you are pouring out to him—or
he to you—all your secrets, as though you were at confession. I don't
know how I gained the confidence of my new friend—any way, with
nothing to lead up to it, he told me a rather curious incident; and
here I will report his tale for the information of the indulgent
reader. I will try to tell it in the doctor's own words.
'You don't happen to know,' he began in a weak and quavering voice (the
common result of the use of unmixed Berezov snuff); 'you don't happen
to know the judge here, Mylov, Pavel Lukitch?… You don't know him?…
Well, it's all the same.' (He cleared his throat and rubbed his eyes.)
'Well, you see, the thing happened, to tell you exactly without
mistake, in Lent, at the very time of the thaws. I was sitting at his
house—our judge's, you know—playing preference. Our judge is a good
fellow, and fond of playing preference. Suddenly' (the doctor made
frequent use of this word, suddenly) 'they tell me, "There's a servant
asking for you." I say, "What does he want?" They say, "He has brought
a note—it must be from a patient." "Give me the note," I say. So it is
from a patient—well and good—you understand—it's our bread and
butter. … But this is how it was: a lady, a widow, writes to me; she
says, "My daughter is dying. Come, for God's sake!" she says; "and the
horses have been sent for you." … Well, that's all right. But she was
twenty miles from the town, and it was midnight out of doors, and the
roads in such a state, my word! And as she was poor herself, one could
not expect more than two silver roubles, and even that problematic; and
perhaps it might only be a matter of a roll of linen and a sack of
oatmeal in payment. However, duty, you know, before everything: a
fellow-creature may be dying. I hand over my cards at once to
Kalliopin, the member of the provincial commission, and return home. I
look; a wretched little trap was standing at the steps, with peasant's
horses, fat—too fat—and their coat as shaggy as felt; and the
coachman sitting with his cap off out of respect. Well, I think to
myself, "It's clear, my friend, these patients aren't rolling in
riches." … You smile; but I tell you, a poor man like me has to take
everything into consideration…. If the coachman sits like a prince,
and doesn't touch his cap, and even sneers at you behind his beard, and
flicks his whip—then you may bet on six roubles. But this case, I saw,
had a very different air. However, I think there's no help for it; duty
before everything. I snatch up the most necessary drugs, and set off.
Will you believe it? I only just managed to get there at all. The road
was infernal: streams, snow, watercourses, and the dyke had suddenly
burst there—that was the worst of it! However, I arrived at last. It
was a little thatched house. There was a light in the windows; that
meant they expected me. I was met by an old lady, very venerable, in a
cap. "Save her!" she says; "she is dying." I say, "Pray don't distress
yourself—Where is the invalid?" "Come this way." I see a clean little
room, a lamp in the corner; on the bed a girl of twenty, unconscious.
She was in a burning heat, and breathing heavily—it was fever. There
were two other girls, her sisters, scared and in tears. "Yesterday,"
they tell me, "she was perfectly well and had a good appetite; this
morning she complained of her head, and this evening, suddenly, you
see, like this." I say again: "Pray don't be uneasy." It's a doctor's
duty, you know—and I went up to her and bled her, told them to put on
a mustard-plaster, and prescribed a mixture. Meantime I looked at her;
I looked at her, you know—there, by God! I had never seen such a
face!—she was a beauty, in a word! I felt quite shaken with pity. Such
lovely features; such eyes!… But, thank God! she became easier; she
fell into a perspiration, seemed to come to her senses, looked round,
smiled, and passed her hand over her face…. Her sisters bent over
her. They ask, "How are you?" "All right," she says, and turns away. I
looked at her; she had fallen asleep. "Well," I say, "now the patient
should be left alone." So we all went out on tiptoe; only a maid
remained, in case she was wanted. In the parlour there was a samovar
standing on the table, and a bottle of rum; in our profession one can't
get on without it. They gave me tea; asked me to stop the night. … I
consented: where could I go, indeed, at that time of night? The old
lady kept groaning. "What is it?" I say; "she will live; don't worry
yourself; you had better take a little rest yourself; it is about two
o'clock." "But will you send to wake me if anything happens?" "Yes,
yes." The old lady went away, and the girls too went to their own room;
they made up a bed for me in the parlour. Well, I went to bed—but I
could not get to sleep, for a wonder! for in reality I was very tired.
I could not get my patient out of my head. At last I could not put up
with it any longer; I got up suddenly; I think to myself, "I will go
and see how the patient is getting on." Her bedroom was next to the
parlour. Well, I got up, and gently opened the door—how my heart beat!
I looked in: the servant was asleep, her mouth wide open, and even
snoring, the wretch! but the patient lay with her face towards me, and
her arms flung wide apart, poor girl! I went up to her … when
suddenly she opened her eyes and stared at me! "Who is it? who is it?"
I was in confusion. "Don't be alarmed, madam," I say; "I am the doctor;
I have come to see how you feel." "You the doctor?" "Yes, the doctor;
your mother sent for me from the town; we have bled you, madam; now
pray go to sleep, and in a day or two, please God! we will set you on
your feet again." "Ah, yes, yes, doctor, don't let me die…. please,
please." "Why do you talk like that? God bless you!" She is in a fever
again, I think to myself; I felt her pulse; yes, she was feverish. She
looked at me, and then took me by the hand. "I will tell you why I
don't want to die; I will tell you…. Now we are alone; and only,
please don't you … not to anyone … Listen…." I bent down; she
moved her lips quite to my ear; she touched my cheek with her hair—I
confess my head went round—and began to whisper…. I could make out
nothing of it…. Ah, she was delirious!… She whispered and
whispered, but so quickly, and as if it were not in Russian; at last
she finished, and shivering dropped her head on the pillow, and
threatened me with her finger: "Remember, doctor, to no one." I calmed
her somehow, gave her something to drink, waked the servant, and went
At this point the doctor again took snuff with exasperated energy, and
for a moment seemed stupefied by its effects.
'However,' he continued, 'the next day, contrary to my expectations,
the patient was no better. I thought and thought, and suddenly decided
to remain there, even though my other patients were expecting me….
And you know one can't afford to disregard that; one's practice suffers
if one does. But, in the first place, the patient was really in danger;
and secondly, to tell the truth, I felt strongly drawn to her. Besides,
I liked the whole family. Though they were really badly off, they were
singularly, I may say, cultivated people…. Their father had been a
learned man, an author; he died, of course, in poverty, but he had
managed before he died to give his children an excellent education; he
left a lot of books too. Either because I looked after the invalid very
carefully, or for some other reason; any way, I can venture to say all
the household loved me as if I were one of the family…. Meantime the
roads were in a worse state than ever; all communications, so to say,
were cut off completely; even medicine could with difficulty be got
from the town…. The sick girl was not getting better. … Day after
day, and day after day … but … here….' (The doctor made a brief
pause.) 'I declare I don't know how to tell you.' … (He again took
snuff, coughed, and swallowed a little tea.) 'I will tell you without
beating about the bush. My patient … how should I say?… Well, she
had fallen in love with me … or, no, it was not that she was in love
… however … really, how should one say?' (The doctor looked down
and grew red.) 'No,' he went on quickly, 'in love, indeed! A man should
not over-estimate himself. She was an educated girl, clever and
well-read, and I had even forgotten my Latin, one may say, completely.
As to appearance' (the doctor looked himself over with a smile) 'I am
nothing to boast of there either. But God Almighty did not make me a
fool; I don't take black for white; I know a thing or two; I could see
very clearly, for instance, that Alexandra Andreevna—that was her
name—did not feel love for me, but had a friendly, so to say,
inclination—a respect or something for me. Though she herself perhaps
mistook this sentiment, any way this was her attitude; you may form
your own judgment of it. But,' added the doctor, who had brought out
all these disconnected sentences without taking breath, and with
obvious embarrassment, 'I seem to be wandering rather—you won't
understand anything like this…. There, with your leave, I will relate
it all in order.'
He drank off a glass of tea, and began in a calmer voice.
'Well, then. My patient kept getting worse and worse. You are not a
doctor, my good sir; you cannot understand what passes in a poor
fellow's heart, especially at first, when he begins to suspect that the
disease is getting the upper hand of him. What becomes of his belief in
himself? You suddenly grow so timid; it's indescribable. You fancy then
that you have forgotten everything you knew, and that the patient has
no faith in you, and that other people begin to notice how distracted
you are, and tell you the symptoms with reluctance; that they are
looking at you suspiciously, whispering…. Ah! it's horrid! There must
be a remedy, you think, for this disease, if one could find it. Isn't
this it? You try—no, that's not it! You don't allow the medicine the
necessary time to do good…. You clutch at one thing, then at another.
Sometimes you take up a book of medical prescriptions—here it is, you
think! Sometimes, by Jove, you pick one out by chance, thinking to
leave it to fate…. But meantime a fellow-creature's dying, and
another doctor would have saved him. "We must have a consultation," you
say; "I will not take the responsibility on myself." And what a fool
you look at such times! Well, in time you learn to bear it; it's
nothing to you. A man has died—but it's not your fault; you treated
him by the rules. But what's still more torture to you is to see blind
faith in you, and to feel yourself that you are not able to be of use.
Well, it was just this blind faith that the whole of Alexandra
Andreevna's family had in me; they had forgotten to think that their
daughter was in danger. I, too, on my side assure them that it's
nothing, but meantime my heart sinks into my boots. To add to our
troubles, the roads were in such a state that the coachman was gone for
whole days together to get medicine. And I never left the patient's
room; I could not tear myself away; I tell her amusing stories, you
know, and play cards with her. I watch by her side at night. The old
mother thanks me with tears in her eyes; but I think to myself, "I
don't deserve your gratitude." I frankly confess to you—there is no
object in concealing it now—I was in love with my patient. And
Alexandra Andreevna had grown fond of me; she would not sometimes let
anyone be in her room but me. She began to talk to me, to ask me
questions; where I had studied, how I lived, who are my people, whom I
go to see. I feel that she ought not to talk; but to forbid her to—to
forbid her resolutely, you know—I could not. Sometimes I held my head
in my hands, and asked myself, "What are you doing, villain?" … And
she would take my hand and hold it, give me a long, long look, and turn
away, sigh, and say, "How good you are!" Her hands were so feverish,
her eyes so large and languid…. "Yes," she says, "you are a good,
kind man; you are not like our neighbours…. No, you are not like
that. … Why did I not know you till now!" "Alexandra Andreevna, calm
yourself," I say…. "I feel, believe me, I don't know how I have
gained … but there, calm yourself…. All will be right; you will be
well again." And meanwhile I must tell you,' continued the doctor,
bending forward and raising his eyebrows, 'that they associated very
little with the neighbours, because the smaller people were not on
their level, and pride hindered them from being friendly with the rich.
I tell you, they were an exceptionally cultivated family; so you know
it was gratifying for me. She would only take her medicine from my
hands … she would lift herself up, poor girl, with my aid, take it,
and gaze at me…. My heart felt as if it were bursting. And meanwhile
she was growing worse and worse, worse and worse, all the time; she
will die, I think to myself; she must die. Believe me, I would sooner
have gone to the grave myself; and here were her mother and sisters
watching me, looking into my eyes … and their faith in me was wearing
away. "Well? how is she?" "Oh, all right, all right!" All right,
indeed! My mind was failing me. Well, I was sitting one night alone
again by my patient. The maid was sitting there too, and snoring away
in full swing; I can't find fault with the poor girl, though; she was
worn out too. Alexandra Andreevna had felt very unwell all the evening;
she was very feverish. Until midnight she kept tossing about; at last
she seemed to fall asleep; at least, she lay still without stirring.
The lamp was burning in the corner before the holy image. I sat there,
you know, with my head bent; I even dozed a little. Suddenly it seemed
as though someone touched me in the side; I turned round…. Good God!
Alexandra Andreevna was gazing with intent eyes at me … her lips
parted, her cheeks seemed burning. "What is it?" "Doctor, shall I die?"
"Merciful Heavens!" "No, doctor, no; please don't tell me I shall live
… don't say so…. If you knew…. Listen! for God's sake don't
conceal my real position," and her breath came so fast. "If I can know
for certain that I must die … then I will tell you all—all!"
"Alexandra Andreevna, I beg!" "Listen; I have not been asleep at all
… I have been looking at you a long while…. For God's sake! … I
believe in you; you are a good man, an honest man; I entreat you by all
that is sacred in the world—tell me the truth! If you knew how
important it is for me…. Doctor, for God's sake tell me…. Am I in
danger?" "What can I tell you, Alexandra Andreevna, pray?" "For God's
sake, I beseech you!" "I can't disguise from you," I say, "Alexandra
Andreevna; you are certainly in danger; but God is merciful." "I shall
die, I shall die." And it seemed as though she were pleased; her face
grew so bright; I was alarmed. "Don't be afraid, don't be afraid! I am
not frightened of death at all." She suddenly sat up and leaned on her
elbow. "Now … yes, now I can tell you that I thank you with my whole
heart … that you are kind and good—that I love you!" I stare at her,
like one possessed; it was terrible for me, you know. "Do you hear, I
love you!" "Alexandra Andreevna, how have I deserved—" "No, no, you
don't—you don't understand me." … And suddenly she stretched out her
arms, and taking my head in her hands, she kissed it…. Believe me, I
almost screamed aloud…. I threw myself on my knees, and buried my
head in the pillow. She did not speak; her fingers trembled in my hair;
I listen; she is weeping. I began to soothe her, to assure her…. I
really don't know what I did say to her. "You will wake up the girl," I
say to her; "Alexandra Andreevna, I thank you … believe me … calm
yourself." "Enough, enough!" she persisted; "never mind all of them;
let them wake, then; let them come in—it does not matter; I am dying,
you see…. And what do you fear? why are you afraid? Lift up your
head…. Or, perhaps, you don't love me; perhaps I am wrong…. In that
case, forgive me." "Alexandra Andreevna, what are you saying!… I love
you, Alexandra Andreevna." She looked straight into my eyes, and opened
her arms wide. "Then take me in your arms." I tell you frankly, I don't
know how it was I did not go mad that night. I feel that my patient is
killing herself; I see that she is not fully herself; I understand,
too, that if she did not consider herself on the point of death, she
would never have thought of me; and, indeed, say what you will, it's
hard to die at twenty without having known love; this was what was
torturing her; this was why, in despair, she caught at me—do you
understand now? But she held me in her arms, and would not let me go.
"Have pity on me, Alexandra Andreevna, and have pity on yourself," I
say. "Why," she says; "what is there to think of? You know I must die."
… This she repeated incessantly…. "If I knew that I should return
to life, and be a proper young lady again, I should be ashamed … of
course, ashamed … but why now?" "But who has said you will die?" "Oh,
no, leave off! you will not deceive me; you don't know how to lie—look
at your face." … "You shall live, Alexandra Andreevna; I will cure
you; we will ask your mother's blessing … we will be united—we will
be happy." "No, no, I have your word; I must die … you have promised
me … you have told me." … It was cruel for me—cruel for many
reasons. And see what trifling things can do sometimes; it seems
nothing at all, but it's painful. It occurred to her to ask me, what is
my name; not my surname, but my first name. I must needs be so unlucky
as to be called Trifon. Yes, indeed; Trifon Ivanitch. Every one in the
house called me doctor. However, there's no help for it. I say,
"Trifon, madam." She frowned, shook her head, and muttered something in
French—ah, something unpleasant, of course!—and then she
laughed—disagreeably too. Well, I spent the whole night with her in
this way. Before morning I went away, feeling as though I were mad.
When I went again into her room it was daytime, after morning tea. Good
God! I could scarcely recognise her; people are laid in their grave
looking better than that. I swear to you, on my honour, I don't
understand—I absolutely don't understand—now, how I lived through
that experience. Three days and nights my patient still lingered on.
And what nights! What things she said to me! And on the last
night—only imagine to yourself—I was sitting near her, and kept
praying to God for one thing only: "Take her," I said, "quickly, and me
with her." Suddenly the old mother comes unexpectedly into the room. I
had already the evening before told her—the mother—there was little
hope, and it would be well to send for a priest. When the sick girl saw
her mother she said: "It's very well you have come; look at us, we love
one another—we have given each other our word." "What does she say,
doctor? what does she say?" I turned livid. "She is wandering," I say;
"the fever." But she: "Hush, hush; you told me something quite
different just now, and have taken my ring. Why do you pretend? My
mother is good—she will forgive—she will understand—and I am
dying…. I have no need to tell lies; give me your hand." I jumped up
and ran out of the room. The old lady, of course, guessed how it was.
'I will not, however, weary you any longer, and to me too, of course,
it's painful to recall all this. My patient passed away the next day.
God rest her soul!' the doctor added, speaking quickly and with a sigh.
'Before her death she asked her family to go out and leave me alone
'"Forgive me," she said; "I am perhaps to blame towards you … my
illness … but believe me, I have loved no one more than you … do
not forget me … keep my ring."'
The doctor turned away; I took his hand.
'Ah!' he said, 'let us talk of something else, or would you care to
play preference for a small stake? It is not for people like me to give
way to exalted emotions. There's only one thing for me to think of; how
to keep the children from crying and the wife from scolding. Since
then, you know, I have had time to enter into lawful wed-lock, as they
say…. Oh … I took a merchant's daughter—seven thousand for her
dowry. Her name's Akulina; it goes well with Trifon. She is an
ill-tempered woman, I must tell you, but luckily she's asleep all
day…. Well, shall it be preference?'
We sat down to preference for halfpenny points. Trifon Ivanitch won two
roubles and a half from me, and went home late, well pleased with his
MY NEIGHBOUR RADILOV
For the autumn, woodcocks often take refuge in old gardens of
lime-trees. There are a good many such gardens among us, in the
province of Orel. Our forefathers, when they selected a place for
habitation, invariably marked out two acres of good ground for a
fruit-garden, with avenues of lime-trees. Within the last fifty, or
seventy years at most, these mansions—'noblemen's nests,' as they call
them—have gradually disappeared off the face of the earth; the houses
are falling to pieces, or have been sold for the building materials;
the stone outhouses have become piles of rubbish; the apple-trees are
dead and turned into firewood, the hedges and fences are pulled up.
Only the lime-trees grow in all their glory as before, and with
ploughed fields all round them, tell a tale to this light-hearted
generation of 'our fathers and brothers who have lived before us.'
A magnificent tree is such an old lime-tree…. Even the merciless axe
of the Russian peasant spares it. Its leaves are small, its powerful
limbs spread wide in all directions; there is perpetual shade under
Once, as I was wandering about the fields after partridges with
Yermolaï, I saw some way off a deserted garden, and turned into it. I
had hardly crossed its borders when a snipe rose up out of a bush with
a clatter. I fired my gun, and at the same instant, a few paces from
me, I heard a shriek; the frightened face of a young girl peeped out
for a second from behind the trees, and instantly disappeared. Yermolaï
ran up to me: 'Why are you shooting here? there is a landowner living
Before I had time to answer him, before my dog had had time to bring
me, with dignified importance, the bird I had shot, swift footsteps
were heard, and a tall man with moustaches came out of the thicket and
stopped, with an air of displeasure, before me. I made my apologies as
best I could, gave him my name, and offered him the bird that had been
killed on his domains.
'Very well,' he said to me with a smile; 'I will take your game, but
only on one condition: that you will stay and dine with us.'
I must confess I was not greatly delighted at his proposition, but it
was impossible to refuse.
'I am a landowner here, and your neighbour, Radilov; perhaps you have
heard of me?' continued my new acquaintance; 'to-day is Sunday, and we
shall be sure to have a decent dinner, otherwise I would not have
I made such a reply as one does make in such circumstances, and turned
to follow him. A little path that had lately been cleared soon led us
out of the grove of lime-trees; we came into the kitchen-garden.
Between the old apple-trees and gooseberry bushes were rows of curly
whitish-green cabbages; the hop twined its tendrils round high poles;
there were thick ranks of brown twigs tangled over with dried peas;
large flat pumpkins seemed rolling on the ground; cucumbers showed
yellow under their dusty angular leaves; tall nettles were waving along
the hedge; in two or three places grew clumps of tartar honeysuckle,
elder, and wild rose—the remnants of former flower-beds. Near a small
fish-pond, full of reddish and slimy water, we saw the well, surrounded
by puddles. Ducks were busily splashing and waddling about these
puddles; a dog blinking and twitching in every limb was gnawing a bone
in the meadow, where a piebald cow was lazily chewing the grass, from
time to time flicking its tail over its lean back. The little path
turned to one side; from behind thick willows and birches we caught
sight of a little grey old house, with a boarded roof and a winding
flight of steps. Radilov stopped short.
'But,' he said, with a good-humoured and direct look in my face,' on
second thoughts … perhaps you don't care to come and see me, after
all…. In that case—'
I did not allow him to finish, but assured him that, on the contrary,
it would be a great pleasure to me to dine with him.
'Well, you know best.'
We went into the house. A young man in a long coat of stout blue cloth
met us on the steps. Radilov at once told him to bring Yermolaï some
vodka; my huntsman made a respectful bow to the back of the munificent
host. From the hall, which was decorated with various parti-coloured
pictures and check curtains, we went into a small room—Radilov's
study. I took off my hunting accoutrements, and put my gun in a corner;
the young man in the long-skirted coat busily brushed me down.
'Well, now, let us go into the drawing-room.' said Radilov cordially.
'I will make you acquainted with my mother.'
I walked after him. In the drawing-room, in the sofa in the centre of
the room, was sitting an old lady of medium height, in a
cinnamon-coloured dress and a white cap, with a thinnish, kind old
face, and a timid, mournful expression.
'Here, mother, let me introduce to you our neighbour….'
The old lady got up and made me a bow, not letting go out of her
withered hands a fat worsted reticule that looked like a sack.
'Have you been long in our neighbourhood?' she asked, in a weak and
gentle voice, blinking her eyes.
'No, not long.'
'Do you intend to remain here long?'
'Till the winter, I think.'
The old lady said no more.
'And here,' interposed Radilov, indicating to me a tall and thin man,
whom I had not noticed on entering the drawing-room, 'is Fyodor
Miheitch. … Come, Fedya, give the visitor a specimen of your art. Why
have you hidden yourself away in that corner?'
Fyodor Miheitch got up at once from his chair, fetched a wretched
little fiddle from the window, took the bow—not by the end, as is
usual, but by the middle—put the fiddle to his chest, shut his eyes,
and fell to dancing, singing a song, and scraping on the strings. He
looked about seventy; a thin nankin overcoat flapped pathetically about
his dry and bony limbs. He danced, at times skipping boldly, and then
dropping his little bald head with his scraggy neck stretched out as if
he were dying, stamping his feet on the ground, and sometimes bending
his knees with obvious difficulty. A voice cracked with age came from
his toothless mouth.
Radilov must have guessed from the expression of my face that Fedya's
'art' did not give me much pleasure.
'Very good, old man, that's enough,' he said. 'You can go and refresh
Fyodor Miheitch at once laid down the fiddle on the window-sill, bowed
first to me as the guest, then to the old lady, then to Radilov, and
'He too was a landowner,' my new friend continued, 'and a rich one too,
but he ruined himself—so he lives now with me…. But in his day he
was considered the most dashing fellow in the province; he eloped with
two married ladies; he used to keep singers, and sang himself, and
danced like a master…. But won't you take some vodka? dinner is just
A young girl, the same that I had caught a glimpse of in the garden,
came into the room.
'And here is Olga!' observed Radilov, slightly turning his head; 'let
me present you…. Well, let us go into dinner.'
We went in and sat down to the table. While we were coming out of the
drawing-room and taking our seats, Fyodor Miheitch, whose eyes were
bright and his nose rather red after his 'refreshment,' sang 'Raise the
cry of Victory.' They laid a separate cover for him in a corner on a
little table without a table-napkin. The poor old man could not boast
of very nice habits, and so they always kept him at some distance from
society. He crossed himself, sighed, and began to eat like a shark. The
dinner was in reality not bad, and in honour of Sunday was accompanied,
of course, with shaking jelly and Spanish puffs of pastry. At the table
Radilov, who had served ten years in an infantry regiment and had been
in Turkey, fell to telling anecdotes; I listened to him with attention,
and secretly watched Olga. She was not very pretty; but the tranquil
and resolute expression of her face, her broad, white brow, her thick
hair, and especially her brown eyes—not large, but clear, sensible and
lively—would have made an impression on anyone in my place. She seemed
to be following every word Radilov uttered—not so much sympathy as
passionate attention was expressed on her face. Radilov in years might
have been her father; he called her by her Christian name, but I
guessed at once that she was not his daughter. In the course of
conversation he referred to his deceased wife—'her sister,' he added,
indicating Olga. She blushed quickly and dropped her eyes. Radilov
paused a moment and then changed the subject. The old lady did not
utter a word during the whole of dinner; she ate scarcely anything
herself, and did not press me to partake. Her features had an air of
timorous and hopeless expectation, that melancholy of old age which it
pierces one's heart to look upon. At the end of dinner Fyodor Miheitch
was beginning to 'celebrate' the hosts and guests, but Radilov looked
at me and asked him to be quiet; the old man passed his hand over his
lips, began to blink, bowed, and sat down again, but only on the very
edge of his chair. After dinner I returned with Radilov to his study.
In people who are constantly and intensely preoccupied with one idea,
or one emotion, there is something in common, a kind of external
resemblance in manner, however different may be their qualities, their
abilities, their position in society, and their education. The more I
watched Radilov, the more I felt that he belonged to the class of such
people. He talked of husbandry, of the crops, of the war, of the gossip
of the district and the approaching elections; he talked without
constraint, and even with interest; but suddenly he would sigh and drop
into a chair, and pass his hand over his face, like a man wearied out
by a tedious task. His whole nature—a good and warm-hearted one
too—seemed saturated through, steeped in some one feeling. I was
amazed by the fact that I could not discover in him either a passion
for eating, nor for wine, nor for sport, nor for Kursk nightingales,
nor for epileptic pigeons, nor for Russian literature, nor for
trotting-hacks, nor for Hungarian coats, nor for cards, nor billiards,
nor for dances, nor trips to the provincial town or the capital, nor
for paper-factories and beet-sugar refineries, nor for painted
pavilions, nor for tea, nor for trace-horses trained to hold their
heads askew, nor even for fat coachmen belted under their very
armpits—those magnificent coachmen whose eyes, for some mysterious
reason, seem rolling and starting out of their heads at every
movement…. 'What sort of landowner is this, then?' I thought. At the
same time he did not in the least pose as a gloomy man discontented
with his destiny; on the contrary, he seemed full of indiscrimating
good-will, cordial and even offensive readiness to become intimate with
every one he came across. In reality you felt at the same time that he
could not be friends, nor be really intimate with anyone, and that he
could not be so, not because in general he was independent of other
people, but because his whole being was for a time turned inwards upon
himself. Looking at Radilov, I could never imagine him happy either now
or at any time. He, too, was not handsome; but in his eyes, his smile,
his whole being, there was a something, mysterious and extremely
attractive—yes, mysterious is just what it was. So that you felt you
would like to know him better, to get to love him. Of course, at times
the landowner and the man of the steppes peeped out in him; but all the
same he was a capital fellow.
We were beginning to talk about the new marshal of the district, when
suddenly we heard Olga's voice at the door: 'Tea is ready.' We went
into the drawing-room. Fyodor Miheitch was sitting as before in his
corner between the little window and the door, his legs curled up under
him. Radilov's mother was knitting a stocking. From the opened windows
came a breath of autumn freshness and the scent of apples. Olga was
busy pouring out tea. I looked at her now with more attention than at
dinner. Like provincial girls as a rule, she spoke very little, but at
any rate I did not notice in her any of their anxiety to say something
fine, together with their painful consciousness of stupidity and
helplessness; she did not sigh as though from the burden of unutterable
emotions, nor cast up her eyes, nor smile vaguely and dreamily. Her
look expressed tranquil self-possession, like a man who is taking
breath after great happiness or great excitement. Her carriage and her
movements were resolute and free. I liked her very much.
I fell again into conversation with Radilov. I don't recollect what
brought us to the familiar observation that often the most
insignificant things produce more effect on people than the most
'Yes,' Radilov agreed, 'I have experienced that in my own case. I, as
you know, have been married. It was not for long—three years; my wife
died in child-birth. I thought that I should not survive her; I was
fearfully miserable, broken down, but I could not weep—I wandered
about like one possessed. They decked her out, as they always do, and
laid her on a table—in this very room. The priest came, the deacons
came, began to sing, to pray, and to burn incense; I bowed to the
ground, and hardly shed a tear. My heart seemed turned to stone—and my
head too—I was heavy all over. So passed my first day. Would you
believe it? I even slept in the night. The next morning I went in to
look at my wife: it was summer-time, the sunshine fell upon her from
head to foot, and it was so bright. Suddenly I saw …' (here Radilov
gave an involuntary shudder) 'what do you think? One of her eyes was
not quite shut, and on this eye a fly was moving…. I fell down in a
heap, and when I came to myself, I began to weep and weep … I could
not stop myself….'
Radilov was silent. I looked at him, then at Olga…. I can never
forget the expression of her face. The old lady had laid the stocking
down on her knees, and taken a handkerchief out of her reticule; she
was stealthily wiping away her tears. Fyodor Miheitch suddenly got up,
seized his fiddle, and in a wild and hoarse voice began to sing a song.
He wanted doubtless to restore our spirits; but we all shuddered at his
first note, and Radilov asked him to be quiet.
'Still what is past, is past,' he continued; 'we cannot recall the
past, and in the end … all is for the best in this world below, as I
think Voltaire said,' he added hurriedly.
'Yes,' I replied, 'of course. Besides, every trouble can be endured,
and there is no position so terrible that there is no escape from it.'
'Do you think so?' said Radilov. 'Well, perhaps you are right. I
recollect I lay once in the hospital in Turkey half dead; I had typhus
fever. Well, our quarters were nothing to boast of—of course, in time
of war—and we had to thank God for what we had! Suddenly they bring in
more sick—where are they to put them? The doctor goes here and
there—there is no room left. So he comes up to me and asks the
attendant, "Is he alive?" He answers, "He was alive this morning." The
doctor bends down, listens; I am breathing. The good man could not help
saying, "Well, what an absurd constitution; the man's dying; he's
certain to die, and he keeps hanging on, lingering, taking up space for
nothing, and keeping out others." Well, I thought to myself, "So you
are in a bad way, Mihal Mihalitch…." And, after all, I got well, and
am alive till now, as you may see for yourself. You are right, to be
'In any case I am right,' I replied; 'even if you had died, you would
just the same have escaped from your horrible position.'
'Of course, of course,' he added, with a violent blow of his fist on
the table. 'One has only to come to a decision…. What is the use of
being in a horrible position?… What is the good of delaying,
Olga rose quickly and went out into the garden.
'Well, Fedya, a dance!' cried Radilov.
Fedya jumped up and walked about the room with that artificial and
peculiar motion which is affected by the man who plays the part of a
goat with a tame bear. He sang meanwhile, 'While at our Gates….'
The rattle of a racing droshky sounded in the drive, and in a few
minutes a tall, broad-shouldered and stoutly made man, the peasant
proprietor, Ovsyanikov, came into the room.
But Ovsyanikov is such a remarkable and original personage that, with
the reader's permission, we will put off speaking about him till the
next sketch. And now I will only add for myself that the next day I
started off hunting at earliest dawn with Yermolaï, and returned home
after the day's sport was over … that a week later I went again to
Radilov's, but did not find him or Olga at home, and within a fortnight
I learned that he had suddenly disappeared, left his mother, and gone
away somewhere with his sister-in-law. The whole province was excited,
and talked about this event, and I only then completely understood the
expression of Olga's face while Radilov was telling us his story. It
was breathing, not with sympathetic suffering only: it was burning with
Before leaving the country I called on old Madame Radilov. I found her
in the drawing-room; she was playing cards with Fyodor Miheitch.
'Have you news of your son?' I asked her at last.
The old lady began to weep. I made no more inquiries about Radilov.
THE PEASANT PROPRIETOR OVSYANIKOV
Picture to yourselves, gentle readers, a stout, tall man of seventy,
with a face reminding one somewhat of the face of Kriloff, clear and
intelligent eyes under overhanging brows, dignified in bearing, slow in
speech, and deliberate in movement: there you have Ovsyanikov. He wore
an ample blue overcoat with long sleeves, buttoned all the way up, a
lilac silk-handkerchief round his neck, brightly polished boots with
tassels, and altogether resembled in appearance a well-to-do merchant.
His hands were handsome, soft, and white; he often fumbled with the
buttons of his coat as he talked. With his dignity and his composure,
his good sense and his indolence, his uprightness and his obstinacy,
Ovsyanikov reminded me of the Russian boyars of the times before Peter
the Great…. The national holiday dress would have suited him well. He
was one of the last men left of the old time. All his neighbours had a
great respect for him, and considered it an honour to be acquainted
with him. His fellow peasant-proprietors almost worshipped him, and
took off their hats to him from a distance: they were proud of him.
Generally speaking, in these days, it is difficult to tell a
peasant-proprietor from a peasant; his husbandry is almost worse than
the peasant's; his calves are wretchedly small; his horses are only
half alive; his harness is made of rope. Ovsyanikov was an exception to
the general rule, though he did not pass for a wealthy man. He lived
alone with his wife in a clean and comfortable little house, kept a few
servants, whom he dressed in the Russian style and called his
'workmen.' They were employed also in ploughing his land. He did not
attempt to pass for a nobleman, did not affect to be a landowner;
never, as they say, forgot himself; he did not take a seat at the first
invitation to do so, and he never failed to rise from his seat on the
entrance of a new guest, but with such dignity, with such stately
courtesy, that the guest involuntarily made him a more deferential bow.
Ovsyanikov adhered to the antique usages, not from superstition (he was
naturally rather independent in mind), but from habit. He did not, for
instance, like carriages with springs, because he did not find them
comfortable, and preferred to drive in a racing droshky, or in a pretty
little trap with leather cushions, and he always drove his good bay
himself (he kept none but bay horses). His coachman, a young,
rosy-cheeked fellow, his hair cut round like a basin, in a dark blue
coat with a strap round the waist, sat respectfully beside him.
Ovsyanikov always had a nap after dinner and visited the bath-house on
Saturdays; he read none but religious books and used gravely to fix his
round silver spectacles on his nose when he did so; he got up, and went
to bed early. He shaved his beard, however, and wore his hair in the
German style. He always received visitors cordially and affably, but he
did not bow down to the ground, nor fuss over them and press them to
partake of every kind of dried and salted delicacy. 'Wife!' he would
say deliberately, not getting up from his seat, but only turning his
head a little in her direction, 'bring the gentleman a little of
something to eat.' He regarded it as a sin to sell wheat: it was the
gift of God. In the year '40, at the time of the general famine and
terrible scarcity, he shared all his store with the surrounding
landowners and peasants; the following year they gratefully repaid
their debt to him in kind. The neighbours often had recourse to
Ovsyanikov as arbitrator and mediator between them, and they almost
always acquiesced in his decision, and listened to his advice. Thanks
to his intervention, many had conclusively settled their boundaries….
But after two or three tussles with lady-landowners, he announced that
he declined all mediation between persons of the feminine gender. He
could not bear the flurry and excitement, the chatter of women and the
'fuss.' Once his house had somehow got on fire. A workman ran to him in
headlong haste shrieking, 'Fire, fire!' 'Well, what are you screaming
about?' said Ovsyanikov tranquilly, 'give me my cap and my stick.' He
liked to break in his horses himself. Once a spirited horse he was
training bolted with him down a hillside and over a precipice. 'Come,
there, there, you young colt, you'll kill yourself!' said Ovsyanikov
soothingly to him, and an instant later he flew over the precipice
together with the racing droshky, the boy who was sitting behind, and
the horse. Fortunately, the bottom of the ravine was covered with heaps
of sand. No one was injured; only the horse sprained a leg. 'Well, you
see,' continued Ovsyanikov in a calm voice as he got up from the
ground, 'I told you so.' He had found a wife to match him. Tatyana
Ilyinitchna Ovsyanikov was a tall woman, dignified and taciturn, always
dressed in a cinnamon-coloured silk dress. She had a cold air, though
none complained of her severity, but, on the contrary, many poor
creatures called her their little mother and benefactress. Her regular
features, her large dark eyes, and her delicately cut lips, bore
witness even now to her once celebrated beauty. Ovsyanikov had no
I made his acquaintance, as the reader is already aware, at Radilov's,
and two days later I went to see him. I found him at home. He was
reading the lives of the Saints. A grey cat was purring on his
shoulder. He received me, according to his habit, with stately
cordiality. We fell into conversation.
'But tell me the truth, Luka Petrovitch,' I said to him, among other
things; 'weren't things better of old, in your time?'
'In some ways, certainly, things were better, I should say,' replied
Ovsyanikov; 'we lived more easily; there was a greater abundance of
everything. … All the same, things are better now, and they will be
better still for your children, please God.'
'I had expected you, Luka Petrovitch, to praise the old times.'
'No, I have no special reason to praise old times. Here, for instance,
though you are a landowner now, and just as much a landowner as your
grandfather was, you have not the same power—and, indeed, you are not
yourself the same kind of man. Even now, some noblemen oppress us; but,
of course, it is impossible to help that altogether. Where there are
mills grinding there will be flour. No; I don't see now what I have
experienced myself in my youth.'
'What, for instance?'
'Well, for instance, I will tell you about your grandfather. He was an
overbearing man; he oppressed us poorer folks. You know,
perhaps—indeed, you surely know your own estates—that bit of land
that runs from Tchepligin to Malinina—you have it under oats now….
Well, you know, it is ours—it is all ours. Your grandfather took it
away from us; he rode by on his horse, pointed to it with his hand, and
said, "It's my property," and took possession of it. My father (God
rest his soul!) was a just man; he was a hot-tempered man, too; he
would not put up with it—indeed, who does like to lose his
property?—and he laid a petition before the court. But he was alone:
the others did not appear—they were afraid. So they reported to your
grandfather that "Piotr Ovsyanikov is making a complaint against you
that you were pleased to take away his land." Your grandfather at once
sent his huntsman Baush with a detachment of men…. Well, they seized
my father, and carried him to your estate. I was a little boy at that
time; I ran after him barefoot. What happened? They brought him to your
house, and flogged him right under your windows. And your grandfather
stands on the balcony and looks on; and your grandmother sits at the
window and looks on too. My father cries out, "Gracious lady, Marya
Vasilyevna, intercede for me! have mercy on me!" But her only answer
was to keep getting up to have a look at him. So they exacted a promise
from my father to give up the land, and bade him be thankful they let
him go alive. So it has remained with you. Go and ask your
peasants—what do they call the land, indeed? It's called "The
Cudgelled Land," because it was gained by the cudgel. So you see from
that, we poor folks can't bewail the old order very much.'
I did not know what answer to make Ovsyanikov, and I had not the
courage to look him in the face.
'We had another neighbour who settled amongst us in those days, Komov,
Stepan Niktopolionitch. He used to worry my father out of his life;
when it wasn't one thing, it was another. He was a drunken fellow, and
fond of treating others; and when he was drunk he would say in French,
"Say bon," and "Take away the holy images!" He would go to all the
neighbours to ask them to come to him. His horses stood always in
readiness, and if you wouldn't go he would come after you himself at
once!… And he was such a strange fellow! In his sober times he was
not a liar; but when he was drunk he would begin to relate how he had
three houses in Petersburg—one red, with one chimney; another yellow,
with two chimneys; and a third blue, with no chimneys; and three sons
(though he had never even been married), one in the infantry, another
in the cavalry, and the third was his own master…. And he would say
that in each house lived one of his sons; that admirals visited the
eldest, and generals the second, and the third only Englishmen! Then he
would get up and say, "To the health of my eldest son; he is the most
dutiful!" and he would begin to weep. Woe to anyone who refused to
drink the toast! "I will shoot him!" he would say; "and I won't let him
be buried!" … Then he would jump up and scream, "Dance, God's people,
for your pleasure and my diversion!" Well, then, you must dance; if you
had to die for it, you must dance. He thoroughly worried his serf-girls
to death. Sometimes all night long till morning they would be singing
in chorus, and the one who made the most noise would have a prize. If
they began to be tired, he would lay his head down in his hands, and
begins moaning: "Ah, poor forsaken orphan that I am! They abandon me,
poor little dove!" And the stable-boys would wake the girls up at once.
He took a liking to my father; what was he to do? He almost drove my
father into his grave, and would actually have driven him into it, but
(thank Heaven!) he died himself; in one of his drunken fits he fell off
the pigeon-house. … There, that's what our sweet little neighbours
'How the times have changed!' I observed.
'Yes, yes,' Ovsyanikov assented. 'And there is this to be said—in the
old days the nobility lived more sumptuously. I'm not speaking of the
real grandees now. I used to see them in Moscow. They say such people
are scarce nowadays.'
'Have you been in Moscow?'
'I used to stay there long, very long ago. I am now in my seventy-third
year; and I went to Moscow when I was sixteen.'
'Whom did you see there?'
'I saw a great many grandees—and every one saw them; they kept open
house for the wonder and admiration of all! Only no one came up to
Count Alexey Grigoryevitch Orlov-Tchesmensky. I often saw Alexey
Grigoryevitch; my uncle was a steward in his service. The count was
pleased to live in Shabolovka, near the Kaluga Gate. He was a grand
gentleman! Such stateliness, such gracious condescension you can't
imagine! and it's impossible to describe it. His figure alone was worth
something, and his strength, and the look in his eyes! Till you knew
him, you did not dare come near him—you were afraid, overawed indeed;
but directly you came near him he was like sunshine warming you up and
making you quite cheerful. He allowed every man access to him in
person, and he was devoted to every kind of sport. He drove himself in
races and out-stripped every one, and he would never get in front at
the start, so as not to offend his adversary; he would not cut it
short, but would pass him at the finish; and he was so pleasant—he
would soothe his adversary, praising his horse. He kept tumbler-pigeons
of a first-rate kind. He would come out into the court, sit down in an
arm-chair, and order them to let loose the pigeons; and his men would
stand all round on the roofs with guns to keep off the hawks. A large
silver basin of water used to be placed at the count's feet, and he
looked at the pigeons reflected in the water. Beggars and poor people
were fed in hundreds at his expense; and what a lot of money he used to
give away!… When he got angry, it was like a clap of thunder.
Everyone was in a great fright, but there was nothing to weep over;
look round a minute after, and he was all smiles again! When he gave a
banquet he made all Moscow drunk!—and see what a clever man he was!
you know he beat the Turk. He was fond of wrestling too; strong men
used to come from Tula, from Harkoff, from Tamboff, and from everywhere
to him. If he threw any one he would pay him a reward; but if any one
threw him, he perfectly loaded him with presents, and kissed him on the
lips…. And once, during my stay at Moscow, he arranged a hunting
party such as had never been in Russia before; he sent invitations to
all the sportsmen in the whole empire, and fixed a day for it, and gave
them three months' notice. They brought with them dogs and grooms:
well, it was an army of people—a regular army!
'First they had a banquet in the usual way, and then they set off into
the open country. The people flocked there in thousands! And what do
you think?… Your father's dog outran them all.'
'Wasn't that Milovidka?' I inquired.
'Milovidka, Milovidka!… So the count began to ask him, "Give me your
dog," says he; "take what you like for her." "No, count," he said, "I
am not a tradesman; I don't sell anything for filthy lucre; for your
sake I am ready to part with my wife even, but not with Milovidka…. I
would give myself into bondage first." And Alexey Grigoryevitch praised
him for it. "I like you for it," he said. Your grandfather took her
back in the coach with him, and when Milovidka died, he buried her in
the garden with music at the burial—yes, a funeral for a dog—and put
a stone with an inscription on it over the dog.'
'Then Alexey Grigoryevitch did not oppress anyone,' I observed.
'Yes, it is always like that; those who can only just keep themselves
afloat are the ones to drag others under.'
'And what sort of a man was this Baush?' I asked after a short silence.
'Why, how comes it you have heard about Milovidka, and not about Baush?
He was your grandfather's chief huntsman and whipper-in. Your
grandfather was as fond of him as of Milovidka. He was a desperate
fellow, and whatever order your grandfather gave him, he would carry it
out in a minute—he'd have run on to a sword at his bidding…. And
when he hallooed … it was something like a tally-ho in the forest.
And then he would suddenly turn nasty, get off his horse, and lie down
on the ground … and directly the dogs ceased to hear his voice, it
was all over! They would give up the hottest scent, and wouldn't go on
for anything. Ay, ay, your grandfather did get angry! "Damn me, if I
don't hang the scoundrel! I'll turn him inside out, the antichrist!
I'll stuff his heels down his gullet, the cut-throat!" And it ended by
his going up to find out what he wanted; why he wouldn't halloo to the
hounds? Usually, on such occasions, Baush asked for some vodka, drank
it up, got on his horse, and began to halloo as lustily as ever again.'
'You seem to be fond of hunting too, Luka Petrovitch?'
'I should have been—certainly, not now; now my time is over—but in my
young days…. But you know it was not an easy matter in my position.
It's not suitable for people like us to go trailing after noblemen.
Certainly you may find in our class some drinking, good-for-nothing
fellow who associates with the gentry—but it's a queer sort of
enjoyment…. He only brings shame on himself. They mount him on a
wretched stumbling nag, keep knocking his hat off on to the ground and
cut at him with a whip, pretending to whip the horse, and he must laugh
at everything, and be a laughing-stock for the others. No, I tell you,
the lower your station, the more reserved must be your behaviour, or
else you disgrace yourself directly.'
'Yes,' continued Ovsyanikov with a sigh, 'there's many a gallon of
water has flowed down to the sea since I have been living in the world;
times are different now. Especially I see a great change in the
nobility. The smaller landowners have all either become officials, or
at any rate do not stop here; as for the larger owners, there's no
making them out. I have had experience of them—the larger
landowners—in cases of settling boundaries. And I must tell you; it
does my heart good to see them: they are courteous and affable. Only
this is what astonishes me; they have studied all the sciences, they
speak so fluently that your heart is melted, but they don't understand
the actual business in hand; they don't even perceive what's their own
interest; some bailiff, a bondservant, drives them just where he
pleases, as though they were in a yoke. There's Korolyov—Alexandr
Vladimirovitch—for instance; you know him, perhaps—isn't he every
inch a nobleman? He is handsome, rich, has studied at the 'versities,
and travelled, I think, abroad; he speaks simply and easily, and shakes
hands with us all. You know him?… Well, listen then. Last week we
assembled at Beryozovka at the summons of the mediator, Nikifor Ilitch.
And the mediator, Nikifor Ilitch, says to us: "Gentlemen, we must
settle the boundaries; it's disgraceful; our district is behind all the
others; we must get to work." Well, so we got to work. There followed
discussions, disputes, as usual; our attorney began to make objections.
But the first to make an uproar was Porfiry Ovtchinnikov…. And what
had the fellow to make an uproar about?… He hasn't an acre of ground;
he is acting as representative of his brother. He bawls: "No, you shall
not impose on me! no, you shan't drive me to that! give the plans here!
give me the surveyor's plans, the Judas's plans here!" "But what is
your claim, then?" "Oh, you think I'm a fool! Indeed! do you suppose I
am going to lay bare my claim to you offhand? No, let me have the plans
here—that's what I want!" And he himself is banging his fist on the
plans all the time. Then he mortally offended Marfa Dmitrievna. She
shrieks out, "How dare you asperse my reputation?" "Your reputation,"
says he; "I shouldn't like my chestnut mare to have your reputation."
They poured him out some Madeira at last, and so quieted him; then
others begin to make a row. Alexandr Vladimirovitch Korolyov, the dear
fellow, sat in a corner sucking the knob of his cane, and only shook
his head. I felt ashamed; I could hardly sit it out. "What must he be
thinking of us?" I said to myself. When, behold! Alexandr
Vladimirovitch has got up, and shows signs of wanting to speak. The
mediator exerts himself, says, "Gentlemen, gentlemen, Alexandr
Vladimirovitch wishes to speak." And I must do them this credit; they
were all silent at once. And so Alexandr Vladimirovitch began and said
"that we seemed to have forgotten what we had come together for; that,
indeed, the fixing of boundaries was indisputably advantageous for
owners of land, but actually what was its object? To make things easier
for the peasant, so that he could work and pay his dues more
conveniently; that now the peasant hardly knows his own land, and often
goes to work five miles away; and one can't expect too much of him."
Then Alexandr Vladimirovitch said "that it was disgraceful in a
landowner not to interest himself in the well-being of his peasants;
that in the end, if you look at it rightly, their interests and our
interests are inseparable; if they are well-off we are well-off, and if
they do badly we do badly, and that, consequently, it was injudicious
and wrong to disagree over trifles" … and so on—and so on…. There,
how he did speak! He seemed to go right to your heart…. All the
gentry hung their heads; I myself, faith, it nearly brought me to
tears. To tell the truth, you would not find sayings like that in the
old books even…. But what was the end of it? He himself would not
give up four acres of peat marsh, and wasn't willing to sell it. He
said, "I am going to drain that marsh for my people, and set up a
cloth-factory on it, with all the latest improvements. I have already,"
he said, "fixed on that place; I have thought out my plans on the
subject." And if only that had been the truth, it would be all very
well; but the simple fact is, Alexandr Vladimirovitch's neighbour,
Anton Karasikov, had refused to buy over Korolyov's bailiff for a
hundred roubles. And so we separated without having done anything. But
Alexandr Vladimirovitch considers to this day that he is right, and
still talks of the cloth-factory; but he does not start draining the
'And how does he manage in his estate?'
'He is always introducing new ways. The peasants don't speak well of
him—but it's useless to listen to them. Alexandr Vladimirovitch is
'How's that, Luka Petrovitch? I thought you kept to the old ways.'
'I—that's another thing. You see I am not a nobleman or a landowner.
What sort of management is mine?… Besides, I don't know how to do
things differently. I try to act according to justice and the law, and
leave the rest in God's hands! Young gentlemen don't like the old
method; I think they are right…. It's the time to take in ideas. Only
this is the pity of it; the young are too theoretical. They treat the
peasant like a doll; they turn him this way and that way; twist him
about and throw him away. And their bailiff, a serf, or some overseer
from the German natives, gets the peasant under his thumb again. Now,
if any one of the young gentlemen would set us an example, would show
us, "See, this is how you ought to manage!" … What will be the end of
it? Can it be that I shall die without seeing the new methods?… What
is the proverb?—the old is dead, but the young is not born!'
I did not know what reply to make to Ovsyanikov. He looked round, drew
himself nearer to me, and went on in an undertone:
'Have you heard talk of Vassily Nikolaitch Lubozvonov?'
'No, I haven't.'
'Explain to me, please, what sort of strange creature he is. I can't
make anything of it. His peasants have described him, but I can't make
any sense of their tales. He is a young man, you know; it's not long
since he received his heritage from his mother. Well, he arrived at his
estate. The peasants were all collected to stare at their master.
Vassily Nikolaitch came out to them. The peasants looked at
him—strange to relate! the master wore plush pantaloons like a
coachman, and he had on boots with trimming at the top; he wore a red
shirt and a coachman's long coat too; he had let his beard grow, and
had such a strange hat and such a strange face—could he be drunk? No,
he wasn't drunk, and yet he didn't seem quite right. "Good health to
you, lads!" he says; "God keep you!" The peasants bow to the ground,
but without speaking; they began to feel frightened, you know. And he
too seemed timid. He began to make a speech to them: "I am a Russian,"
he says, "and you are Russians; I like everything Russian…. Russia,"
says he, "is my heart, and my blood too is Russian"…. Then he
suddenly gives the order: "Come, lads, sing a Russian national song!"
The peasants' legs shook under them with fright; they were utterly
stupefied. One bold spirit did begin to sing, but he sat down at once
on the ground and hid himself behind the others…. And what is so
surprising is this: we have had landowners like that, dare-devil
gentlemen, regular rakes, of course: they dressed pretty much like
coachmen, and danced themselves and played on the guitar, and sang and
drank with their house-serfs and feasted with the peasants; but this
Vassily Nikolaitch is like a girl; he is always reading books or
writing, or else declaiming poetry aloud—he never addresses any one;
he is shy, walks by himself in his garden; seems either bored or sad.
The old bailiff at first was in a thorough scare; before Vassily
Nikolaitch's arrival he was afraid to go near the peasants' houses; he
bowed to all of them—one could see the cat knew whose butter he had
eaten! And the peasants were full of hope; they thought, 'Fiddlesticks,
my friend!—now they'll make you answer for it, my dear; they'll lead
you a dance now, you robber!' … But instead of this it has turned
out—how shall I explain it to you?—God Almighty could not account for
how things have turned out! Vassily Nikolaitch summoned him to his
presence and says, blushing himself and breathing quick, you know: "Be
upright in my service; don't oppress any one—do you hear?" And since
that day he has never asked to see him in person again! He lives on his
own property like a stranger. Well, the bailiff's been enjoying
himself, and the peasants don't dare to go to Vassily Nikolaitch; they
are afraid. And do you see what's a matter for wonder again; the master
even bows to them and looks graciously at them; but he seems to turn
their stomachs with fright! 'What do you say to such a strange state of
things, your honour? Either I have grown stupid in my old age, or
something…. I can't understand it.'
I said to Ovsyanikov that Mr. Lubozvonov must certainly be ill.
'Ill, indeed! He's as broad as he's long, and a face like this—God
bless him!—and bearded, though he is so young…. Well, God knows!'
And Ovsyanikov gave a deep sigh.
'Come, putting the nobles aside,' I began, 'what have you to tell me
about the peasant proprietors, Luka Petrovitch?'
'No, you must let me off that,' he said hurriedly. 'Truly…. I could
tell you … but what's the use!' (with a wave of his hand). 'We had
better have some tea…. We are common peasants and nothing more; but
when we come to think of it, what else could we be?'
He ceased talking. Tea was served. Tatyana Ilyinitchna rose from her
place and sat down rather nearer to us. In the course of the evening
she several times went noiselessly out and as quietly returned. Silence
reigned in the room. Ovsyanikov drank cup after cup with gravity and
'Mitya has been to see us to-day,' said Tatyana Ilyinitchna in a low
'What does he want?'
'He came to ask forgiveness.'
Ovsyanikov shook his head.
'Come, tell me,' he went on, turning to me, 'what is one to do with
relations? And to abandon them altogether is impossible…. Here God
has bestowed on me a nephew. He's a fellow with brains—a smart
fellow—I don't dispute that; he has had a good education, but I don't
expect much good to come of him. He went into a government office;
threw up his position—didn't get on fast enough, if you please….
Does he suppose he's a noble? And even noblemen don't come to be
generals all at once. So now he is living without an occupation…. And
that, even, would not be such a great matter—except that he has taken
to litigation! He gets up petitions for the peasants, writes memorials;
he instructs the village delegates, drags the surveyors over the coals,
frequents drinking houses, is seen in taverns with city tradesmen and
inn-keepers. He's bound to come to ruin before long. The constables and
police-captains have threatened him more than once already. But he
luckily knows how to turn it off—he makes them laugh; but they will
boil his kettle for him some day…. But, there, isn't he sitting in
your little room?' he added, turning to his wife; 'I know you, you see;
you're so soft-hearted—you will always take his part.'
Tatyana Ilyinitchna dropped her eyes, smiled, and blushed.
'Well, I see it is so,' continued Ovsyanikov. 'Fie! you spoil the boy!
Well, tell him to come in…. So be it, then; for the sake of our good
guest I will forgive the silly fellow…. Come, tell him, tell him.'
Tatyana Ilyinitchna went to the door, and cried 'Mitya!'
Mitya, a young man of twenty-eight, tall, well-made, and curly-headed,
came into the room, and seeing me, stopped short in the doorway. His
costume was in the German style, but the unnatural size of the puffs on
his shoulders was enough alone to prove convincingly that the tailor
who had cut it was a Russian of the Russians.
'Well, come in, come in,' began the old man; 'why are you bashful? You
must thank your aunt—you're forgiven…. Here, your honour, I commend
him to you,' he continued, pointing to Mitya; 'he's my own nephew, but
I don't get on with him at all. The end of the world is coming!' (We
bowed to one another.) 'Well, tell me what is this you have got mixed
up in? What is the complaint they are making against you? Explain it to
Mitya obviously did not care to explain matters and justify himself
'Later on, uncle,' he muttered.
'No, not later—now,' pursued the old man…. 'You are ashamed, I see,
before this gentleman; all the better—it's only what you deserve.
Speak, speak; we are listening.'
'I have nothing to be ashamed of,' began Mitya spiritedly, with a toss
of his head. 'Be so good as to judge for yourself, uncle. Some peasant
proprietors of Reshetilovo came to me, and said, "Defend us, brother."
"What is the matter?"' "This is it: our grain stores were in perfect
order—in fact, they could not be better; all at once a government
inspector came to us with orders to inspect the granaries. He inspected
them, and said, 'Your granaries are in disorder—serious neglect; it's
my duty to report it to the authorities.' 'But what does the neglect
consist in?' 'That's my business,' he says…. We met together, and
decided to tip the official in the usual way; but old Prohoritch
prevented us. He said, 'No; that's only giving him a taste for more.
Come; after all, haven't we the courts of justice?' We obeyed the old
man, and the official got in a rage, and made a complaint, and wrote a
report. So now we are called up to answer to his charges." "But are
your granaries actually in order?" I asked. "God knows they are in
order; and the legal quantity of corn is in them." "Well, then," say I,
"you have nothing to fear"; and I drew up a document for them…. And
it is not yet known in whose favour it is decided…. And as to the
complaints they have made to you about me over that affair—it's very
easy to understand that—every man's shirt is nearest to his own skin.
'Everyone's, indeed—but not yours seemingly,' said the old man in an
undertone. 'But what plots have you been hatching with the
'How do you know anything of it?'
'Never mind; I do know of it.'
'And there, too, I am right—judge for yourself again. A neighbouring
landowner, Bezpandin, has ploughed over four acres of the Shutolomovsky
peasants' land. "The land's mine," he says. The Shutolomovsky people
are on the rent-system; their landowner has gone abroad—who is to
stand up for them? Tell me yourself? But the land is theirs beyond
dispute; they've been bound to it for ages and ages. So they came to
me, and said, "Write us a petition." So I wrote one. And Bezpandin
heard of it, and began to threaten me. "I'll break every bone in that
Mitya's body, and knock his head off his shoulders…." We shall see
how he will knock it off; it's still on, so far.'
'Come, don't boast; it's in a bad way, your head,' said the old man.
'You are a mad fellow altogether!'
'Why, uncle, what did you tell me yourself?'
'I know, I know what you will say,' Ovsyanikov interrupted him; 'of
course a man ought to live uprightly, and he is bound to succour his
neighbour. Sometimes one must not spare oneself…. But do you always
behave in that way? Don't they take you to the tavern, eh? Don't they
treat you; bow to you, eh? "Dmitri Alexyitch," they say, "help us, and
we will prove our gratitude to you." And they slip a silver rouble or
note into your hand. Eh? doesn't that happen? Tell me, doesn't that
'I am certainly to blame in that,' answered Mitya, rather confused;
'but I take nothing from the poor, and I don't act against my
'You don't take from them now; but when you are badly off yourself,
then you will. You don't act against your conscience—fie on you! Of
course, they are all saints whom you defend!… Have you forgotten
Borka Perohodov? Who was it looked after him? Who took him under his
'Perohodov suffered through his own fault, certainly.'
'He appropriated the public moneys…. That was all!'
'But, consider, uncle: his poverty, his family.'
'Poverty, poverty…. He's a drunkard, a quarrelsome fellow; that's
what it is!'
'He took to drink through trouble,' said Mitya, dropping his voice.
'Through trouble, indeed! Well, you might have helped him, if your
heart was so warm to him, but there was no need for you to sit in
taverns with the drunken fellow yourself. Though he did speak so finely
… a prodigy, to be sure!'
'He was a very good fellow.'
'Every one is good with you…. But did you send him?' … pursued
Ovsyanikov, turning to his wife; 'come; you know?'
Tatyana Ilyinitchna nodded.
'Where have you been lately?' the old man began again.
'I have been in the town.'
'You have been doing nothing but playing billiards, I wager, and
drinking tea, and running to and fro about the government offices,
drawing up petitions in little back rooms, flaunting about with
merchants' sons? That's it, of course?… Tell us!'
'Perhaps that is about it,' said Mitya with a smile…. 'Ah! I had
almost forgotten—Funtikov, Anton Parfenitch asks you to dine with him
'I shan't go to see that old tub. He gives you costly fish and puts
rancid butter on it. God bless him!'
'And I met Fedosya Mihalovna.'
'What Fedosya is that?'
'She belongs to Garpentchenko, the landowner, who bought Mikulino by
auction. Fedosya is from Mikulino. She lived in Moscow as a
dress-maker, paying her service in money, and she paid her
service-money accurately—a hundred and eighty two-roubles and a half a
year…. And she knows her business; she got good orders in Moscow. But
now Garpentchenko has written for her back, and he retains her here,
but does not provide any duties for her. She would be prepared to buy
her freedom, and has spoken to the master, but he will not give any
decisive answer. You, uncle, are acquainted with Garpentchenko … so
couldn't you just say a word to him?… And Fedosya would give a good
price for her freedom.'
'Not with your money I hope? Hey? Well, well, all right; I will speak
to him, I will speak to him. But I don't know,' continued the old man
with a troubled face; 'this Garpentchenko, God forgive him! is a shark;
he buys up debts, lends money at interest, purchases estates at
auctions…. And who brought him into our parts? Ugh, I can't bear
these new-comers! One won't get an answer out of him very quickly….
However, we shall see.'
'Try to manage it, uncle.'
'Very well, I will see to it. Only you take care; take care of
yourself! There, there, don't defend yourself…. God bless you! God
bless you!… Only take care for the future, or else, Mitya, upon my
word, it will go ill with you…. Upon my word, you will come to
grief…. I can't always screen you … and I myself am not a man of
influence. There, go now, and God be with you!'
Mitya went away. Tatyana Ilyinitchna went out after him.
'Give him some tea, you soft-hearted creature,' cried Ovsyanikov after
her. 'He's not a stupid fellow,' he continued, 'and he's a good heart,
but I feel afraid for him…. But pardon me for having so long kept you
occupied with such details.'
The door from the hall opened. A short grizzled little man came in, in
a velvet coat.
'Ah, Frantz Ivanitch!' cried Ovsyanikov, 'good day to you. Is God
merciful to you?'
Allow me, gentle reader, to introduce to you this gentleman.
Frantz Ivanitch Lejeune, my neighbour, and a landowner of Orel, had
arrived at the respectable position of a Russian nobleman in a not
quite ordinary way. He was born in Orleans of French parents, and had
gone with Napoleon, on the invasion of Russia, in the capacity of a
drummer. At first all went smoothly, and our Frenchman arrived in
Moscow with his head held high. But on the return journey poor Monsieur
Lejeune, half-frozen and without his drum, fell into the hands of some
peasants of Smolensk. The peasants shut him up for the night in an
empty cloth factory, and the next morning brought him to an ice-hole
near the dyke, and began to beg the drummer 'de la Grrrrande Armée'
to oblige them; in other words, to swim under the ice. Monsieur Lejeune
could not agree to their proposition, and in his turn began to try to
persuade the Smolensk peasants, in the dialect of France, to let him go
to Orleans. 'There, messieurs,' he said, 'my mother is living, une
tendre mère' But the peasants, doubtless through their ignorance of
the geographical position of Orleans, continued to offer him a journey
under water along the course of the meandering river Gniloterka, and
had already begun to encourage him with slight blows on the vertebrae
of the neck and back, when suddenly, to the indescribable delight of
Lejeune, the sound of bells was heard, and there came along the dyke a
huge sledge with a striped rug over its excessively high dickey,
harnessed with three roan horses. In the sledge sat a stout and
red-faced landowner in a wolfskin pelisse.
'What is it you are doing there?' he asked the peasants.
'We are drowning a Frenchman, your honour.'
'Ah!' replied the landowner indifferently, and he turned away.
'Monsieur! Monsieur!' shrieked the poor fellow.
'Ah, ah!' observed the wolfskin pelisse reproachfully, 'you came with
twenty nations into Russia, burnt Moscow, tore down, you damned
heathen! the cross from Ivan the Great, and now—mossoo, mossoo,
indeed! now you turn tail! You are paying the penalty of your sins!…
Go on, Filka!'
The horses were starting.
'Stop, though!' added the landowner. 'Eh? you mossoo, do you know
anything of music?'
'Sauvez-moi, sauvez-moi, mon bon monsieur!' repeated Lejeune.
'There, see what a wretched people they are! Not one of them knows
Russian! Muzeek, muzeek, savey muzeek voo? savey? Well, speak, do!
Compreny? savey muzeek voo? on the piano, savey zhooey?'
Lejeune comprehended at last what the landowner meant, and persistently
nodded his head.
'Oui, monsieur, oui, oui, je suis musicien; je joue tous les
instruments possibles! Oui, monsieur…. Sauvez-moi, monsieur!'
'Well, thank your lucky star!' replied the landowner. 'Lads, let him
go: here's a twenty-copeck piece for vodka.'
'Thank you, your honour, thank you. Take him, your honour.'
They sat Lejeune in the sledge. He was gasping with delight, weeping,
shivering, bowing, thanking the landowner, the coachman, the peasants.
He had nothing on but a green jacket with pink ribbons, and it was
freezing very hard. The landowner looked at his blue and benumbed
shoulders in silence, wrapped the unlucky fellow in his own pelisse,
and took him home. The household ran out. They soon thawed the
Frenchman, fed him, and clothed him. The landowner conducted him to his
'Here, children!' he said to them, 'a teacher is found for you. You
were always entreating me to have you taught music and the French
jargon; here you have a Frenchman, and he plays on the piano…. Come,
mossoo,' he went on, pointing to a wretched little instrument he had
bought five years before of a Jew, whose special line was eau de
Cologne, 'give us an example of your art; zhooey!'
Lejeune, with a sinking heart, sat down on the music-stool; he had
never touched a piano in his life.
'Zhooey, zhooey!' repeated the landowner.
In desperation, the unhappy man beat on the keys as though on a drum,
and played at hazard. 'I quite expected,' he used to tell afterwards,
'that my deliverer would seize me by the collar, and throw me out of
the house.' But, to the utmost amazement of the unwilling improvisor,
the landowner, after waiting a little, patted him good-humouredly on
'Good, good,' he said; 'I see your attainments; go now, and rest
Within a fortnight Lejeune had gone from this landowner's to stay with
another, a rich and cultivated man. He gained his friendship by his
bright and gentle disposition, was married to a ward of his, went into
a government office, rose to the nobility, married his daughter to
Lobizanyev, a landowner of Orel, and a retired dragoon and poet, and
settled himself on an estate in Orel.
It was this same Lejeune, or rather, as he is called now, Frantz
Ivanitch, who, when I was there, came in to see Ovsyanikov, with whom
he was on friendly terms….
But perhaps the reader is already weary of sitting with me at the
Ovsyanikovs', and so I will become eloquently silent.
'Let us go to Lgov,' Yermolaï, whom the reader knows already, said to
me one day; 'there we can shoot ducks to our heart's content.'
Although wild duck offers no special attraction for a genuine
sportsman, still, through lack of other game at the time (it was the
beginning of September; snipe were not on the wing yet, and I was tired
of running across the fields after partridges), I listened to my
huntsman's suggestion, and we went to Lgov.
Lgov is a large village of the steppes, with a very old stone church
with a single cupola, and two mills on the swampy little river Rossota.
Five miles from Lgov, this river becomes a wide swampy pond, overgrown
at the edges, and in places also in the centre, with thick reeds. Here,
in the creeks or rather pools between the reeds, live and breed a
countless multitude of ducks of all possible kinds—quackers,
half-quackers, pintails, teals, divers, etc. Small flocks are for ever
flitting about and swimming on the water, and at a gunshot, they rise
in such clouds that the sportsman involuntarily clutches his hat with
one hand and utters a prolonged Pshaw! I walked with Yermolaï along
beside the pond; but, in the first place, the duck is a wary bird, and
is not to be met quite close to the bank; and secondly, even when some
straggling and inexperienced teal exposed itself to our shots and lost
its life, our dogs were not able to get it out of the thick reeds; in
spite of their most devoted efforts they could neither swim nor tread
on the bottom, and only cut their precious noses on the sharp reeds for
'No,' was Yermolaï's comment at last, 'it won't do; we must get a
boat…. Let us go back to Lgov.'
We went back. We had only gone a few paces when a rather
wretched-looking setter-dog ran out from behind a bushy willow to meet
us, and behind him appeared a man of middle height, in a blue and
much-worn greatcoat, a yellow waistcoat, and pantaloons of a
nondescript grey colour, hastily tucked into high boots full of holes,
with a red handkerchief round his neck, and a single-barrelled gun on
his shoulder. While our dogs, with the ordinary Chinese ceremonies
peculiar to their species, were sniffing at their new acquaintance, who
was obviously ill at ease, held his tail between his legs, dropped his
ears back, and kept turning round and round showing his teeth—the
stranger approached us, and bowed with extreme civility. He appeared to
be about twenty-five; his long dark hair, perfectly saturated with
kvas, stood up in stiff tufts, his small brown eyes twinkled genially;
his face was bound up in a black handkerchief, as though for toothache;
his countenance was all smiles and amiability.
'Allow me to introduce myself,' he began in a soft and insinuating
voice; 'I am a sportsman of these parts—Vladimir…. Having heard of
your presence, and having learnt that you proposed to visit the shores
of our pond, I resolved, if it were not displeasing to you, to offer
you my services.'
The sportsman, Vladimir, uttered those words for all the world like a
young provincial actor in the rôle of leading lover. I agreed to his
proposition, and before we had reached Lgov I had succeeded in learning
his whole history. He was a freed house-serf; in his tender youth had
been taught music, then served as valet, could read and write, had
read—so much I could discover—some few trashy books, and existed now,
as many do exist in Russia, without a farthing of ready money; without
any regular occupation; fed by manna from heaven, or something hardly
less precarious. He expressed himself with extraordinary elegance, and
obviously plumed himself on his manners; he must have been devoted to
the fair sex too, and in all probability popular with them: Russian
girls love fine talking. Among other things, he gave me to understand
that he sometimes visited the neighbouring landowners, and went to stay
with friends in the town, where he played preference, and that he was
acquainted with people in the metropolis. His smile was masterly and
exceedingly varied; what specially suited him was a modest, contained
smile which played on his lips as he listened to any other man's
conversation. He was attentive to you; he agreed with you completely,
but still he did not lose sight of his own dignity, and seemed to wish
to give you to understand that he could, if occasion arose, express
convictions of his own. Yermolaï, not being very refined, and quite
devoid of 'subtlety,' began to address him with coarse familiarity. The
fine irony with which Vladimir used 'Sir' in his reply was worth seeing.
'Why is your face tied up? 'I inquired; 'have you toothache?'
'No,' he answered; 'it was a most disastrous consequence of
carelessness. I had a friend, a good fellow, but not a bit of a
sportsman, as sometimes occurs. Well, one day he said to me, "My dear
friend, take me out shooting; I am curious to learn what this diversion
consists in." I did not like, of course, to refuse a comrade; I got him
a gun and took him out shooting. Well, we shot a little in the ordinary
way; at last we thought we would rest I sat down under a tree; but he
began instead to play with his gun, pointing it at me meantime. I asked
him to leave off, but in his inexperience he did not attend to my
words, the gun went off, and I lost half my chin, and the first finger
of my right hand.'
We reached Lgov. Vladimir and Yermolaï had both decided that we could
not shoot without a boat.
'Sutchok (i.e. the twig) has a punt,' observed Vladimir, 'but I don't
know where he has hidden it. We must go to him.'
'To whom?' I asked.
'The man lives here; Sutchok is his nickname.'
Vladimir went with Yermolaï to Sutchok's. I told them I would wait for
them at the church. While I was looking at the tombstones in the
churchyard, I stumbled upon a blackened, four-cornered urn with the
following inscription, on one side in French: 'Ci-git Théophile-Henri,
Vicomte de Blangy'; on the next; 'Under this stone is laid the body of
a French subject, Count Blangy; born 1737, died 1799, in the 62nd year
of his age': on the third, 'Peace to his ashes': and on the fourth:—
'Under this stone there lies from France an emigrant.
Of high descent was he, and also of talent.
A wife and kindred murdered he bewailed,
And left his land by tyrants cruel assailed;
The friendly shores of Russia he attained,
And hospitable shelter here he gained;
Children he taught; their parents' cares allayed:
Here, by God's will, in peace he has been laid.'
The approach of Yermolaï with Vladimir and the man with the strange
nickname, Sutchok, broke in on my meditations.
Barelegged, ragged and dishevelled, Sutchok looked like a discharged
stray house-serf of sixty years old.
'Have you a boat?' I asked him.
'I have a boat,' he answered in a hoarse, cracked voice; 'but it's a
very poor one.'
'Its boards are split apart, and the rivets have come off the cracks.'
'That's no great disaster!' interposed Yermolaï; 'we can stuff them up
'Of course you can,' Sutchok assented.
'And who are you?'
'I am the fisherman of the manor.'
'How is it, when you're a fisherman, your boat is in such bad
'There are no fish in our river.'
'Fish don't like slimy marshes,' observed my huntsman, with the air of
'Come,' I said to Yermolaï, 'go and get some tow, and make the boat
right for us as soon as you can.'
Yermolaï went off.
'Well, in this way we may very likely go to the bottom,' I said to
Vladimir. 'God is merciful,' he answered. 'Anyway, we must suppose that
the pond is not deep.'
'No, it is not deep,' observed Sutchok, who spoke in a strange,
far-away voice, as though he were in a dream, 'and there's sedge and
mud at the bottom, and it's all overgrown with sedge. But there are
deep holes too.'
'But if the sedge is so thick,' said Vladimir, 'it will be impossible
'Who thinks of rowing in a punt? One has to punt it. I will go with
you; my pole is there—or else one can use a wooden spade.'
'With a spade it won't be easy; you won't touch the bottom perhaps in
some places,' said Vladimir.
'It's true; it won't be easy.'
I sat down on a tomb-stone to wait for Yermolaï. Vladimir moved a
little to one side out of respect to me, and also sat down. Sutchok
remained standing in the same place, his head bent and his hands
clasped behind his back, according to the old habit of house-serfs.
'Tell me, please,' I began, 'have you been the fisherman here long?'
'It is seven years now,' he replied, rousing himself with a start.
'And what was your occupation before?'
'I was coachman before.'
'Who dismissed you from being coachman?'
'The new mistress.'
'Oh, that bought us. Your honour does not know her; Alyona Timofyevna;
she is so fat … not young.'
'Why did she decide to make you a fisherman?'
'God knows. She came to us from her estate in Tamboff, gave orders for
all the household to come together, and came out to us. We first kissed
her hand, and she said nothing; she was not angry…. Then she began to
question us in order; "How are you employed? what duties have you?" She
came to me in my turn; so she asked: "What have you been?" I say,
"Coachman." "Coachman? Well, a fine coachman you are; only look at you!
You're not fit for a coachman, but be my fisherman, and shave your
beard. On the occasions of my visits provide fish for the table; do you
hear?" … So since then I have been enrolled as a fisherman. "And mind
you keep my pond in order." But how is one to keep it in order?'
'Whom did you belong to before?'
'To Sergaï Sergiitch Pehterev. We came to him by inheritance. But he
did not own us long; only six years altogether. I was his coachman …
but not in town, he had others there—only in the country.'
'And were you always a coachman from your youth up?'
'Always a coachman? Oh, no! I became a coachman in Sergaï Sergiitch's
time, but before that I was a cook—but not town-cook; only a cook in
'Whose cook were you, then?'
'Oh, my former master's, Afanasy Nefeditch, Sergaï Sergiitch's uncle.
Lgov was bought by him, by Afanasy Nefeditch, but it came to Sergaï
Sergiitch by inheritance from him.'
'Whom did he buy it from?'
'From Tatyana Vassilyevna.'
'What Tatyana Vassilyevna was that?'
'Why, that died last year in Bolhov … that is, at Karatchev, an old
maid…. She had never married. Don't you know her? We came to her from
her father, Vassily Semenitch. She owned us a goodish while … twenty
'Then were you cook to her?'
'At first, to be sure, I was cook, and then I was coffee-bearer.'
'What were you?'
'What sort of duty is that?'
'I don't know, your honour. I stood at the sideboard, and was called
Anton instead of Kuzma. The mistress ordered that I should be called
'Your real name, then, is Kuzma?'
'And were you coffee-bearer all the time?'
'No, not all the time; I was an actor too.'
'Yes, I was…. I played in the theatre. Our mistress set up a theatre
of her own.'
'What kind of parts did you take?'
'What did you please to say?'
'What did you do in the theatre?'
'Don't you know? Why, they take me and dress me up; and I walk about
dressed up, or stand or sit down there as it happens, and they say,
"See, this is what you must say," and I say it. Once I represented a
blind man…. They laid little peas under each eyelid…. Yes, indeed.'
'And what were you afterwards?'
'Afterwards I became a cook again.'
'Why did they degrade you to being a cook again?'
'My brother ran away.'
'Well, and what were you under the father of your first mistress?'
'I had different duties; at first I found myself a page; I have been a
postilion, a gardener, and a whipper-in.'
'A whipper-in?… And did you ride out with the hounds?'
'Yes, I rode with the hounds, and was nearly killed; I fell off my
horse, and the horse was injured. Our old master was very severe; he
ordered them to flog me, and to send me to learn a trade to Moscow, to
'To learn a trade? But you weren't a child, I suppose, when you were a
'I was twenty and over then.'
'But could you learn a trade at twenty?'
'I suppose one could, some way, since the master ordered it. But he
luckily died soon after, and they sent me back to the country.'
'And when were you taught to cook?'
Sutchok lifted his thin yellowish little old face and grinned.
'Is that a thing to be taught?… Old women can cook.'
'Well,' I commented, 'you have seen many things, Kuzma, in your time!
What do you do now as a fisherman, seeing there are no fish?'
'Oh, your honour, I don't complain. And, thank God, they made me a
fisherman. Why another old man like me—Andrey Pupir—the mistress
ordered to be put into the paper factory, as a ladler. "It's a sin,"
she said, "to eat bread in idleness." And Pupir had even hoped for
favour; his cousin's son was clerk in the mistress's counting-house: he
had promised to send his name up to the mistress, to remember him: a
fine way he remembered him!… And Pupir fell at his cousin's knees
before my eyes.'
'Have you a family? Have you married?'
'No, your honour, I have never been married. Tatyana Vassilyevna—God
rest her soul!—did not allow anyone to marry. "God forbid!" she said
sometimes, "here am I living single: what indulgence! What are they
'What do you live on now? Do you get wages?'
'Wages, your honour!… Victuals are given me, and thanks be to Thee,
Lord! I am very contented. May God give our lady long life!'
'The boat is repaired,' he announced churlishly. 'Go after your
Sutchok ran to get his pole. During the whole time of my conversation
with the poor old man, the sportsman Vladimir had been staring at him
with a contemptuous smile.
'A stupid fellow,' was his comment, when the latter had gone off; 'an
absolutely uneducated fellow; a peasant, nothing more. One cannot even
call him a house-serf, and he was boasting all the time. How could he
be an actor, be pleased to judge for yourself! You were pleased to
trouble yourself for no good in talking to him.'
A quarter of an hour later we were sitting in Sutchok's punt. The dogs
we left in a hut in charge of my coachman. We were not very
comfortable, but sportsmen are not a fastidious race. At the rear end,
which was flattened and straight, stood Sutchok, punting; I sat with
Vladimir on the planks laid across the boat, and Yermolaï ensconced
himself in front, in the very beak. In spite of the tow, the water soon
made its appearance under our feet. Fortunately, the weather was calm
and the pond seemed slumbering.
We floated along rather slowly. The old man had difficulty in drawing
his long pole out of the sticky mud; it came up all tangled in green
threads of water-sedge; the flat round leaves of the water-lily also
hindered the progress of our boat last we got up to the reeds, and then
the fun began. Ducks flew up noisily from the pond, scared by our
unexpected appearance in their domains, shots sounded at once after
them; it was a pleasant sight to see these short-tailed game turning
somersaults in the air, splashing heavily into the water. We could not,
of course, get at all the ducks that were shot; those who were slightly
wounded swam away; some which had been quite killed fell into such
thick reeds that even Yermolaï's little lynx eyes could not discover
them, yet our boat was nevertheless filled to the brim with game for
Vladimir, to Yermolaï's great satisfaction, did not shoot at all well;
he seemed surprised after each unsuccessful shot, looked at his gun and
blew down it, seemed puzzled, and at last explained to us the reason
why he had missed his aim. Yermolaï, as always, shot triumphantly;
I—rather badly, after my custom. Sutchok looked on at us with the eyes
of a man who has been the servant of others from his youth up; now and
then he cried out: 'There, there, there's another little duck'; and he
constantly rubbed his back, not with his hands, but by a peculiar
movement of the shoulder-blades. The weather kept magnificent; curly
white clouds moved calmly high above our heads, and were reflected
clearly in the water; the reeds were whispering around us; here and
there the pond sparkled in the sunshine like steel. We were preparing
to return to the village, when suddenly a rather unpleasant adventure
For a long time we had been aware that the water was gradually filling
our punt. Vladimir was entrusted with the task of baling it out by
means of a ladle, which my thoughtful huntsman had stolen to be ready
for any emergency from a peasant woman who was staring away in another
direction. All went well so long as Vladimir did not neglect his duty.
But just at the end the ducks, as if to take leave of us, rose in such
flocks that we scarcely had time to load our guns. In the heat of the
sport we did not pay attention to the state of our punt—when suddenly,
Yermolaï, in trying to reach a wounded duck, leaned his whole weight on
the boat's-edge; at his over-eager movement our old tub veered on one
side, began to fill, and majestically sank to the bottom, fortunately
not in a deep place. We cried out, but it was too late; in an instant
we were standing in the water up to our necks, surrounded by the
floating bodies of the slaughtered ducks. I cannot help laughing now
when I recollect the scared white faces of my companions (probably my
own face was not particularly rosy at that moment), but I must confess
at the time it did not enter my head to feel amused. Each of us kept
his gun above his head, and Sutchok, no doubt from the habit of
imitating his masters, lifted his pole above him. The first to break
the silence was Yermolaï.
'Tfoo! curse it!' he muttered, spitting into the water; 'here's a go.
It's all you, you old devil!' he added, turning wrathfully to Sutchok;
'you've such a boat!'
'It's my fault,' stammered the old man.
'Yes; and you're a nice one,' continued my huntsman, turning his head
in Vladimir's direction; 'what were you thinking of? Why weren't you
baling out?—you, you?'
But Vladimir was not equal to a reply; he was shaking like a leaf, his
teeth were chattering, and his smile was utterly meaningless. What had
become of his fine language, his feeling of fine distinctions, and of
his own dignity!
The cursed punt rocked feebly under our feet… At the instant of our
ducking the water seemed terribly cold to us, but we soon got hardened
to it, when the first shock had passed off. I looked round me; the
reeds rose up in a circle ten paces from us; in the distance above
their tops the bank could be seen. 'It looks bad,' I thought.
'What are we to do?' I asked Yermolaï.
'Well, we'll take a look round; we can't spend the night here,' he
answered. 'Here, you, take my gun,' he said to Vladimir.
Vladimir obeyed submissively.
'I will go and find the ford,' continued Yermolaï, as though there must
infallibly be a ford in every pond: he took the pole from Sutchok, and
went off in the direction of the bank, warily sounding the depth as he
'Can you swim?' I asked him.
'No, I can't,' his voice sounded from behind the reeds.
'Then he'll be drowned,' remarked Sutchok indifferently. He had been
terrified at first, not by the danger, but through fear of our anger,
and now, completely reassured, he drew a long breath from time to time,
and seemed not to be aware of any necessity for moving from his present
'And he will perish without doing any good,' added Vladimir piteously.
Yermolaï did not return for more than an hour. That hour seemed an
eternity to us. At first we kept calling to him very energetically;
then his answering shouts grew less frequent; at last he was completely
silent. The bells in the village began ringing for evening service.
There was not much conversation between us; indeed, we tried not to
look at one another. The ducks hovered over our heads; some seemed
disposed to settle near us, but suddenly rose up into the air and flew
away quacking. We began to grow numb. Sutchok shut his eyes as though
he were disposing himself to sleep.
At last, to our indescribable delight, Yermolaï returned.
'I have been to the bank; I have found the ford…. Let us go.'
We wanted to set off at once; but he first brought some string out of
his pocket out of the water, tied the slaughtered ducks together by
their legs, took both ends in his teeth, and moved slowly forward;
Vladimir came behind him, and I behind Vladimir, and Sutchok brought up
the rear. It was about two hundred paces to the bank. Yermolaï walked
boldly and without stopping (so well had he noted the track), only
occasionally crying out: 'More to the left—there's a hole here to the
right!' or 'Keep to the right—you'll sink in there to the left….'
Sometimes the water was up to our necks, and twice poor Sutchok, who
was shorter than all the rest of us, got a mouthful and spluttered.
'Come, come, come!' Yermolaï shouted roughly to him—and Sutchok,
scrambling, hopping and skipping, managed to reach a shallower place,
but even in his greatest extremity was never so bold as to clutch at
the skirt of my coat. Worn out, muddy and wet, we at last reached the
Two hours later we were all sitting, as dry as circumstances would
allow, in a large hay barn, preparing for supper. The coachman
Yehudiil, an exceedingly deliberate man, heavy in gait, cautious and
sleepy, stood at the entrance, zealously plying Sutchok with snuff (I
have noticed that coachmen in Russia very quickly make friends);
Sutchok was taking snuff with frenzied energy, in quantities to make
him ill; he was spitting, sneezing, and apparently enjoying himself
greatly. Vladimir had assumed an air of languor; he leaned his head on
one side, and spoke little. Yermolaï was cleaning our guns. The dogs
were wagging their tails at a great rate in the expectation of
porridge; the horses were stamping and neighing in the out-house….
The sun had set; its last rays were broken up into broad tracts of
purple; golden clouds were drawn out over the heavens into finer and
ever finer threads, like a fleece washed and combed out. … There was
the sound of singing in the village.
It was a glorious July day, one of those days which only come after
many days of fine weather. From earliest morning the sky is clear; the
sunrise does not glow with fire; it is suffused with a soft roseate
flush. The sun, not fiery, not red-hot as in time of stifling drought,
not dull purple as before a storm, but with a bright and genial
radiance, rises peacefully behind a long and narrow cloud, shines out
freshly, and plunges again into its lilac mist. The delicate upper edge
of the strip of cloud flashes in little gleaming snakes; their
brilliance is like polished silver. But, lo! the dancing rays flash
forth again, and in solemn joy, as though flying upward, rises the
mighty orb. About mid-day there is wont to be, high up in the sky, a
multitude of rounded clouds, golden-grey, with soft white edges. Like
islands scattered over an overflowing river, that bathes them in its
unbroken reaches of deep transparent blue, they scarcely stir; farther
down the heavens they are in movement, packing closer; now there is no
blue to be seen between them, but they are themselves almost as blue as
the sky, filled full with light and heat. The colour of the horizon, a
faint pale lilac, does not change all day, and is the same all round;
nowhere is there storm gathering and darkening; only somewhere rays of
bluish colour stretch down from the sky; it is a sprinkling of
scarce-perceptible rain. In the evening these clouds disappear; the
last of them, blackish and undefined as smoke, lie streaked with pink,
facing the setting sun; in the place where it has gone down, as calmly
as it rose, a crimson glow lingers long over the darkening earth, and,
softly flashing like a candle carried carelessly, the evening star
flickers in the sky. On such days all the colours are softened, bright
but not glaring; everything is suffused with a kind of touching
tenderness. On such days the heat is sometimes very great; often it is
even 'steaming' on the slopes of the fields, but a wind dispels this
growing sultriness, and whirling eddies of dust—sure sign of settled,
fine weather—move along the roads and across the fields in high white
columns. In the pure dry air there is a scent of wormwood, rye in
blossom, and buckwheat; even an hour before nightfall there is no
moisture in the air. It is for such weather that the farmer longs, for
harvesting his wheat….
On just such a day I was once out grouse-shooting in the Tchern
district of the province of Tula. I started and shot a fair amount of
game; my full game-bag cut my shoulder mercilessly; but already the
evening glow had faded, and the cool shades of twilight were beginning
to grow thicker, and to spread across the sky, which was still bright,
though no longer lighted up by the rays of the setting sun, when I at
last decided to turn back homewards. With swift steps I passed through
the long 'square' of underwoods, clambered up a hill, and instead of
the familiar plain I expected to see, with the oakwood on the right and
the little white church in the distance, I saw before me a scene
completely different, and quite new to me. A narrow valley lay at my
feet, and directly facing me a dense wood of aspen-trees rose up like a
thick wall. I stood still in perplexity, looked round me…. 'Aha!' I
thought, 'I have somehow come wrong; I kept too much to the right,' and
surprised at my own mistake, I rapidly descended the hill. I was at
once plunged into a disagreeable clinging mist, exactly as though I had
gone down into a cellar; the thick high grass at the bottom of the
valley, all drenched with dew, was white like a smooth tablecloth; one
felt afraid somehow to walk on it. I made haste to get on the other
side, and walked along beside the aspenwood, bearing to the left. Bats
were already hovering over its slumbering tree-tops, mysteriously
flitting and quivering across the clear obscure of the sky; a young
belated hawk flew in swift, straight course upwards, hastening to its
nest. 'Here, directly I get to this corner,' I thought to myself, 'I
shall find the road at once; but I have come a mile out of my way!'
I did at last reach the end of the wood, but there was no road of any
sort there; some kind of low bushes overgrown with long grass extended
far and wide before me; behind them in the far, far distance could be
discerned a tract of waste land. I stopped again. 'Well? Where am I?' I
began ransacking my brain to recall how and where I had been walking
during the day…. 'Ah! but these are the bushes at Parahin,' I cried
at last; 'of course! then this must be Sindyev wood. But how did I get
here? So far?… Strange! Now I must bear to the right again.'
I went to the right through the bushes. Meantime the night had crept
close and grown up like a storm-cloud; it seemed as though, with the
mists of evening, darkness was rising up on all sides and flowing down
from overhead. I had come upon some sort of little, untrodden,
overgrown path; I walked along it, gazing intently before me. Soon all
was blackness and silence around—only the quail's cry was heard from
time to time. Some small night-bird, flitting noiselessly near the
ground on its soft wings, almost flapped against me and skurried away
in alarm. I came out on the further side of the bushes, and made my way
along a field by the hedge. By now I could hardly make out distant
objects; the field showed dimly white around; beyond it rose up a
sullen darkness, which seemed moving up closer in huge masses every
instant. My steps gave a muffled sound in the air, that grew colder and
colder. The pale sky began again to grow blue—but it was the blue of
night. The tiny stars glimmered and twinkled in it.
What I had been taking for a wood turned out to be a dark round
hillock. 'But where am I, then?' I repeated again aloud, standing still
for the third time and looking inquiringly at my spot and tan English
dog, Dianka by name, certainly the most intelligent of four-footed
creatures. But the most intelligent of four-footed creatures only
wagged her tail, blinked her weary eyes dejectedly, and gave me no
sensible advice. I felt myself disgraced in her eyes and pushed
desperately forward, as though I had suddenly guessed which way I ought
to go; I scaled the hill, and found myself in a hollow of no great
depth, ploughed round.
A strange sensation came over me at once. This hollow had the form of
an almost perfect cauldron, with sloping sides; at the bottom of it
were some great white stones standing upright—it seemed as though they
had crept there for some secret council—and it was so still and dark
in it, so dreary and weird seemed the sky, overhanging it, that my
heart sank. Some little animal was whining feebly and piteously among
the stones. I made haste to get out again on to the hillock. Till then
I had not quite given up all hope of finding the way home; but at this
point I finally decided that I was utterly lost, and without any
further attempt to make out the surrounding objects, which were almost
completely plunged in darkness, I walked straight forward, by the aid
of the stars, at random…. For about half-an-hour I walked on in this
way, though I could hardly move one leg before the other. It seemed as
if I had never been in such a deserted country in my life; nowhere was
there the glimmer of a fire, nowhere a sound to be heard. One sloping
hillside followed another; fields stretched endlessly upon fields;
bushes seemed to spring up out of the earth under my very nose. I kept
walking and was just making up my mind to lie down somewhere till
morning, when suddenly I found myself on the edge of a horrible
I quickly drew back my lifted foot, and through the almost opaque
darkness I saw far below me a vast plain. A long river skirted it in a
semi-circle, turned away from me; its course was marked by the steely
reflection of the water still faintly glimmering here and there. The
hill on which I found myself terminated abruptly in an almost
overhanging precipice, whose gigantic profile stood out black against
the dark-blue waste of sky, and directly below me, in the corner formed
by this precipice and the plain near the river, which was there a dark,
motionless mirror, under the lee of the hill, two fires side by side
were smoking and throwing up red flames. People were stirring round
them, shadows hovered, and sometimes the front of a little curly head
was lighted up by the glow.
I found out at last where I had got to. This plain was well known in
our parts under the name of Byezhin Prairie…. But there was no
possibility of returning home, especially at night; my legs were
sinking under me from weariness. I decided to get down to the fires and
to wait for the dawn in the company of these men, whom I took for
drovers. I got down successfully, but I had hardly let go of the last
branch I had grasped, when suddenly two large shaggy white dogs rushed
angrily barking upon me. The sound of ringing boyish voices came from
round the fires; two or three boys quickly got up from the ground. I
called back in response to their shouts of inquiry. They ran up to me,
and at once called off the dogs, who were specially struck by the
appearance of my Dianka. I came down to them.
I had been mistaken in taking the figures sitting round the fires for
drovers. They were simply peasant boys from a neighbouring village, who
were in charge of a drove of horses. In hot summer weather with us they
drive the horses out at night to graze in the open country: the flies
and gnats would give them no peace in the daytime; they drive out the
drove towards evening, and drive them back in the early morning: it's a
great treat for the peasant boys. Bare-headed, in old fur-capes, they
bestride the most spirited nags, and scurry along with merry cries and
hooting and ringing laughter, swinging their arms and legs, and leaping
into the air. The fine dust is stirred up in yellow clouds and moves
along the road; the tramp of hoofs in unison resounds afar; the horses
race along, pricking up their ears; in front of all, with his tail in
the air and thistles in his tangled mane, prances some shaggy chestnut,
constantly shifting his paces as he goes.
I told the boys I had lost my way, and sat down with them. They asked
me where I came from, and then were silent for a little and turned
away. Then we talked a little again. I lay down under a bush, whose
shoots had been nibbled off, and began to look round. It was a
marvellous picture; about the fire a red ring of light quivered and
seemed to swoon away in the embrace of a background of darkness; the
flame flaring up from time to time cast swift flashes of light beyond
the boundary of this circle; a fine tongue of light licked the dry
twigs and died away at once; long thin shadows, in their turn breaking
in for an instant, danced right up to the very fires; darkness was
struggling with light. Sometimes, when the fire burnt low and the
circle of light shrank together, suddenly out of the encroaching
darkness a horse's head was thrust in, bay, with striped markings or
all white, stared with intent blank eyes upon us, nipped hastily the
long grass, and drawing back again, vanished instantly. One could only
hear it still munching and snorting. From the circle of light it was
hard to make out what was going on in the darkness; everything close at
hand seemed shut off by an almost black curtain; but farther away hills
and forests were dimly visible in long blurs upon the horizon.
The dark unclouded sky stood, inconceivably immense, triumphant, above
us in all its mysterious majesty. One felt a sweet oppression at one's
heart, breathing in that peculiar, overpowering, yet fresh
fragrance—the fragrance of a summer night in Russia. Scarcely a sound
was to be heard around…. Only at times, in the river near, the sudden
splash of a big fish leaping, and the faint rustle of a reed on the
bank, swaying lightly as the ripples reached it … the fires alone
kept up a subdued crackling.
The boys sat round them: there too sat the two dogs, who had been so
eager to devour me. They could not for long after reconcile themselves
to my presence, and, drowsily blinking and staring into the fire, they
growled now and then with an unwonted sense of their own dignity; first
they growled, and then whined a little, as though deploring the
impossibility of carrying out their desires. There were altogether five
boys: Fedya, Pavlusha, Ilyusha, Kostya and Vanya. (From their talk I
learnt their names, and I intend now to introduce them to the reader.)
The first and eldest of all, Fedya, one would take to be about
fourteen. He was a well-made boy, with good-looking, delicate, rather
small features, curly fair hair, bright eyes, and a perpetual
half-merry, half-careless smile. He belonged, by all appearances, to a
well-to-do family, and had ridden out to the prairie, not through
necessity, but for amusement. He wore a gay print shirt, with a yellow
border; a short new overcoat slung round his neck was almost slipping
off his narrow shoulders; a comb hung from his blue belt. His boots,
coming a little way up the leg, were certainly his own—not his
father's. The second boy, Pavlusha, had tangled black hair, grey eyes,
broad cheek-bones, a pale face pitted with small-pox, a large but
well-cut mouth; his head altogether was large—'a beer-barrel head,' as
they say—and his figure was square and clumsy. He was not a
good-looking boy—there's no denying it!—and yet I liked him; he
looked very sensible and straightforward, and there was a vigorous ring
in his voice. He had nothing to boast of in his attire; it consisted
simply of a homespun shirt and patched trousers. The face of the third,
Ilyusha, was rather uninteresting; it was a long face, with
short-sighted eyes and a hook nose; it expressed a kind of dull,
fretful uneasiness; his tightly-drawn lips seemed rigid; his contracted
brow never relaxed; he seemed continually blinking from the firelight.
His flaxen—almost white—hair hung out in thin wisps under his low
felt hat, which he kept pulling down with both hands over his ears. He
had on new bast-shoes and leggings; a thick string, wound three times
round his figure, carefully held together his neat black smock. Neither
he nor Pavlusha looked more than twelve years old. The fourth, Kostya,
a boy of ten, aroused my curiosity by his thoughtful and sorrowful
look. His whole face was small, thin, freckled, pointed at the chin
like a squirrel's; his lips were barely perceptible; but his great
black eyes, that shone with liquid brilliance, produced a strange
impression; they seemed trying to express something for which the
tongue—his tongue, at least—had no words. He was undersized and
weakly, and dressed rather poorly. The remaining boy, Vanya, I had not
noticed at first; he was lying on the ground, peacefully curled up
under a square rug, and only occasionally thrust his curly brown head
out from under it: this boy was seven years old at the most.
So I lay under the bush at one side and looked at the boys. A small pot
was hanging over one of the fires; in it potatoes were cooking.
Pavlusha was looking after them, and on his knees he was trying them by
poking a splinter of wood into the boiling water. Fedya was lying
leaning on his elbow, and smoothing out the skirts of his coat. Ilyusha
was sitting beside Kostya, and still kept blinking constrainedly.
Kostya's head drooped despondently, and he looked away into the
distance. Vanya did not stir under his rug. I pretended to be asleep.
Little by little, the boys began talking again.
At first they gossiped of one thing and another, the work of to-morrow,
the horses; but suddenly Fedya turned to Ilyusha, and, as though taking
up again an interrupted conversation, asked him:
'Come then, so you've seen the domovoy?'
'No, I didn't see him, and no one ever can see him,' answered Ilyusha,
in a weak hoarse voice, the sound of which was wonderfully in keeping
with the expression of his face; 'I heard him…. Yes, and not I alone.'
'Where does he live—in your place?' asked Pavlusha.
'In the old paper-mill.'
'Why, do you go to the factory?'
'Of course we do. My brother Avdushka and I, we are paper-glazers.'
'Well, how did you hear it, then?' asked Fedya.
'It was like this. It happened that I and my brother Avdushka, with
Fyodor of Mihyevska, and Ivashka the Squint-eyed, and the other Ivashka
who comes from the Red Hills, and Ivashka of Suhorukov too—and there
were some other boys there as well—there were ten of us boys there
altogether—the whole shift, that is—it happened that we spent the
night at the paper-mill; that's to say, it didn't happen, but Nazarov,
the overseer, kept us. 'Why,' said he, "should you waste time going
home, boys; there's a lot of work to-morrow, so don't go home, boys."
So we stopped, and were all lying down together, and Avdushka had just
begun to say, "I say, boys, suppose the domovoy were to come?" And
before he'd finished saying so, some one suddenly began walking over
our heads; we were lying down below, and he began walking upstairs
overhead, where the wheel is. We listened: he walked; the boards seemed
to be bending under him, they creaked so; then he crossed over, above
our heads; all of a sudden the water began to drip and drip over the
wheel; the wheel rattled and rattled and again began to turn, though
the sluices of the conduit above had been let down. We wondered who
could have lifted them up so that the water could run; any way, the
wheel turned and turned a little, and then stopped. Then he went to the
door overhead and began coming down-stairs, and came down like this,
not hurrying himself; the stairs seemed to groan under him too….
Well, he came right down to our door, and waited and waited … and all
of a sudden the door simply flew open. We were in a fright; we
looked—there was nothing…. Suddenly what if the net on one of the
vats didn't begin moving; it got up, and went rising and ducking and
moving in the air as though some one were stirring with it, and then it
was in its place again. Then, at another vat, a hook came off its nail,
and then was on its nail again; and then it seemed as if some one came
to the door, and suddenly coughed and choked like a sheep, but so
loudly!… We all fell down in a heap and huddled against one
another…. Just weren't we in a fright that night!'
'I say!' murmured Pavel, 'what did he cough for?'
'I don't know; perhaps it was the damp.'
All were silent for a little.
'Well,' inquired Fedya, 'are the potatoes done?'
Pavlusha tried them.
'No, they are raw…. My, what a splash!' he added, turning his face in
the direction of the river; 'that must be a pike…. And there's a star
'I say, I can tell you something, brothers,' began Kostya, in a shrill
little voice; 'listen what my dad told me the other day.'
'Well, we are listening,' said Fedya with a patronising air.
'You know Gavrila, I suppose, the carpenter up in the big village?'
'Yes, we know him.'
'And do you know why he is so sorrowful always, never speaks? do you
know? I'll tell you why he's so sorrowful; he went one day, daddy said,
he went, brothers, into the forest nutting. So he went nutting into the
forest and lost his way; he went on—God only can tell where he got to.
So he went on and on, brothers—but 'twas no good!—he could not find
the way; and so night came on out of doors. So he sat down under a
tree. "I'll wait till morning," thought he. He sat down and began to
drop asleep. So as he was falling asleep, suddenly he heard some one
call him. He looked up; there was no one. He fell asleep again; again
he was called. He looked and looked again; and in front of him there
sat a russalka on a branch, swinging herself and calling him to her,
and simply dying with laughing; she laughed so…. And the moon was
shining bright, so bright, the moon shone so clear—everything could be
seen plain, brothers. So she called him, and she herself was as bright
and as white sitting on the branch as some dace or a roach, or like
some little carp so white and silvery…. Gavrila the carpenter almost
fainted, brothers, but she laughed without stopping, and kept beckoning
him to her like this. Then Gavrila was just getting up; he was just
going to yield to the russalka, brothers, but—the Lord put it into his
heart, doubtless—he crossed himself like this…. And it was so hard
for him to make that cross, brothers; he said, "My hand was simply like
a stone; it would not move." … Ugh! the horrid witch…. So when he
made the cross, brothers, the russalka, she left off laughing, and all
at once how she did cry…. She cried, brothers, and wiped her eyes
with her hair, and her hair was green as any hemp. So Gavrila looked
and looked at her, and at last he fell to questioning her. "Why are you
weeping, wild thing of the woods?" And the russalka began to speak to
him like this: "If you had not crossed yourself, man," she says, "you
should have lived with me in gladness of heart to the end of your days;
and I weep, I am grieved at heart because you crossed yourself; but I
will not grieve alone; you too shall grieve at heart to the end of your
days." Then she vanished, brothers, and at once it was plain to Gavrila
how to get out of the forest…. Only since then he goes always
sorrowful, as you see.'
'Ugh!' said Fedya after a brief silence; 'but how can such an evil
thing of the woods ruin a Christian soul—he did not listen to her?'
'And I say!' said Kostya. 'Gavrila said that her voice was as shrill
and plaintive as a toad's.'
'Did your father tell you that himself?' Fedya went on.
'Yes. I was lying in the loft; I heard it all.'
'It's a strange thing. Why should he be sorrowful?… But I suppose she
liked him, since she called him.'
'Ay, she liked him!' put in Ilyusha. 'Yes, indeed! she wanted to tickle
him to death, that's what she wanted. That's what they do, those
'There ought to be russalkas here too, I suppose,' observed Fedya.
'No,' answered Kostya, 'this is a holy open place. There's one thing,
though: the river's near.'
All were silent. Suddenly from out of the distance came a prolonged,
resonant, almost wailing sound, one of those inexplicable sounds of the
night, which break upon a profound stillness, rise upon the air,
linger, and slowly die away at last. You listen: it is as though there
were nothing, yet it echoes still. It is as though some one had uttered
a long, long cry upon the very horizon, as though some other had
answered him with shrill harsh laughter in the forest, and a faint,
hoarse hissing hovers over the river. The boys looked round about
'Christ's aid be with us!' whispered Ilyusha.
'Ah, you craven crows!' cried Pavel, 'what are you frightened of? Look,
the potatoes are done.' (They all came up to the pot and began to eat
the smoking potatoes; only Vanya did not stir.) 'Well, aren't you
coming?' said Pavel.
But he did not creep out from under his rug. The pot was soon
'Have you heard, boys,' began Ilyusha, 'what happened with us at
'Near the dam?' asked Fedya.
'Yes, yes, near the dam, the broken-down dam. That is a haunted place,
such a haunted place, and so lonely. All round there are pits and
quarries, and there are always snakes in pits.'
'Well, what did happen? Tell us.'
'Well, this is what happened. You don't know, perhaps, Fedya, but there
a drowned man was buried; he was drowned long, long ago, when the water
was still deep; only his grave can still be seen, though it can only
just be seen … like this—a little mound…. So one day the bailiff
called the huntsman Yermil, and says to him, "Go to the post, Yermil."
Yermil always goes to the post for us; he has let all his dogs die;
they never will live with him, for some reason, and they have never
lived with him, though he's a good huntsman, and everyone liked him. So
Yermil went to the post, and he stayed a bit in the town, and when he
rode back, he was a little tipsy. It was night, a fine night; the moon
was shining…. So Yermil rode across the dam; his way lay there. So,
as he rode along, he saw, on the drowned man's grave, a little lamb, so
white and curly and pretty, running about. So Yermil thought, "I will
take him," and he got down and took him in his arms. But the little
lamb didn't take any notice. So Yermil goes back to his horse, and the
horse stares at him, and snorts and shakes his head; however, he said
"wo" to him and sat on him with the lamb, and rode on again; he held
the lamb in front of him. He looks at him, and the lamb looks him
straight in the face, like this. Yermil the huntsman felt upset. "I
don't remember," he said, "that lambs ever look at any one like that";
however, he began to stroke it like this on its wool, and to say,
"Chucky! chucky!" And the lamb suddenly showed its teeth and said too,
The boy who was telling the story had hardly uttered this last word,
when suddenly both dogs got up at once, and, barking convulsively,
rushed away from the fire and disappeared in the darkness. All the boys
were alarmed. Vanya jumped up from under his rug. Pavlusha ran shouting
after the dogs. Their barking quickly grew fainter in the distance….
There was the noise of the uneasy tramp of the frightened drove of
horses. Pavlusha shouted aloud: 'Hey Grey! Beetle!' … In a few
minutes the barking ceased; Pavel's voice sounded still in the
distance…. A little time more passed; the boys kept looking about in
perplexity, as though expecting something to happen…. Suddenly the
tramp of a galloping horse was heard; it stopped short at the pile of
wood, and, hanging on to the mane, Pavel sprang nimbly off it. Both the
dogs also leaped into the circle of light and at once sat down, their
red tongues hanging out.
'What was it? what was it?' asked the boys.
'Nothing,' answered Pavel, waving his hand to his horse; 'I suppose the
dogs scented something. I thought it was a wolf,' he added, calmly
drawing deep breaths into his chest.
I could not help admiring Pavel. He was very fine at that moment. His
ugly face, animated by his swift ride, glowed with hardihood and
determination. Without even a switch in his hand, he had, without the
slightest hesitation, rushed out into the night alone to face a
wolf…. 'What a splendid fellow!' I thought, looking at him.
'Have you seen any wolves, then?' asked the trembling Kostya.
'There are always a good many of them here,' answered Pavel; 'but they
are only troublesome in the winter.'
He crouched down again before the fire. As he sat down on the ground,
he laid his hand on the shaggy head of one of the dogs. For a long
while the flattered brute did not turn his head, gazing sidewise with
grateful pride at Pavlusha.
Vanya lay down under his rug again.
'What dreadful things you were telling us, Ilyusha!' began Fedya, whose
part it was, as the son of a well-to-do peasant, to lead the
conversation. (He spoke little himself, apparently afraid of lowering
his dignity.) 'And then some evil spirit set the dogs barking….
Certainly I have heard that place was haunted.'
'Varnavitsi?… I should think it was haunted! More than once, they
say, they have seen the old master there—the late master. He wears,
they say, a long skirted coat, and keeps groaning like this, and
looking for something on the ground. Once grandfather Trofimitch met
him. "What," says he, "your honour, Ivan Ivanitch, are you pleased to
look for on the ground?"'
'He asked him?' put in Fedya in amazement.
'Yes, he asked him.'
'Well, I call Trofimitch a brave fellow after that…. Well, what did
'"I am looking for the herb that cleaves all things," says he. But he
speaks so thickly, so thickly. "And what, your honour, Ivan Ivanitch,
do you want with the herb that cleaves all things?" "The tomb weighs on
me; it weighs on me, Trofimitch: I want to get away—away."'
'My word!' observed Fedya, 'he didn't enjoy his life enough, I suppose.'
'What a marvel!' said Kosyta. 'I thought one could only see the
departed on All Hallows' day.'
'One can see the departed any time,' Ilyusha interposed with
conviction. From what I could observe, I judged he knew the village
superstitions better than the others…. 'But on All Hallows' day you
can see the living too; those, that is, whose turn it is to die that
year. You need only sit in the church porch, and keep looking at the
road. They will come by you along the road; those, that is, who will
die that year. Last year old Ulyana went to the porch.'
'Well, did she see anyone?' asked Kostya inquisitively.
'To be sure she did. At first she sat a long, long while, and saw no
one and heard nothing … only it seemed as if some dog kept whining
and whining like this somewhere…. Suddenly she looks up: a boy comes
along the road with only a shirt on. She looked at him. It was Ivashka
'He who died in the spring?' put in Fedya.
'Yes, he. He came along and never lifted up his head. But Ulyana knew
him. And then she looks again: a woman came along. She stared and
stared at her…. Ah, God Almighty! … it was herself coming along the
road; Ulyana herself.'
'Could it be herself?' asked Fedya.
'Yes, by God, herself.'
'Well, but she is not dead yet, you know?' 'But the year is not over
yet. And only look at her; her life hangs on a thread.'
All were still again. Pavel threw a handful of dry twigs on to the
fire. They were soon charred by the suddenly leaping flame; they
cracked and smoked, and began to contract, curling up their burning
ends. Gleams of light in broken flashes glanced in all directions,
especially upwards. Suddenly a white dove flew straight into the bright
light, fluttered round and round in terror, bathed in the red glow, and
disappeared with a whirr of its wings.
'It's lost its home, I suppose,' remarked Pavel. 'Now it will fly till
it gets somewhere, where it can rest till dawn.'
'Why, Pavlusha,' said Kostya, 'might it not be a just soul flying to
Pavel threw another handful of twigs on to the fire.
'Perhaps,' he said at last.
'But tell us, please, Pavlusha,' began Fedya, 'what was seen in your
parts at Shalamovy at the heavenly portent?'
[Footnote: This is what the peasants call an eclipse.—Author's Note.]
'When the sun could not be seen? Yes, indeed.'
'Were you frightened then?'
'Yes; and we weren't the only ones. Our master, though he talked to us
beforehand, and said there would be a heavenly portent, yet when it got
dark, they say he himself was frightened out of his wits. And in the
house-serfs' cottage the old woman, directly it grew dark, broke all
the dishes in the oven with the poker. 'Who will eat now?' she said;
'the last day has come.' So the soup was all running about the place.
And in the village there were such tales about among us: that white
wolves would run over the earth, and would eat men, that a bird of prey
would pounce down on us, and that they would even see Trishka.'
[Footnote: The popular belief in Trishka is probably derived from some
tradition of Antichrist.—Author's Note.]
'What is Trishka?' asked Kostya.
'Why, don't you know?' interrupted Ilyusha warmly. 'Why, brother, where
have you been brought up, not to know Trishka? You're a stay-at-home,
one-eyed lot in your village, really! Trishka will be a marvellous man,
who will come one day, and he will be such a marvellous man that they
will never be able to catch him, and never be able to do anything with
him; he will be such a marvellous man. The people will try to take him;
for example, they will come after him with sticks, they will surround
him, but he will blind their eyes so that they fall upon one another.
They will put him in prison, for example; he will ask for a little
water to drink in a bowl; they will bring him the bowl, and he will
plunge into it and vanish from their sight. They will put chains on
him, but he will only clap his hands—they will fall off him. So this
Trishka will go through villages and towns; and this Trishka will be a
wily man; he will lead astray Christ's people … and they will be able
to do nothing to him…. He will be such a marvellous, wily man.'
'Well, then,' continued Pavel, in his deliberate voice, 'that's what he
's like. And so they expected him in our parts. The old men declared
that directly the heavenly portent began, Trishka would come. So the
heavenly portent began. All the people were scattered over the street,
in the fields, waiting to see what would happen. Our place, you know,
is open country. They look; and suddenly down the mountain-side from
the big village comes a man of some sort; such a strange man, with such
a wonderful head … that all scream: "Oy, Trishka is coming! Oy,
Trishka is coming!" and all run in all directions! Our elder crawled
into a ditch; his wife stumbled on the door-board and screamed with all
her might; she terrified her yard-dog, so that he broke away from his
chain and over the hedge and into the forest; and Kuzka's father,
Dorofyitch, ran into the oats, lay down there, and began to cry like a
quail. 'Perhaps' says he, 'the Enemy, the Destroyer of Souls, will
spare the birds, at least.' So they were all in such a scare! But he
that was coming was our cooper Vavila; he had bought himself a new
pitcher, and had put the empty pitcher over his head.'
All the boys laughed; and again there was a silence for a while, as
often happens when people are talking in the open air. I looked out
into the solemn, majestic stillness of the night; the dewy freshness of
late evening had been succeeded by the dry heat of midnight; the
darkness still had long to lie in a soft curtain over the slumbering
fields; there was still a long while left before the first whisperings,
the first dewdrops of dawn. There was no moon in the heavens; it rose
late at that time. Countless golden stars, twinkling in rivalry, seemed
all running softly towards the Milky Way, and truly, looking at them,
you were almost conscious of the whirling, never—resting motion of the
earth…. A strange, harsh, painful cry, sounded twice together over
the river, and a few moments later, was repeated farther down….
Kostya shuddered. 'What was that?'
'That was a heron's cry,' replied Pavel tranquilly.
'A heron,' repeated Kostya…. 'And what was it, Pavlusha, I heard
yesterday evening,' he added, after a short pause; 'you perhaps will
'What did you hear?'
'I will tell you what I heard. I was going from Stony Ridge to
Shashkino; I went first through our walnut wood, and then passed by a
little pool—you know where there's a sharp turn down to the
ravine—there is a water-pit there, you know; it is quite overgrown
with reeds; so I went near this pit, brothers, and suddenly from this
came a sound of some one groaning, and piteously, so piteously; oo-oo,
oo-oo! I was in such a fright, my brothers; it was late, and the voice
was so miserable. I felt as if I should cry myself…. What could that
have been, eh?'
'It was in that pit the thieves drowned Akim the forester, last
summer,' observed Pavel; 'so perhaps it was his soul lamenting.'
'Oh, dear, really, brothers,' replied Kostya, opening wide his eyes,
which were round enough before, 'I did not know they had drowned Akim
in that pit. Shouldn't I have been frightened if I'd known!'
'But they say there are little, tiny frogs,' continued Pavel, 'who cry
piteously like that.'
'Frogs? Oh, no, it was not frogs, certainly not. (A heron again uttered
a cry above the river.) Ugh, there it is!' Kostya cried involuntarily;
'it is just like a wood-spirit shrieking.'
'The wood-spirit does not shriek; it is dumb,' put in Ilyusha; 'it only
claps its hands and rattles.'
'And have you seen it then, the wood-spirit?' Fedya asked him
'No, I have not seen it, and God preserve me from seeing it; but others
have seen it. Why, one day it misled a peasant in our parts, and led
him through the woods and all in a circle in one field…. He scarcely
got home till daylight.'
'Well, and did he see it?'
'Yes. He says it was a big, big creature, dark, wrapped up, just like a
tree; you could not make it out well; it seemed to hide away from the
moon, and kept staring and staring with its great eyes, and winking and
winking with them….'
'Ugh!' exclaimed Fedya with a slight shiver, and a shrug of the
'And how does such an unclean brood come to exist in the world?' said
Pavel; 'it's a wonder.'
'Don't speak ill of it; take care, it will hear you,' said Ilyusha.
Again there was a silence.
'Look, look, brothers,' suddenly came Vanya's childish voice; 'look at
God's little stars; they are swarming like bees!'
He put his fresh little face out from under his rug, leaned on his
little fist, and slowly lifted up his large soft eyes. The eyes of all
the boys were raised to the sky, and they were not lowered quickly.
'Well, Vanya,' began Fedya caressingly, 'is your sister Anyutka well?'
'Yes, she is very well,' replied Vanya with a slight lisp.
'You ask her, why doesn't she come to see us?'
'I don't know.'
'You tell her to come.'
'Tell her I have a present for her.'
'And a present for me too?'
'Yes, you too.'
'No; I don't want one. Better give it to her; she is so kind to us at
And Vanya laid his head down again on the ground. Pavel got up and took
the empty pot in his hand.
'Where are you going?' Fedya asked him.
'To the river, to get water; I want some water to drink.'
The dogs got up and followed him.
'Take care you don't fall into the river!' Ilyusha cried after him.
'Why should he fall in?' said Fedya. 'He will be careful.'
'Yes, he will be careful. But all kinds of things happen; he will stoop
over, perhaps, to draw the water, and the water-spirit will clutch him
by the hand, and drag him to him. Then they will say, "The boy fell
into the water." … Fell in, indeed! … "There, he has crept in among
the reeds," he added, listening.
The reeds certainly 'shished,' as they call it among us, as they were
'But is it true,' asked Kostya, 'that crazy Akulina has been mad ever
since she fell into the water?'
'Yes, ever since…. How dreadful she is now! But they say she was a
beauty before then. The water-spirit bewitched her. I suppose he did
not expect they would get her out so soon. So down there at the bottom
he bewitched her.'
(I had met this Akulina more than once. Covered with rags, fearfully
thin, with face as black as a coal, blear-eyed and for ever grinning,
she would stay whole hours in one place in the road, stamping with her
feet, pressing her fleshless hands to her breast, and slowly shifting
from one leg to the other, like a wild beast in a cage. She understood
nothing that was said to her, and only chuckled spasmodically from time
'But they say,' continued Kostya, 'that Akulina threw herself into the
river because her lover had deceived her.'
'Yes, that was it.'
'And do you remember Vasya? added Kostya, mournfully.
'What Vasya?' asked Fedya.
'Why, the one who was drowned,' replied Kostya,' in this very river.
Ah, what a boy he was! What a boy he was! His mother, Feklista, how she
loved him, her Vasya! And she seemed to have a foreboding, Feklista
did, that harm would come to him from the water. Sometimes, when Vasya
went with us boys in the summer to bathe in the river, she used to be
trembling all over. The other women did not mind; they passed by with
the pails, and went on, but Feklista put her pail down on the ground,
and set to calling him, 'Come back, come back, my little joy; come
back, my darling!' And no one knows how he was drowned. He was playing
on the bank, and his mother was there haymaking; suddenly she hears, as
though some one was blowing bubbles through the water, and behold!
there was only Vasya's little cap to be seen swimming on the water. You
know since then Feklista has not been right in her mind: she goes and
lies down at the place where he was drowned; she lies down, brothers,
and sings a song—you remember Vasya was always singing a song like
that—so she sings it too, and weeps and weeps, and bitterly rails
'Here is Pavlusha coming,' said Fedya.
Pavel came up to the fire with a full pot in his hand.
'Boys,' he began, after a short silence, 'something bad happened.'
'Oh, what?' asked Kostya hurriedly.
'I heard Vasya's voice.'
They all seemed to shudder.
'What do you mean? what do you mean?' stammered Kostya.
'I don't know. Only I went to stoop down to the water; suddenly I hear
my name called in Vasya's voice, as though it came from below water:
"Pavlusha, Pavlusha, come here." I came away. But I fetched the water,
'Ah, God have mercy upon us!' said the boys, crossing themselves.
'It was the water-spirit calling you, Pavel,' said Fedya; 'we were just
talking of Vasya.'
'Ah, it's a bad omen,' said Ilyusha, deliberately.
'Well, never mind, don't bother about it,' Pavel declared stoutly, and
he sat down again; 'no one can escape his fate.'
The boys were still. It was clear that Pavel's words had produced a
strong impression on them. They began to lie down before the fire as
though preparing to go to sleep.
'What is that?' asked Kostya, suddenly lifting his head.
'It's the curlews flying and whistling.'
'Where are they flying to?'
'To a land where, they say, there is no winter.'
'But is there such a land?'
'Is it far away?'
'Far, far away, beyond the warm seas.'
Kostya sighed and shut his eyes.
More than three hours had passed since I first came across the boys.
The moon at last had risen; I did not notice it at first; it was such a
tiny crescent. This moonless night was as solemn and hushed as it had
been at first…. But already many stars, that not long before had been
high up in the heavens, were setting over the earth's dark rim;
everything around was perfectly still, as it is only still towards
morning; all was sleeping the deep unbroken sleep that comes before
daybreak. Already the fragrance in the air was fainter; once more a dew
seemed falling…. How short are nights in summer!… The boys' talk
died down when the fires did. The dogs even were dozing; the horses, so
far as I could make out, in the hardly-perceptible, faintly shining
light of the stars, were asleep with downcast heads…. I fell into a
state of weary unconsciousness, which passed into sleep.
A fresh breeze passed over my face. I opened my eyes; the morning was
beginning. The dawn had not yet flushed the sky, but already it was
growing light in the east. Everything had become visible, though dimly
visible, around. The pale grey sky was growing light and cold and
bluish; the stars twinkled with a dimmer light, or disappeared; the
earth was wet, the leaves covered with dew, and from the distance came
sounds of life and voices, and a light morning breeze went fluttering
over the earth. My body responded to it with a faint shudder of
delight. I got up quickly and went to the boys. They were all sleeping
as though they were tired out round the smouldering fire; only Pavel
half rose and gazed intently at me.
I nodded to him, and walked homewards beside the misty river. Before I
had walked two miles, already all around me, over the wide dew-drenched
prairie, and in front from forest to forest, where the hills were
growing green again, and behind, over the long dusty road and the
sparkling bushes, flushed with the red glow, and the river faintly blue
now under the lifting mist, flowed fresh streams of burning light,
first pink, then red and golden…. All things began to stir, to
awaken, to sing, to flutter, to speak. On all sides thick drops of dew
sparkled in glittering diamonds; to welcome me, pure and clear as
though bathed in the freshness of morning, came the notes of a bell,
and suddenly there rushed by me, driven by the boys I had parted from,
the drove of horses, refreshed and rested….
Sad to say, I must add that in that year Pavel met his end. He was not
drowned; he was killed by a fall from his horse. Pity! he was a
KASSYAN OF FAIR SPRINGS
I was returning from hunting in a jolting little trap, and overcome by
the stifling heat of a cloudy summer day (it is well known that the
heat is often more insupportable on such days than in bright days,
especially when there is no wind), I dozed and was shaken about,
resigning myself with sullen fortitude to being persecuted by the fine
white dust which was incessantly raised from the beaten road by the
warped and creaking wheels, when suddenly my attention was aroused by
the extraordinary uneasiness and agitated movements of my coachman, who
had till that instant been more soundly dozing than I. He began tugging
at the reins, moved uneasily on the box, and started shouting to the
horses, staring all the while in one direction. I looked round. We were
driving through a wide ploughed plain; low hills, also ploughed over,
ran in gently sloping, swelling waves over it; the eye took in some
five miles of deserted country; in the distance the round-scolloped
tree-tops of some small birch-copses were the only objects to break the
almost straight line of the horizon. Narrow paths ran over the fields,
disappeared into the hollows, and wound round the hillocks. On one of
these paths, which happened to run into our road five hundred paces
ahead of us, I made out a kind of procession. At this my coachman was
It was a funeral. In front, in a little cart harnessed with one horse,
and advancing at a walking pace, came the priest; beside him sat the
deacon driving; behind the cart four peasants, bareheaded, carried the
coffin, covered with a white cloth; two women followed the coffin. The
shrill wailing voice of one of them suddenly reached my ears; I
listened; she was intoning a dirge. Very dismal sounded this chanted,
monotonous, hopelessly-sorrowful lament among the empty fields. The
coachman whipped up the horses; he wanted to get in front of this
procession. To meet a corpse on the road is a bad omen. And he did
succeed in galloping ahead beyond this path before the funeral had had
time to turn out of it into the high-road; but we had hardly got a
hundred paces beyond this point, when suddenly our trap jolted
violently, heeled on one side, and all but overturned. The coachman
pulled up the galloping horses, and spat with a gesture of his hand.
'What is it?' I asked.
My coachman got down without speaking or hurrying himself.
'But what is it?'
'The axle is broken … it caught fire,' he replied gloomily, and he
suddenly arranged the collar on the off-side horse with such
indignation that it was almost pushed over, but it stood its ground,
snorted, shook itself, and tranquilly began to scratch its foreleg
below the knee with its teeth.
I got out and stood for some time on the road, a prey to a vague and
unpleasant feeling of helplessness. The right wheel was almost
completely bent in under the trap, and it seemed to turn its
centre-piece upwards in dumb despair.
'What are we to do now?' I said at last.
'That's what's the cause of it!' said my coachman, pointing with his
whip to the funeral procession, which had just turned into the highroad
and was approaching us. 'I have always noticed that,' he went on; 'it's
a true saying—"Meet a corpse"—yes, indeed.'
And again he began worrying the off-side horse, who, seeing his
ill-humour, resolved to remain perfectly quiet, and contented itself
with discreetly switching its tail now and then. I walked up and down a
little while, and then stopped again before the wheel.
Meanwhile the funeral had come up to us. Quietly turning off the road
on to the grass, the mournful procession moved slowly past us. My
coachman and I took off our caps, saluted the priest, and exchanged
glances with the bearers. They moved with difficulty under their
burden, their broad chests standing out under the strain. Of the two
women who followed the coffin, one was very old and pale; her set face,
terribly distorted as it was by grief, still kept an expression of
grave and severe dignity. She walked in silence, from time to time
lifting her wasted hand to her thin drawn lips. The other, a young
woman of five-and-twenty, had her eyes red and moist and her whole face
swollen with weeping; as she passed us she ceased wailing, and hid her
face in her sleeve…. But when the funeral had got round us and turned
again into the road, her piteous, heart-piercing lament began again. My
coachman followed the measured swaying of the coffin with his eyes in
silence. Then he turned to me.
'It's Martin, the carpenter, they're burying,' he said; 'Martin of
'How do you know?'
'I know by the women. The old one is his mother, and the young one's
'Has he been ill, then?'
'Yes … fever. The day before yesterday the overseer sent for the
doctor, but they did not find the doctor at home. He was a good
carpenter; he drank a bit, but he was a good carpenter. See how upset
his good woman is…. But, there; women's tears don't cost much, we
know. Women's tears are only water … yes, indeed.'
And he bent down, crept under the side-horse's trace, and seized the
wooden yoke that passes over the horses' heads with both hands.
'Any way,' I observed, 'what are we going to do?'
My coachman just supported himself with his knees on the shaft-horse's
shoulder, twice gave the back-strap a shake, and straightened the pad;
then he crept out of the side-horse's trace again, and giving it a blow
on the nose as he passed, went up to the wheel. He went up to it, and,
never taking his eyes off it, slowly took out of the skirts of his coat
a box, slowly pulled open its lid by a strap, slowly thrust into it his
two fat fingers (which pretty well filled it up), rolled and rolled up
some snuff, and creasing up his nose in anticipation, helped himself to
it several times in succession, accompanying the snuff-taking every
time by a prolonged sneezing. Then, his streaming eyes blinking
faintly, he relapsed into profound meditation.
'Well?' I said at last.
My coachman thrust his box carefully into his pocket, brought his hat
forward on to his brows without the aid of his hand by a movement of
his head, and gloomily got up on the box.
'What are you doing?' I asked him, somewhat bewildered.
'Pray be seated,' he replied calmly, picking up the reins.
'But how can we go on?'
'We will go on now.'
'But the axle.'
'Pray be seated.'
'But the axle is broken.'
'It is broken; but we will get to the settlement … at a walking pace,
of course. Over here, beyond the copse, on the right, is a settlement;
they call it Yudino.'
'And do you think we can get there?'
My coachman did not vouchsafe me a reply.
'I had better walk,' I said.
'As you like….' And he nourished his whip. The horses started.
We did succeed in getting to the settlement, though the right front
wheel was almost off, and turned in a very strange way. On one hillock
it almost flew off, but my coachman shouted in a voice of exasperation,
and we descended it in safety.
Yudino settlement consisted of six little low-pitched huts, the walls
of which had already begun to warp out of the perpendicular, though
they had certainly not been long built; the back-yards of some of the
huts were not even fenced in with a hedge. As we drove into this
settlement we did not meet a single living soul; there were no hens
even to be seen in the street, and no dogs, but one black crop-tailed
cur, which at our approach leaped hurriedly out of a perfectly dry and
empty trough, to which it must have been driven by thirst, and at once,
without barking, rushed headlong under a gate. I went up to the first
hut, opened the door into the outer room, and called for the master of
the house. No one answered me. I called once more; the hungry mewing of
a cat sounded behind the other door. I pushed it open with my foot; a
thin cat ran up and down near me, her green eyes glittering in the
dark. I put my head into the room and looked round; it was empty, dark,
and smoky. I returned to the yard, and there was no one there
either…. A calf lowed behind the paling; a lame grey goose waddled a
little away. I passed on to the second hut. Not a soul in the second
hut either. I went into the yard….
In the very middle of the yard, in the glaring sunlight, there lay,
with his face on the ground and a cloak thrown over his head, a boy, as
it seemed to me. In a thatched shed a few paces from him a thin little
nag with broken harness was standing near a wretched little cart. The
sunshine falling in streaks through the narrow cracks in the
dilapidated roof, striped his shaggy, reddish-brown coat in small bands
of light. Above, in the high bird-house, starlings were chattering and
looking down inquisitively from their airy home. I went up to the
sleeping figure and began to awaken him.
He lifted his head, saw me, and at once jumped up on to his feet….
'What? what do you want? what is it?' he muttered, half asleep.
I did not answer him at once; I was so much impressed by his appearance.
Picture to yourself a little creature of fifty years old, with a little
round wrinkled face, a sharp nose, little, scarcely visible, brown
eyes, and thick curly black hair, which stood out on his tiny head like
the cap on the top of a mushroom. His whole person was excessively thin
and weakly, and it is absolutely impossible to translate into words the
extraordinary strangeness of his expression.
'What do you want?' he asked me again. I explained to him what was the
matter; he listened, slowly blinking, without taking his eyes off me.
'So cannot we get a new axle?' I said finally; 'I will gladly pay for
'But who are you? Hunters, eh?' he asked, scanning me from head to foot.
'You shoot the fowls of heaven, I suppose?… the wild things of the
woods?… And is it not a sin to kill God's birds, to shed the innocent
The strange old man spoke in a very drawling tone. The sound of his
voice also astonished me. There was none of the weakness of age to be
heard in it; it was marvellously sweet, young and almost feminine in
'I have no axle,' he added after a brief silence. 'That thing will not
suit you.' He pointed to his cart. 'You have, I expect, a large trap.'
'But can I get one in the village?'
'Not much of a village here!… No one has an axle here…. And there
is no one at home either; they are all at work. You must go on,' he
announced suddenly; and he lay down again on the ground.
I had not at all expected this conclusion.
'Listen, old man,' I said, touching him on the shoulder; 'do me a
kindness, help me.'
'Go on, in God's name! I am tired; I have driven into the town,' he
said, and drew his cloak over his head.
'But pray do me a kindness,' I said. 'I … I will pay for it.' 'I
don't want your money.'
'But please, old man.'
He half raised himself and sat up, crossing his little legs.
'I could take you perhaps to the clearing. Some merchants have bought
the forest here—God be their judge! They are cutting down the forest,
and they have built a counting-house there—God be their judge! You
might order an axle of them there, or buy one ready made.'
'Splendid!' I cried delighted; 'splendid! let us go.'
'An oak axle, a good one,' he continued, not getting up from his place.
'And is it far to this clearing?'
'Come, then! we can drive there in your trap.'
'Come, let us go,' I said; 'let us go, old man! The coachman is waiting
for us in the road.'
The old man rose unwillingly and followed me into the street. We found
my coachman in an irritable frame of mind; he had tried to water his
horses, but the water in the well, it appeared, was scanty in quantity
and bad in taste, and water is the first consideration with
coachmen…. However, he grinned at the sight of the old man, nodded
his head and cried: 'Hallo! Kassyanushka! good health to you!'
'Good health to you, Erofay, upright man!' replied Kassyan in a
I at once made known his suggestion to the coachman; Erofay expressed
his approval of it and drove into the yard. While he was busy
deliberately unharnessing the horses, the old man stood leaning with
his shoulders against the gate, and looking disconsolately first at him
and then at me. He seemed in some uncertainty of mind; he was not very
pleased, as it seemed to me, at our sudden visit.
'So they have transported you too?' Erofay asked him suddenly, lifting
the wooden arch of the harness.
'Ugh!' said my coachman between his teeth. 'You know Martin the
carpenter…. Of course, you know Martin of Ryaby?'
'Well, he is dead. We have just met his coffin.'
'Dead?' he said, and his head sank dejectedly.
'Yes, he is dead. Why didn't you cure him, eh? You know they say you
cure folks; you're a doctor.'
My coachman was apparently laughing and jeering at the old man.
'And is this your trap, pray?' he added, with a shrug of his shoulders
in its direction.
'Well, a trap … a fine trap!' he repeated, and taking it by the
shafts almost turned it completely upside down. 'A trap!… But what
will you drive in it to the clearing?… You can't harness our horses
in these shafts; our horses are all too big.'
'I don't know,' replied Kassyan, 'what you are going to drive; that
beast perhaps,' he added with a sigh.
'That?' broke in Erofay, and going up to Kassyan's nag, he tapped it
disparagingly on the back with the third finger of his right hand.
'See,' he added contemptuously, 'it's asleep, the scare-crow!'
I asked Erofay to harness it as quickly as he could. I wanted to drive
myself with Kassyan to the clearing; grouse are fond of such places.
When the little cart was quite ready, and I, together with my dog, had
been installed in the warped wicker body of it, and Kassyan huddled up
into a little ball, with still the same dejected expression on his
face, had taken his seat in front, Erofay came up to me and whispered
with an air of mystery:
'You did well, your honour, to drive with him. He is such a queer
fellow; he's cracked, you know, and his nickname is the Flea. I don't
know how you managed to make him out….'
I tried to say to Erofay that so far Kassyan had seemed to me a very
sensible man; but my coachman continued at once in the same voice:
'But you keep a look-out where he is driving you to. And, your honour,
be pleased to choose the axle yourself; be pleased to choose a sound
one…. Well, Flea,' he added aloud, 'could I get a bit of bread in
'Look about; you may find some,' answered Kassyan. He pulled the reins
and we rolled away.
His little horse, to my genuine astonishment, did not go badly. Kassyan
preserved an obstinate silence the whole way, and made abrupt and
unwilling answers to my questions. We quickly reached the clearing, and
then made our way to the counting-house, a lofty cottage, standing by
itself over a small gully, which had been dammed up and converted into
a pool. In this counting-house I found two young merchants' clerks,
with snow-white teeth, sweet and soft eyes, sweet and subtle words, and
sweet and wily smiles. I bought an axle of them and returned to the
clearing. I thought that Kassyan would stay with the horse and await my
return; but he suddenly came up to me.
'Are you going to shoot birds, eh?' he said.
'Yes, if I come across any.'
'I will come with you…. Can I?'
So we went together. The land cleared was about a mile in length. I
must confess I watched Kassyan more than my dogs. He had been aptly
called 'Flea.' His little black uncovered head (though his hair,
indeed, was as good a covering as any cap) seemed to flash hither and
thither among the bushes. He walked extraordinarily swiftly, and seemed
always hopping up and down as he moved; he was for ever stooping down
to pick herbs of some kind, thrusting them into his bosom, muttering to
himself, and constantly looking at me and my dog with such a strange
searching gaze. Among low bushes and in clearings there are often
little grey birds which constantly flit from tree to tree, and which
whistle as they dart away. Kassyan mimicked them, answered their calls;
a young quail flew from between his feet, chirruping, and he chirruped
in imitation of him; a lark began to fly down above him, moving his
wings and singing melodiously: Kassyan joined in his song. He did not
speak to me at all….
The weather was glorious, even more so than before; but the heat was no
less. Over the clear sky the high thin clouds were hardly stirred,
yellowish-white, like snow lying late in spring, flat and drawn out
like rolled-up sails. Slowly but perceptibly their fringed edges, soft
and fluffy as cotton-wool, changed at every moment; they were melting
away, even these clouds, and no shadow fell from them. I strolled about
the clearing for a long while with Kassyan. Young shoots, which had not
yet had time to grow more than a yard high, surrounded the low
blackened stumps with their smooth slender stems; and spongy funguses
with grey edges—the same of which they make tinder—clung to these;
strawberry plants flung their rosy tendrils over them; mushrooms
squatted close in groups. The feet were constantly caught and entangled
in the long grass, that was parched in the scorching sun; the eyes were
dazzled on all sides by the glaring metallic glitter on the young
reddish leaves of the trees; on all sides were the variegated blue
clusters of vetch, the golden cups of bloodwort, and the half-lilac,
half-yellow blossoms of the heart's-ease. In some places near the
disused paths, on which the tracks of wheels were marked by streaks on
the fine bright grass, rose piles of wood, blackened by wind and rain,
laid in yard-lengths; there was a faint shadow cast from them in
slanting oblongs; there was no other shade anywhere. A light breeze
rose, then sank again; suddenly it would blow straight in the face and
seem to be rising; everything would begin to rustle merrily, to nod, to
shake around one; the supple tops of the ferns bow down gracefully, and
one rejoices in it, but at once it dies away again, and all is at rest
once more. Only the grasshoppers chirrup in chorus with frenzied
energy, and wearisome is this unceasing, sharp dry sound. It is in
keeping with the persistent heat of mid-day; it seems akin to it, as
though evoked by it out of the glowing earth.
Without having started one single covey we at last reached another
clearing. There the aspen-trees had only lately been felled, and lay
stretched mournfully on the ground, crushing the grass and small
undergrowth below them: on some the leaves were still green, though
they were already dead, and hung limply from the motionless branches;
on others they were crumpled and dried up. Fresh golden-white chips lay
in heaps round the stumps that were covered with bright drops; a
peculiar, very pleasant, pungent odour rose from them. Farther away,
nearer the wood, sounded the dull blows of the axe, and from time to
time, bowing and spreading wide its arms, a bushy tree fell slowly and
majestically to the ground.
For a long time I did not come upon a single bird; at last a corncrake
flew out of a thick clump of young oak across the wormwood springing up
round it. I fired; it turned over in the air and fell. At the sound of
the shot, Kassyan quickly covered his eyes with his hand, and he did
not stir till I had reloaded the gun and picked up the bird. When I had
moved farther on, he went up to the place where the wounded bird had
fallen, bent down to the grass, on which some drops of blood were
sprinkled, shook his head, and looked in dismay at me…. I heard him
afterwards whispering: 'A sin!… Ah, yes, it's a sin!'
The heat forced us at last to go into the wood. I flung myself down
under a high nut-bush, over which a slender young maple gracefully
stretched its light branches. Kassyan sat down on the thick trunk of a
felled birch-tree. I looked at him. The leaves faintly stirred
overhead, and their thin greenish shadows crept softly to and fro over
his feeble body, muffled in a dark coat, and over his little face. He
did not lift his head. Bored by his silence, I lay on my back and began
to admire the tranquil play of the tangled foliage on the background of
the bright, far away sky. A marvellously sweet occupation it is to lie
on one's back in a wood and gaze upwards! You may fancy you are looking
into a bottomless sea; that it stretches wide below you; that the trees
are not rising out of the earth, but, like the roots of gigantic weeds,
are dropping—falling straight down into those glassy, limpid depths;
the leaves on the trees are at one moment transparent as emeralds, the
next, they condense into golden, almost black green. Somewhere, afar
off, at the end of a slender twig, a single leaf hangs motionless
against the blue patch of transparent sky, and beside it another
trembles with the motion of a fish on the line, as though moving of its
own will, not shaken by the wind. Round white clouds float calmly
across, and calmly pass away like submarine islands; and suddenly, all
this ocean, this shining ether, these branches and leaves steeped in
sunlight—all is rippling, quivering in fleeting brilliance, and a
fresh trembling whisper awakens like the tiny, incessant plash of
suddenly stirred eddies. One does not move—one looks, and no word can
tell what peace, what joy, what sweetness reigns in the heart. One
looks: the deep, pure blue stirs on one's lips a smile, innocent as
itself; like the clouds over the sky, and, as it were, with them, happy
memories pass in slow procession over the soul, and still one fancies
one's gaze goes deeper and deeper, and draws one with it up into that
peaceful, shining immensity, and that one cannot be brought back from
that height, that depth….
'Master, master!' cried Kassyan suddenly in his musical voice.
I raised myself in surprise: up till then he had scarcely replied to my
questions, and now he suddenly addressed me of himself.
'What is it?' I asked.
'What did you kill the bird for?' he began, looking me straight in the
'What for? Corncrake is game; one can eat it.'
'That was not what you killed it for, master, as though you were going
to eat it! You killed it for amusement.'
'Well, you yourself, I suppose, eat geese or chickens?'
'Those birds are provided by God for man, but the corncrake is a wild
bird of the woods: and not he alone; many they are, the wild things of
the woods and the fields, and the wild things of the rivers and marshes
and moors, flying on high or creeping below; and a sin it is to slay
them: let them live their allotted life upon the earth. But for man
another food has been provided; his food is other, and other his
sustenance: bread, the good gift of God, and the water of heaven, and
the tame beasts that have come down to us from our fathers of old.'
I looked in astonishment at Kassyan. His words flowed freely; he did
not hesitate for a word; he spoke with quiet inspiration and gentle
dignity, sometimes closing his eyes.
'So is it sinful, then, to kill fish, according to you?' I asked.
'Fishes have cold blood,' he replied with conviction. 'The fish is a
dumb creature; it knows neither fear nor rejoicing. The fish is a
voiceless creature. The fish does not feel; the blood in it is not
living…. Blood,' he continued, after a pause, 'blood is a holy thing!
God's sun does not look upon blood; it is hidden away from the light
… it is a great sin to bring blood into the light of day; a great sin
and horror…. Ah, a great sin!'
He sighed, and his head drooped forward. I looked, I confess, in
absolute amazement at the strange old man. His language did not sound
like the language of a peasant; the common people do not speak like
that, nor those who aim at fine speaking. His speech was meditative,
grave, and curious…. I had never heard anything like it.
'Tell me, please, Kassyan,' I began, without taking my eyes off his
slightly flushed face, 'what is your occupation?'
He did not answer my question at once. His eyes strayed uneasily for an
'I live as the Lord commands,' he brought out at last; 'and as for
occupation—no, I have no occupation. I've never been very clever from
a child: I work when I can: I'm not much of a workman—how should I be?
I have no health; my hands are awkward. In the spring I catch
'You catch nightingales?… But didn't you tell me that we must not
touch any of the wild things of the woods and the fields, and so on?'
'We must not kill them, of a certainty; death will take its own without
that. Look at Martin the carpenter; Martin lived, and his life was not
long, but he died; his wife now grieves for her husband, for her little
children…. Neither for man nor beast is there any charm against
death. Death does not hasten, nor is there any escaping it; but we must
not aid death…. And I do not kill nightingales—God forbid! I do not
catch them to harm them, to spoil their lives, but for the pleasure of
men, for their comfort and delight.'
'Do you go to Kursk to catch them?'
'Yes, I go to Kursk, and farther too, at times. I pass nights in the
marshes, or at the edge of the forests; I am alone at night in the
fields, in the thickets; there the curlews call and the hares squeak
and the wild ducks lift up their voices…. I note them at evening; at
morning I give ear to them; at daybreak I cast my net over the
bushes…. There are nightingales that sing so pitifully sweet … yea,
'And do you sell them?'
'I give them to good people.'
'And what are you doing now?'
'What am I doing?'
'Yes, how are you employed?'
The old man was silent for a little.
'I am not employed at all…. I am a poor workman. But I can read and
'You can read?'
'Yes, I can read and write. I learnt, by the help of God and good
'Have you a family?'
'No, not a family.'
'How so?… Are they dead, then?'
'No, but … I have never been lucky in life. But all that is in God's
hands; we are all in God's hands; and a man should be righteous—that
is all! Upright before God, that is it.'
'And you have no kindred?'
'Yes … well….'
The old man was confused.
'Tell me, please,' I began: 'I heard my coachman ask you why you did
not cure Martin? You cure disease?'
'Your coachman is a righteous man,' Kassyan answered thoughtfully. 'I
too am not without sin. They call me a doctor…. Me a doctor, indeed!
And who can heal the sick? That is all a gift from God. But there are
… yes, there are herbs, and there are flowers; they are of use, of a
certainty. There is plantain, for instance, a herb good for man; there
is bud-marigold too; it is not sinful to speak of them: they are holy
herbs of God. Then there are others not so; and they may be of use, but
it's a sin; and to speak of them is a sin. Still, with prayer, may
be…. And doubtless there are such words…. But who has faith, shall
be saved,' he added, dropping his voice.
'You did not give Martin anything?' I asked.
'I heard of it too late,' replied the old man. 'But what of it! Each
man's destiny is written from his birth. The carpenter Martin was not
to live; he was not to live upon the earth: that was what it was. No,
when a man is not to live on the earth, him the sunshine does not warm
like another, and him the bread does not nourish and make strong; it is
as though something is drawing him away…. Yes: God rest his soul!'
'Have you been settled long amongst us?' I asked him after a short
'No, not long; four years. In the old master's time we always lived in
our old houses, but the trustees transported us. Our old master was a
kind heart, a man of peace—the Kingdom of Heaven be his! The trustees
doubtless judged righteously.'
'And where did you live before?'
'At Fair Springs.'
'Is it far from here?'
'A hundred miles.'
'Well, were you better off there?'
'Yes … yes, there there was open country, with rivers; it was our
home: here we are cramped and parched up…. Here we are strangers.
There at home, at Fair Springs, you could get up on to a hill—and ah,
my God, what a sight you could see! Streams and plains and forests, and
there was a church, and then came plains beyond. You could see far,
very far. Yes, how far you could look—you could look and look, ah,
yes! Here, doubtless, the soil is better; it is clay—good fat clay, as
the peasants say; for me the corn grows well enough everywhere.'
'Confess then, old man; you would like to visit your birth-place again?'
'Yes, I should like to see it. Still, all places are good. I am a man
without kin, without neighbours. And, after all, do you gain much,
pray, by staying at home? But, behold! as you walk, and as you walk,'
he went on, raising his voice, 'the heart grows lighter, of a truth.
And the sun shines upon you, and you are in the sight of God, and the
singing comes more tunefully. Here, you look—what herb is growing; you
look on it—you pick it. Here water runs, perhaps—spring water, a
source of pure holy water; so you drink of it—you look on it too. The
birds of heaven sing…. And beyond Kursk come the steppes, that
steppes-country: ah, what a marvel, what a delight for man! what
freedom, what a blessing of God! And they go on, folks tell, even to
the warm seas where dwells the sweet-voiced bird, the Hamayune, and
from the trees the leaves fall not, neither in autumn nor in winter,
and apples grow of gold, on silver branches, and every man lives in
uprightness and content. And I would go even there…. Have I journeyed
so little already! I have been to Romyon and to Simbirsk the fair city,
and even to Moscow of the golden domes; I have been to Oka the good
nurse, and to Tsna the dove, and to our mother Volga, and many folks,
good Christians have I seen, and noble cities I have visited…. Well,
I would go thither … yes … and more too … and I am not the only
one, I a poor sinner … many other Christians go in bast-shoes,
roaming over the world, seeking truth, yea!… For what is there at
home? No righteousness in man—it's that.'
These last words Kassyan uttered quickly, almost unintelligibly; then
he said something more which I could not catch at all, and such a
strange expression passed over his face that I involuntarily recalled
the epithet 'cracked.' He looked down, cleared his throat, and seemed
to come to himself again. 'What sunshine!' he murmured in a low voice.
'It is a blessing, oh, Lord! What warmth in the woods!'
He gave a movement of the shoulders and fell into silence. With a vague
look round him he began softly to sing. I could not catch all the words
of his slow chant; I heard the following:
'They call me Kassyan,
But my nickname's the Flea.'
'Oh!' I thought, 'so he improvises.' Suddenly he started and ceased
singing, looking intently at a thick part of the wood. I turned and saw
a little peasant girl, about seven years old, in a blue frock, with a
checked handkerchief over her head, and a woven bark-basket in her
little bare sunburnt hand. She had certainly not expected to meet us;
she had, as they say, 'stumbled upon' us, and she stood motionless in a
shady recess among the thick foliage of the nut-trees, looking dismayed
at me with her black eyes. I had scarcely time to catch a glimpse of
her; she dived behind a tree.
'Annushka! Annushka! come here, don't be afraid!' cried the old man
'I'm afraid,' came her shrill voice.
'Don't be afraid, don't be afraid; come to me.'
Annushka left her hiding place in silence, walked softly round—her
little childish feet scarcely sounded on the thick grass—and came out
of the bushes near the old man. She was not a child of seven, as I had
fancied at first, from her diminutive stature, but a girl of thirteen
or fourteen. Her whole person was small and thin, but very neat and
graceful, and her pretty little face was strikingly like Kassyan's own,
though he was certainly not handsome. There were the same thin
features, and the same strange expression, shy and confiding,
melancholy and shrewd, and her gestures were the same…. Kassyan kept
his eyes fixed on her; she took her stand at his side.
'Well, have you picked any mushrooms?' he asked.
'Yes,' she answered with a shy smile.
'Did you find many?'
'Yes.' (She stole a swift look at him and smiled again.)
'Are they white ones?'
'Show me, show me…. (She slipped the basket off her arm and
half-lifted the big burdock leaf which covered up the mushrooms.) 'Ah!'
said Kassyan, bending down over the basket; 'what splendid ones! Well
'She's your daughter, Kassyan, isn't she?' I asked. (Annushka's face
'No, well, a relative,' replied Kassyan with affected indifference.
'Come, Annushka, run along,' he added at once, 'run along, and God be
with you! And take care.'
'But why should she go on foot?' I interrupted. 'We could take her with
Annushka blushed like a poppy, grasped the handle of her basket with
both hands, and looked in trepidation at the old man.
'No, she will get there all right,' he answered in the same languid and
indifferent voice. 'Why not?… She will get there…. Run along.'
Annushka went rapidly away into the forest. Kassyan looked after her,
then looked down and smiled to himself. In this prolonged smile, in the
few words he had spoken to Annushka, and in the very sound of his voice
when he spoke to her, there was an intense, indescribable love and
tenderness. He looked again in the direction she had gone, again smiled
to himself, and, passing his hand across his face, he nodded his head
'Why did you send her away so soon?' I asked him. 'I would have bought
'Well, you can buy them there at home just the same, sir, if you like,'
he answered, for the first time using the formal 'sir' in addressing me.
'She's very pretty, your girl.'
'No … only so-so,' he answered, with seeming reluctance, and from
that instant he relapsed into the same uncommunicative mood as at first.
Seeing that all my efforts to make him talk again were fruitless, I
went off into the clearing. Meantime the heat had somewhat abated; but
my ill-success, or, as they say among us, my 'ill-luck,' continued, and
I returned to the settlement with nothing but one corncrake and the new
axle. Just as we were driving into the yard, Kassyan suddenly turned to
'Master, master,' he began, 'do you know I have done you a wrong; it
was I cast a spell to keep all the game off.'
'Oh, I can do that. Here you have a well-trained dog and a good one,
but he could do nothing. When you think of it, what are men? what are
they? Here's a beast; what have they made of him?'
It would have been useless for me to try to convince Kassyan of the
impossibility of 'casting a spell' on game, and so I made him no reply.
Meantime we had turned into the yard.
Annushka was not in the hut: she had had time to get there before us,
and to leave her basket of mushrooms. Erofay fitted in the new axle,
first exposing it to a severe and most unjust criticism; and an hour
later I set off, leaving a small sum of money with Kassyan, which at
first he was unwilling to accept, but afterwards, after a moment's
thought, holding it in his hand, he put it in his bosom. In the course
of this hour he had scarcely uttered a single word; he stood as before,
leaning against the gate. He made no reply to the reproaches of my
coachman, and took leave very coldly of me.
Directly I turned round, I could see that my worthy Erofay was in a
gloomy frame of mind…. To be sure, he had found nothing to eat in the
country; the only water for his horses was bad. We drove off. With
dissatisfaction expressed even in the back of his head, he sat on the
box, burning to begin to talk to me. While waiting for me to begin by
some question, he confined himself to a low muttering in an undertone,
and some rather caustic instructions to the horses. 'A village,' he
muttered; 'call that a village? You ask for a drop of kvas—not a drop
of kvas even…. Ah, Lord!… And the water—simply filth!' (He spat
loudly.) 'Not a cucumber, nor kvas, nor nothing…. Now, then!' he
added aloud, turning to the right trace-horse; 'I know you, you
humbug.' (And he gave him a cut with the whip.) 'That horse has learnt
to shirk his work entirely, and yet he was a willing beast once. Now,
'Tell me, please, Erofay,' I began, 'what sort of a man is Kassyan?'
Erofay did not answer me at once: he was, in general, a reflective and
deliberate fellow; but I could see directly that my question was
soothing and cheering to him.
'The Flea?' he said at last, gathering up the reins; 'he's a queer
fellow; yes, a crazy chap; such a queer fellow, you wouldn't find
another like him in a hurry. You know, for example, he's for all the
world like our roan horse here; he gets out of everything—out of work,
that's to say. But, then, what sort of workman could he be?… He's
hardly body enough to keep his soul in … but still, of course….
He's been like that from a child up, you know. At first he followed his
uncle's business as a carrier—there were three of them in the
business; but then he got tired of it, you know—he threw it up. He
began to live at home, but he could not keep at home long; he's so
restless—a regular flea, in fact. He happened, by good luck, to have a
good master—he didn't worry him. Well, so ever since he has been
wandering about like a lost sheep. And then, he's so strange; there's
no understanding him. Sometimes he'll be as silent as a post, and then
he'll begin talking, and God knows what he'll say! Is that good
manners, pray? He's an absurd fellow, that he is. But he sings well,
for all that.'
'And does he cure people, really?'
'Cure people!… Well, how should he? A fine sort of doctor! Though he
did cure me of the king's evil, I must own…. But how can he? He's a
stupid fellow, that's what he is,' he added, after a moment's pause.
'Have you known him long?'
'A long while. I was his neighbour at Sitchovka up at Fair Springs.'
'And what of that girl—who met us in the wood, Annushka—what relation
is she to him?'
Erofay looked at me over his shoulder, and grinned all over his face.
'He, he!… yes, they are relations. She is an orphan; she has no
mother, and it's not even known who her mother was. But she must be a
relation; she's too much like him…. Anyway, she lives with him. She's
a smart girl, there's no denying; a good girl; and as for the old man,
she's simply the apple of his eye; she's a good girl. And, do you know,
you wouldn't believe it, but do you know, he's managed to teach
Annushka to read? Well, well! that's quite like him; he's such an
extraordinary fellow, such a changeable fellow; there's no reckoning on
him, really…. Eh! eh! eh!' My coachman suddenly interrupted himself,
and stopping the horses, he bent over on one side and began sniffing.
'Isn't there a smell of burning? Yes! Why, that new axle, I do
declare!… I thought I'd greased it…. We must get on to some water;
why, here is a puddle, just right.'
And Erofay slowly got off his seat, untied the pail, went to the pool,
and coming back, listened with a certain satisfaction to the hissing of
the box of the wheel as the water suddenly touched it…. Six times
during some eight miles he had to pour water on the smouldering axle,
and it was quite evening when we got home at last.
Twelve miles from my place lives an acquaintance of mine, a landowner
and a retired officer in the Guards—Arkady Pavlitch Pyenotchkin. He
has a great deal of game on his estate, a house built after the design
of a French architect, and servants dressed after the English fashion;
he gives capital dinners, and a cordial reception to visitors, and,
with all that, one goes to see him reluctantly. He is a sensible and
practical man, has received the excellent education now usual, has been
in the service, mixed in the highest society, and is now devoting
himself to his estate with great success. Arkady Pavlitch is, to judge
by his own words, severe but just; he looks after the good of the
peasants under his control and punishes them—for their good. 'One has
to treat them like children,' he says on such occasions; 'their
ignorance, mon cher; il faut prendre cela en considération.' When
this so-called painful necessity arises, he eschews all sharp or
violent gestures, and prefers not to raise his voice, but with a
straight blow in the culprit's face, says calmly, 'I believe I asked
you to do something, my friend?' or 'What is the matter, my boy? what
are you thinking about?' while he sets his teeth a little, and the
corners of his mouth are drawn. He is not tall, but has an elegant
figure, and is very good-looking; his hands and nails are kept
perfectly exquisite; his rosy cheeks and lips are simply the picture of
health. He has a ringing, light-hearted laugh, and there is sometimes a
very genial twinkle in his clear brown eyes. He dresses in excellent
taste; he orders French books, prints, and papers, though he's no great
lover of reading himself: he has hardly as much as waded through the
Wandering Jew. He plays cards in masterly style. Altogether, Arkady
Pavlitch is reckoned one of the most cultivated gentlemen and most
eligible matches in our province; the ladies are perfectly wild over
him, and especially admire his manners. He is wonderfully well
conducted, wary as a cat, and has never from his cradle been mixed up
in any scandal, though he is fond of making his power felt,
intimidating or snubbing a nervous man, when he gets a chance. He has a
positive distaste for doubtful society—he is afraid of compromising
himself; in his lighter moments, however, he will avow himself a
follower of Epicurus, though as a rule he speaks slightingly of
philosophy, calling it the foggy food fit for German brains, or at
times, simply, rot. He is fond of music too; at the card-table he is
given to humming through his teeth, but with feeling; he knows by heart
some snatches from Lucia and Somnambula, but he is always apt to
sing everything a little sharp. The winters he spends in Petersburg.
His house is kept in extraordinarily good order; the very grooms feel
his influence, and every day not only rub the harness and brush their
coats, but even wash their faces. Arkady Pavlitch's house-serfs have,
it is true, something of a hang-dog look; but among us Russians there's
no knowing what is sullenness and what is sleepiness. Arkady Pavlitch
speaks in a soft, agreeable voice, with emphasis and, as it were, with
satisfaction; he brings out each word through his handsome perfumed
moustaches; he uses a good many French expressions too, such as: Mais
c'est impayable! Mais comment donc? and so so. For all that, I, for
one, am never over-eager to visit him, and if it were not for the
grouse and the partridges, I should probably have dropped his
acquaintance altogether. One is possessed by a strange sort of
uneasiness in his house; the very comfort is distasteful to one, and
every evening when a befrizzed valet makes his appearance in a blue
livery with heraldic buttons, and begins, with cringing servility,
drawing off one's boots, one feels that if his pale, lean figure could
suddenly be replaced by the amazingly broad cheeks and incredibly thick
nose of a stalwart young labourer fresh from the plough, who has yet
had time in his ten months of service to tear his new nankin coat open
at every seam, one would be unutterably overjoyed, and would gladly run
the risk of having one's whole leg pulled off with the boot….
In spite of my aversion for Arkady Pavlitch, I once happened to pass a
night in his house. The next day I ordered my carriage to be ready
early in the morning, but he would not let me start without a regular
breakfast in the English style, and conducted me into his study. With
our tea they served us cutlets, boiled eggs, butter, honey, cheese, and
so on. Two footmen in clean white gloves swiftly and silently
anticipated our faintest desires. We sat on a Persian divan. Arkady
Pavlitch was arrayed in loose silk trousers, a black velvet smoking
jacket, a red fez with a blue tassel, and yellow Chinese slippers
without heels. He drank his tea, laughed, scrutinised his finger-nails,
propped himself up with cushions, and was altogether in an excellent
humour. After making a hearty breakfast with obvious satisfaction,
Arkady Pavlitch poured himself out a glass of red wine, lifted it to
his lips, and suddenly frowned.
'Why was not the wine warmed?' he asked rather sharply of one of the
The footman stood stock-still in confusion, and turned white.
'Didn't I ask you a question, my friend?' Arkady Pavlitch resumed
tranquilly, never taking his eyes off the man.
The luckless footman fidgeted in his place, twisted the napkin, and
uttered not a word.
Arkady Pavlitch dropped his head and looked up at him thoughtfully from
under his eyelids.
'Pardon, mon cher', he observed, patting my knee amicably, and again
he stared at the footman. 'You can go,' he added, after a short
silence, raising his eyebrows, and he rang the bell.
A stout, swarthy, black-haired man, with a low forehead, and eyes
positively lost in fat, came into the room.
'About Fyodor … make the necessary arrangements,' said Arkady
Pavlitch in an undertone, and with complete composure.
'Yes, sir,' answered the fat man, and he went out.
'Voilà, mon cher, les désagréments de la campagne,' Arkady Pavlitch
remarked gaily. 'But where are you off to? Stop, you must stay a
'No,' I answered; 'it's time I was off.'
'Nothing but sport! Oh, you sportsmen! And where are you going to shoot
'Thirty-five miles from here, at Ryabovo.'
'Ryabovo? By Jove! now in that case I will come with you. Ryabovo's
only four miles from my village Shipilovka, and it's a long while since
I've been over to Shipilovka; I've never been able to get the time.
Well, this is a piece of luck; you can spend the day shooting in
Ryabovo and come on in the evening to me. We'll have supper
together—we'll take the cook with us, and you'll stay the night with
me. Capital! capital!' he added without waiting for my answer.
'C'est arrangé…. Hey, you there! Have the carriage brought out, and
look sharp. You have never been in Shipilovka? I should be ashamed to
suggest your putting up for the night in my agent's cottage, but you're
not particular, I know, and at Ryabovo you'd have slept in some
hayloft…. We will go, we will go!'
And Arkady Pavlitch hummed some French song.
'You don't know, I dare say,' he pursued, swaying from side to side;
'I've some peasants there who pay rent. It's the custom of the
place—what was I to do? They pay their rent very punctually, though. I
should, I'll own, have put them back to payment in labour, but there's
so little land. I really wonder how they manage to make both ends meet.
However, c'est leur affaire. My agent there's a fine fellow, une
forte tête, a man of real administrative power! You shall see….
Really, how luckily things have turned out!'
There was no help for it. Instead of nine o'clock in the morning, we
started at two in the afternoon. Sportsmen will sympathise with my
impatience. Arkady Pavlitch liked, as he expressed it, to be
comfortable when he had the chance, and he took with him such a supply
of linen, dainties, wearing apparel, perfumes, pillows, and
dressing-cases of all sorts, that a careful and self-denying German
would have found enough to last him for a year. Every time we went down
a steep hill, Arkady Pavlitch addressed some brief but powerful remarks
to the coachman, from which I was able to deduce that my worthy friend
was a thorough coward. The journey was, however, performed in safety,
except that, in crossing a lately-repaired bridge, the trap with the
cook in it broke down, and he got squeezed in the stomach against the
Arkady Pavlitch was alarmed in earnest at the sight of the fall of
Karem, his home-made professor of the culinary art, and he sent at once
to inquire whether his hands were injured. On receiving a reassuring
reply to this query, his mind was set at rest immediately. With all
this, we were rather a long time on the road; I was in the same
carriage as Arkady Pavlitch, and towards the end of the journey I was a
prey to deadly boredom, especially as in a few hours my companion ran
perfectly dry of subjects of conversation, and even fell to expressing
his liberal views on politics. At last we did arrive—not at Ryabovo,
but at Shipilovka; it happened so somehow. I could have got no shooting
now that day in any case, and so, raging inwardly, I submitted to my
The cook had arrived a few minutes before us, and apparently had had
time to arrange things and prepare those whom it concerned, for on our
very entrance within the village boundaries we were met by the village
bailiff (the agent's son), a stalwart, red-haired peasant of seven
feet; he was on horseback, bareheaded, and wearing a new overcoat, not
buttoned up. 'And where's Sofron?' Arkady Pavlitch asked him. The
bailiff first jumped nimbly off his horse, bowed to his master till he
was bent double, and said: 'Good health to you, Arkady Pavlitch, sir!'
then raised his head, shook himself, and announced that Sofron had gone
to Perov, but they had sent after him.
'Well, come along after us,' said Arkady Pavlitch. The bailiff
deferentially led his horse to one side, clambered on to it, and
followed the carriage at a trot, his cap in his hand. We drove through
the village. A few peasants in empty carts happened to meet us; they
were driving from the threshing-floor and singing songs, swaying
backwards and forwards, and swinging their legs in the air; but at the
sight of our carriage and the bailiff they were suddenly silent, took
off their winter caps (it was summer-time) and got up as though waiting
for orders. Arkady Pavlitch nodded to them graciously. A flutter of
excitement had obviously spread through the hamlet. Peasant women in
check petticoats flung splinters of wood at indiscreet or over-zealous
dogs; an old lame man with a beard that began just under his eyes
pulled a horse away from the well before it had drunk, gave it, for
some obscure reason, a blow on the side, and fell to bowing low. Boys
in long smocks ran with a howl to the huts, flung themselves on their
bellies on the high door-sills, with their heads down and legs in the
air, rolled over with the utmost haste into the dark outer rooms, from
which they did not reappear again. Even the hens sped in a hurried
scuttle to the turning; one bold cock with a black throat like a satin
waistcoat and a red tail, rumpled up to his very comb, stood his ground
in the road, and even prepared for a crow, then suddenly took fright
and scuttled off too. The agent's cottage stood apart from the rest in
the middle of a thick green patch of hemp. We stopped at the gates. Mr.
Pyenotchkin got up, flung off his cloak with a picturesque motion, and
got out of the carriage, looking affably about him. The agent's wife
met us with low curtseys, and came up to kiss the master's hand. Arkady
Pavlitch let her kiss it to her heart's content, and mounted the steps.
In the outer room, in a dark corner, stood the bailiff's wife, and she
too curtsied, but did not venture to approach his hand. In the cold
hut, as it is called—to the right of the outer room—two other women
were still busily at work; they were carrying out all the rubbish,
empty tubs, sheepskins stiff as boards, greasy pots, a cradle with a
heap of dish-clouts and a baby covered with spots, and sweeping out the
dirt with bathbrooms. Arkady Pavlitch sent them away, and installed
himself on a bench under the holy pictures. The coachmen began bringing
in the trunks, bags, and other conveniences, trying each time to subdue
the noise of their heavy boots.
Meantime Arkady Pavlitch began questioning the bailiff about the crops,
the sowing, and other agricultural subjects. The bailiff gave
satisfactory answers, but spoke with a sort of heavy awkwardness, as
though he were buttoning up his coat with benumbed fingers. He stood at
the door and kept looking round on the watch to make way for the nimble
footman. Behind his powerful shoulders I managed to get a glimpse of
the agent's wife in the outer room surreptitiously belabouring some
other peasant woman. Suddenly a cart rumbled up and stopped at the
steps; the agent came in.
This man, as Arkady Pavlitch said, of real administrative power, was
short, broad-shouldered, grey, and thick-set, with a red nose, little
blue eyes, and a beard of the shape of a fan. We may observe, by the
way, that ever since Russia has existed, there has never yet been an
instance of a man who has grown rich and prosperous without a big,
bushy beard; sometimes a man may have had a thin, wedge-shape beard all
his life; but then he begins to get one all at once, it is all round
his face like a halo—one wonders where the hair has come from! The
agent must have been making merry at Perov: his face was unmistakably
flushed, and there was a smell of spirits about him.
'Ah, our father, our gracious benefactor!' he began in a sing-song
voice, and with a face of such deep feeling that it seemed every minute
as if he would burst into tears; 'at last you have graciously deigned
to come to us … your hand, your honour's hand,' he added, his lips
protruded in anticipation. Arkady Pavlitch gratified his desire. 'Well,
brother Sofron, how are things going with you?' he asked in a friendly
'Ah, you, our father!' cried Sofron; 'how should they go ill? how
should things go ill, now that you, our father, our benefactor,
graciously deign to lighten our poor village with your presence, to
make us happy till the day of our death? Thank the Lord for thee,
Arkady Pavlitch! thank the Lord for thee! All is right by your gracious
At this point Sofron paused, gazed upon his master, and, as though
carried away by a rush of feeling (tipsiness had its share in it too),
begged once more for his hand, and whined more than before.
'Ah, you, our father, benefactor … and … There, God bless me! I'm a
regular fool with delight…. God bless me! I look and can't believe my
eyes! Ah, our father!'
Arkady Pavlitch glanced at me, smiled, and asked: 'N'est-ce pas que
'But, Arkady Pavlitch, your honour,' resumed the indefatigable agent;
'what are you going to do? You'll break my heart, your honour; your
honour didn't graciously let me know of your visit. Where are you to
put up for the night? You see here it's dirty, nasty.'
'Nonsense, Sofron, nonsense!' Arkady Pavlitch responded, with a smile;
'it's all right here.'
'But, our father, all right—for whom? For peasants like us it's all
right; but for you … oh, our father, our gracious protector! oh, you
… our father!… Pardon an old fool like me; I'm off my head, bless
me! I'm gone clean crazy.'
Meanwhile supper was served; Arkady Pavlitch began to eat. The old man
packed his son off, saying he smelt too strong.
'Well, settled the division of land, old chap, hey?' enquired Mr.
Pyenotchkin, obviously trying to imitate the peasant speech, with a
wink to me.
'We've settled the land shares, your honour; all by your gracious
favour. Day before yesterday the list was made out. The Hlinovsky folks
made themselves disagreeable about it at first … they were
disagreeable about it, certainly. They wanted this … and they wanted
that … and God knows what they didn't want! but they're a set of
fools, your honour!—an ignorant lot. But we, your honour, graciously
please you, gave an earnest of our gratitude, and satisfied Nikolai
Nikolaitch, the mediator; we acted in everything according to your
orders, your honour; as you graciously ordered, so we did, and nothing
did we do unbeknown to Yegor Dmitritch.'
'Yegor reported to me,' Arkady Pavlitch remarked with dignity.
'To be sure, your honour, Yegor Dmitritch, to be sure.'
'Well, then, now I suppose you 're satisfied.'
Sofron had only been waiting for this.
'Ah, you are our father, our benefactor!' he began, in the same
sing-song as before. 'Indeed, now, your honour … why, for you, our
father, we pray day and night to God Almighty…. There's too little
land, of course….'
Pyenotchkin cut him short.
'There, that'll do, that'll do, Sofron; I know you're eager in my
service…. Well, and how goes the threshing?'
'Well, our father, the threshing's none too good. But there, your
honour, Arkady Pavlitch, let me tell you about a little matter that
came to pass.' (Here he came closer to Mr. Pyenotchkin, with his arms
apart, bent down, and screwed up one eye.) 'There was a dead body found
on our land.'
'How was that?'
'I can't think myself, your honour; it seems like the doing of the evil
one. But, luckily, it was found near the boundary; on our side of it,
to tell the truth. I ordered them to drag it on to the neighbour's
strip of land at once, while it was still possible, and set a watch
there, and sent word round to our folks. "Mum's the word," says I. But
I explained how it was to the police officer in case of the worst. "You
see how it was," says I; and of course I had to treat him and slip some
notes into his hand…. Well, what do you say, your honour? We shifted
the burden on to other shoulders; you see a dead body's a matter of two
hundred roubles, as sure as ninepence.'
Mr. Pyenotchkin laughed heartily at his agent's cunning, and said
several times to me, indicating him with a nod, 'Quel gaillard, eh!'
Meantime it was quite dark out of doors; Arkady Pavlitch ordered the
table to be cleared, and hay to be brought in. The valet spread out
sheets for us, and arranged pillows; we lay down. Sofron retired after
receiving his instructions for the next day. Arkady Pavlitch, before
falling asleep, talked a little more about the first-rate qualities of
the Russian peasant, and at that point made the observation that since
Sofron had had the management of the place, the Shipilovka peasants had
never been one farthing in arrears…. The watchman struck his board; a
baby, who apparently had not yet had time to be imbued with a sentiment
of dutiful self-abnegation, began crying somewhere in the cottage …
we fell asleep.
The next morning we got up rather early; I was getting ready to start
for Ryabovo, but Arkady Pavlitch was anxious to show me his estate, and
begged me to remain. I was not averse myself to seeing more of the
first-rate qualities of that man of administrative power—Sofron—in
their practical working. The agent made his appearance. He wore a blue
loose coat, tied round the waist with a red handkerchief. He talked
much less than on the previous evening, kept an alert, intent eye on
his master's face, and gave connected and sensible answers. We set off
with him to the threshing-floor. Sofron's son, the seven-foot bailiff,
by every external sign a very slow-witted fellow, walked after us also,
and we were joined farther on by the village constable, Fedosyitch, a
retired soldier, with immense moustaches, and an extraordinary
expression of face; he looked as though he had had some startling shock
of astonishment a very long while ago, and had never quite got over it.
We took a look at the threshing-floor, the barn, the corn-stacks, the
outhouses, the windmill, the cattle-shed, the vegetables, and the
hempfields; everything was, as a fact, in excellent order; only the
dejected faces of the peasants rather puzzled me. Sofron had had an eye
to the ornamental as well as the useful; he had planted all the ditches
with willows, between the stacks he had made little paths to the
threshing-floor and strewn them with fine sand; on the windmill he had
constructed a weathercock of the shape of a bear with his jaws open and
a red tongue sticking out; he had attached to the brick cattle-shed
something of the nature of a Greek facade, and on it inscribed in white
letters: 'Construt in the village Shipilovky 1 thousand eight Hunderd
farthieth year. This cattle-shed.' Arkady Pavlitch was quite touched,
and fell to expatiating in French to me upon the advantages of the
system of rent-payment, adding, however, that labour-dues came more
profitable to the owner—'but, after all, that wasn't everything.' He
began giving the agent advice how to plant his potatoes, how to prepare
cattle-food, and so on. Sofron heard his master's remarks out with
attention, sometimes replied, but did not now address Arkady Pavlitch
as his father, or his benefactor, and kept insisting that there was too
little land; that it would be a good thing to buy more. 'Well, buy some
then,' said Arkady Pavlitch; 'I've no objection; in my name, of
course.' To this Sofron made no reply; he merely stroked his beard.
'And now it would be as well to ride down to the copse,' observed Mr.
Pyenotchkin. Saddle-horses were led out to us at once; we went off to
the copse, or, as they call it about us, the 'enclosure.' In this
'enclosure' we found thick undergrowth and abundance of wild game, for
which Arkady Pavlitch applauded Sofron and clapped him on the shoulder.
In regard to forestry, Arkady Pavlitch clung to the Russian ideas, and
told me on that subject an amusing—in his words—anecdote, of how a
jocose landowner had given his forester a good lesson by pulling out
nearly half his beard, by way of a proof that growth is none the
thicker for being cut back. In other matters, however, neither Sofron
nor Arkady Pavlitch objected to innovations. On our return to the
village, the agent took us to look at a winnowing machine he had
recently ordered from Moscow. The winnowing machine did certainly work
beautifully, but if Sofron had known what a disagreeable incident was
in store for him and his master on this last excursion, he would
doubtless have stopped at home with us.
This was what happened. As we came out of the barn the following
spectacle confronted us. A few paces from the door, near a filthy pool,
in which three ducks were splashing unconcernedly, there stood two
peasants—one an old man of sixty, the other, a lad of twenty—both in
patched homespun shirts, barefoot, and with cord tied round their
waists for belts. The village constable Fedosyitch was busily engaged
with them, and would probably have succeeded in inducing them to retire
if we had lingered a little longer in the barn, but catching sight of
us, he grew stiff all over, and seemed bereft of all sensation on the
spot. Close by stood the bailiff gaping, his fists hanging irresolute.
Arkady Pavlitch frowned, bit his lip, and went up to the suppliants.
They both prostrated themselves at his feet in silence.
'What do you want? What are you asking about?' he inquired in a stern
voice, a little through his nose. (The peasants glanced at one another,
and did not utter a syllable, only blinked a little as if the sun were
in their faces, and their breathing came quicker.)
'Well, what is it?' Arkady Pavlitch said again; and turning at once to
Sofron, 'Of what family?'
'The Tobolyev family,' the agent answered slowly.
'Well, what do you want?' Mr. Pyenotchkin said again; 'have you lost
your tongues, or what? Tell me, you, what is it you want?' he added,
with a nod at the old man. 'And don't be afraid, stupid.'
The old man craned forward his dark brown, wrinkled neck, opened his
bluish twitching lips, and in a hoarse voice uttered the words,
'Protect us, lord!' and again he bent his forehead to the earth. The
young peasant prostrated himself too. Arkady Pavlitch looked at their
bent necks with an air of dignity, threw back his head, and stood with
his legs rather wide apart. 'What is it? Whom do you complain of?'
'Have mercy, lord! Let us breathe…. We are crushed, worried,
tormented to death quite. (The old man spoke with difficulty.)
'Who worries you?'
'Sofron Yakovlitch, your honour.'
Arkady Pavlitch was silent a minute.
'What's your name?'
'Antip, your honour.'
'And who's this?'
'My boy, your honour.'
Arkady Pavlitch was silent again; he pulled his moustaches.
'Well! and how has he tormented you?' he began again, looking over his
moustaches at the old man.
'Your honour, he has ruined us utterly. Two sons, your honour, he's
sent for recruits out of turn, and now he is taking the third also.
Yesterday, your honour, our last cow was taken from the yard, and my
old wife was beaten by his worship here: that is all the pity he has
for us!' (He pointed to the bailiff.)
'Hm!' commented Arkady Pavlitch.
'Let him not destroy us to the end, gracious protector!'
Mr. Pyenotchkin scowled, 'What's the meaning of this?' he asked the
agent, in a low voice, with an air of displeasure.
'He's a drunken fellow, sir,' answered the agent, for the first time
using this deferential address, 'and lazy too. He's never been out of
arrears this five years back, sir.'
'Sofron Yakovlitch paid the arrears for me, your honour,' the old man
went on; 'it's the fifth year's come that he's paid it, he's paid
it—and he's brought me into slavery to him, your honour, and here—'
'And why did you get into arrears?' Mr. Pyenotchkin asked
threateningly. (The old man's head sank.) 'You're fond of drinking,
hanging about the taverns, I dare say.' (The old man opened his mouth
to speak.) 'I know you,' Arkady Pavlitch went on emphatically; 'you
think you've nothing to do but drink, and lie on the stove, and let
steady peasants answer for you.'
'And he's an impudent fellow, too,' the agent threw in.
'That's sure to be so; it's always the way; I've noticed it more than
once. The whole year round, he's drinking and abusive, and then he
falls at one's feet.'
'Your honour, Arkady Pavlitch,' the old man began despairingly, 'have
pity, protect us; when have I been impudent? Before God Almighty, I
swear it was beyond my strength. Sofron Yakovlitch has taken a dislike
to me; for some reason he dislikes me—God be his judge! He will ruin
me utterly, your honour…. The last … here … the last boy … and
him he….' (A tear glistened in the old man's wrinkled yellow eyes).
'Have pity, gracious lord, defend us!'
'And it's not us only,' the young peasant began….
Arkady Pavlitch flew into a rage at once.
'And who asked your opinion, hey? Till you're spoken to, hold your
tongue…. What's the meaning of it? Silence, I tell you, silence!…
Why, upon my word, this is simply mutiny! No, my friend, I don't advise
you to mutiny on my domain … on my … (Arkady Pavlitch stepped
forward, but probably recollected my presence, turned round, and put
his hands in his pockets …) 'Je vous demande bien pardon, mon
cher,' he said, with a forced smile, dropping his voice significantly.
'C'est le mauvais côté de la médaille … There, that'll do, that'll
do,' he went on, not looking at the peasants: 'I say … that'll do,
you can go.' (The peasants did not rise.) 'Well, haven't I told you …
that'll do. You can go, I tell you.'
Arkady Pavlitch turned his back on them. 'Nothing but vexation,' he
muttered between his teeth, and strode with long steps homewards.
Sofron followed him. The village constable opened his eyes wide,
looking as if he were just about to take a tremendous leap into space.
The bailiff drove a duck away from the puddle. The suppliants remained
as they were a little, then looked at each other, and, without turning
their heads, went on their way.
Two hours later I was at Ryabovo, and making ready to begin shooting,
accompanied by Anpadist, a peasant I knew well. Pyenotchkin had been
out of humour with Sofron up to the time I left. I began talking to
Anpadist about the Shipilovka peasants, and Mr. Pyenotchkin, and asked
him whether he knew the agent there.
'Sofron Yakovlitch? … ugh!'
'What sort of man is he?'
'He's not a man; he's a dog; you couldn't find another brute like him
between here and Kursk.'
'Why, Shipilovka's hardly reckoned as—what's his name?—Mr.
Pyenotchkin's at all; he's not the master there; Sofron's the master.'
'You don't say so!'
'He's master, just as if it were his own. The peasants all about are in
debt to him; they work for him like slaves; he'll send one off with the
waggons; another, another way…. He harries them out of their lives.'
'They haven't much land, I suppose?'
'Not much land! He rents two hundred acres from the Hlinovsky peasants
alone, and two hundred and eighty from our folks; there's more than
three hundred and seventy-five acres he's got. And he doesn't only
traffic in land; he does a trade in horses and stock, and pitch, and
butter, and hemp, and one thing and the other…. He's sharp, awfully
sharp, and rich too, the beast! But what's bad—he beats them. He's a
brute, not a man; a dog, I tell you; a cur, a regular cur; that's what
'How is it they don't make complaints of him?'
'I dare say, the master'd be pleased! There's no arrears; so what does
he care? Yes, you'd better,' he added, after a brief pause; 'I should
advise you to complain! No, he'd let you know … yes, you'd better try
it on…. No, he'd let you know….'
I thought of Antip, and told him what I had seen.
'There,' commented Anpadist, 'he will eat him up now; he'll simply eat
the man up. The bailiff will beat him now. Such a poor, unlucky chap,
come to think of it! And what's his offence?… He had some wrangle in
meeting with him, the agent, and he lost all patience, I suppose, and
of course he wouldn't stand it…. A great matter, truly, to make so
much of! So he began pecking at him, Antip. Now he'll eat him up
altogether. You see, he's such a dog. Such a cur—God forgive my
transgressions!—he knows whom to fall upon. The old men that are a bit
richer, or've more children, he doesn't touch, the red-headed devil!
but there's all the difference here! Why he's sent Antip's sons for
recruits out of turn, the heartless ruffian, the cur! God forgive my
We went on our way.
It was autumn. For some hours I had been strolling across country with
my gun, and should probably not have returned till evening to the
tavern on the Kursk high-road where my three-horse trap was awaiting
me, had not an exceedingly fine and persistent rain, which had worried
me all day with the obstinacy and ruthlessness of some old maiden lady,
driven me at last to seek at least a temporary shelter somewhere in the
neighbourhood. While I was still deliberating in which direction to go,
my eye suddenly fell on a low shanty near a field sown with peas. I
went up to the shanty, glanced under the thatched roof, and saw an old
man so infirm that he reminded me at once of the dying goat Robinson
Crusoe found in some cave on his island. The old man was squatting on
his heels, his little dim eyes half-closed, while hurriedly, but
carefully, like a hare (the poor fellow had not a single tooth), he
munched a dry, hard pea, incessantly rolling it from side to side. He
was so absorbed in this occupation that he did not notice my entrance.
'Grandfather! hey, grandfather!' said I. He ceased munching, lifted his
eyebrows high, and with an effort opened his eyes.
'What?' he mumbled in a broken voice.
'Where is there a village near?' I asked.
The old man fell to munching again. He had not heard me. I repeated my
question louder than before.
'A village?… But what do you want?'
'Why, shelter from the rain.'
'Shelter from the rain.'
'Ah!' (He scratched his sunburnt neck.) 'Well, now, you go,' he said
suddenly, waving his hands indefinitely, 'so … as you go by the
copse—see, as you go—there'll be a road; you pass it by, and keep
right on to the right; keep right on, keep right on, keep right on….
Well, there will be Ananyevo. Or else you'd go to Sitovka.'
I followed the old man with difficulty. His moustaches muffled his
voice, and his tongue too did not obey him readily.
'Where are you from?' I asked him.
'Where are you from?'
'What are you doing here?'
'Why, what are you watching?'
I could not help smiling.
'Really!—how old are you?'
'Your sight's failing, I expect.'
'Your sight's failing, I daresay?'
'Yes, it's failing. At times I can hear nothing.'
'Then how can you be a watchman, eh?'
'Oh, my elders know about that.'
'Elders!' I thought, and I gazed not without compassion at the poor old
man. He fumbled about, pulled out of his bosom a bit of coarse bread,
and began sucking it like a child, with difficulty moving his sunken
I walked in the direction of the copse, turned to the right, kept on,
kept right on as the old man had advised me, and at last got to a large
village with a stone church in the new style, i.e. with columns, and
a spacious manor-house, also with columns. While still some way off I
noticed through the fine network of falling rain a cottage with a deal
roof, and two chimneys, higher than the others, in all probability the
dwelling of the village elder; and towards it I bent my steps in the
hope of finding, in this cottage, a samovar, tea, sugar, and some not
absolutely sour cream. Escorted by my half-frozen dog, I went up the
steps into the outer room, opened the door, and instead of the usual
appurtenances of a cottage, I saw several tables, heaped up with
papers, two red cupboards, bespattered inkstands, pewter boxes of
blotting sand weighing half a hundred-weight, long penholders, and so
on. At one of the tables was sitting a young man of twenty with a
swollen, sickly face, diminutive eyes, a greasy-looking forehead, and
long straggling locks of hair. He was dressed, as one would expect, in
a grey nankin coat, shiny with wear at the waist and the collar.
'What do you want?' he asked me, flinging his head up like a horse
taken unexpectedly by the nose.
'Does the bailiff live here… or—'
'This is the principal office of the manor,' he interrupted. 'I'm the
clerk on duty…. Didn't you see the sign-board? That's what it was put
'Where could I dry my clothes here? Is there a samovar anywhere in the
'Samovars, of course,' replied the young man in the grey coat with
dignity; 'go to Father Timofey's, or to the servants' cottage, or else
to Nazar Tarasitch, or to Agrafena, the poultry-woman.'
'Who are you talking to, you blockhead? Can't you let me sleep, dummy!'
shouted a voice from the next room.
'Here's a gentleman's come in to ask where he can dry himself.'
'What sort of a gentleman?'
'I don't know. With a dog and a gun.'
A bedstead creaked in the next room. The door opened, and there came in
a stout, short man of fifty, with a bull neck, goggle-eyes,
extraordinarily round cheeks, and his whole face positively shining
'What is it you wish?' he asked me.
'To dry my things.'
'There's no place here.'
'I didn't know this was the counting-house; I am willing, though, to
'Well, perhaps it could be managed here,' rejoined the fat man; 'won't
you come inside here?' (He led me into another room, but not the one he
had come from.) 'Would this do for you?'
'Very well…. And could I have tea and milk?'
'Certainly, at once. If you'll meantime take off your things and rest,
the tea shall be got ready this minute.'
'Whose property is this?'
'Madame Losnyakov's, Elena Nikolaevna.'
He went out I looked round: against the partition separating my room
from the office stood a huge leather sofa; two high-backed chairs, also
covered in leather, were placed on both sides of the solitary window
which looked out on the village street. On the walls, covered with a
green paper with pink patterns on it, hung three immense oil paintings.
One depicted a setter-dog with a blue collar, bearing the inscription:
'This is my consolation'; at the dog's feet flowed a river; on the
opposite bank of the river a hare of quite disproportionate size with
ears cocked up was sitting under a pine tree. In another picture two
old men were eating a melon; behind the melon was visible in the
distance a Greek temple with the inscription: 'The Temple of
Satisfaction.' The third picture represented the half-nude figure of a
woman in a recumbent position, much fore-shortened, with red knees and
very big heels. My dog had, with superhuman efforts, crouched under the
sofa, and apparently found a great deal of dust there, as he kept
sneezing violently. I went to the window. Boards had been laid across
the street in a slanting direction from the manor-house to the
counting-house—a very useful precaution, as, thanks to our rich black
soil and the persistent rain, the mud was terrible. In the grounds of
the manor-house, which stood with its back to the street, there was the
constant going and coming there always is about manor-houses: maids in
faded chintz gowns flitted to and fro; house-serfs sauntered through
the mud, stood still and scratched their spines meditatively; the
constable's horse, tied up to a post, lashed his tail lazily, and with
his nose high up, gnawed at the hedge; hens were clucking; sickly
turkeys kept up an incessant gobble-gobble. On the steps of a dark
crumbling out-house, probably the bath-house, sat a stalwart lad with a
guitar, singing with some spirit the well-known ballad:
'I'm leaving this enchanting spot
To go into the desert.'
The fat man came into the room.
'They're bringing you in your tea,' he told me, with an affable smile.
The young man in the grey coat, the clerk on duty, laid on the old
card-table a samovar, a teapot, a tumbler on a broken saucer, a jug of
cream, and a bunch of Bolhovo biscuit rings. The fat man went out.
'What is he?' I asked the clerk; 'the steward?'
'No, sir; he was the chief cashier, but now he has been promoted to be
'Haven't you got a steward, then?'
'No, sir. There's an agent, Mihal Vikulov, but no steward.'
'Is there a manager, then?'
'Yes; a German, Lindamandol, Karlo Karlitch; only he does not manage
'Who does manage it, then?'
'Our mistress herself.'
'You don't say so. And are there many of you in the office?'
The young man reflected.
'There are six of us.'
'Who are they?' I inquired.
'Well, first there's Vassily Nikolaevitch, the head cashier; then
Piotr, one clerk; Piotr's brother, Ivan, another clerk; the other Ivan,
a clerk; Konstantin Narkizer, another clerk; and me here—there's a lot
of us, you can't count all of them.'
'I suppose your mistress has a great many serfs in her house?'
'No, not to say a great many.'
'How many, then?'
'I dare say it runs up to about a hundred and fifty.'
We were both silent for a little.
'I suppose you write a good hand, eh?' I began again.
The young man grinned from ear to ear, went into the office and brought
in a sheet covered with writing.
'This is my writing,' he announced, still with the same smile on his
I looked at it; on the square sheet of greyish paper there was written,
in a good bold hand, the following document:—
From the Chief Office of the Manor of Ananyevo to
the Agent, Mihal Vikulov.
'Whereas some person unknown entered the garden at Ananyevo last night
in an intoxicated condition, and with unseemly songs waked the French
governess, Madame Engêne, and disturbed her; and whether the watchmen
saw anything, and who were on watch in the garden and permitted such
disorderliness: as regards all the above-written matters, your orders
are to investigate in detail, and report immediately to the Office.'
'Head-Clerk, NIKOLAI HVOSTOV.'
A huge heraldic seal was attached to the order, with the inscription:
'Seal of the chief office of the manor of Ananyevo'; and below stood
the signature: 'To be executed exactly, Elena Losnyakov.'
'Your lady signed it herself, eh?' I queried.
'To be sure; she always signs herself. Without that the order would be
of no effect.'
'Well, and now shall you send this order to the agent?'
'No, sir. He'll come himself and read it. That's to say, it'll be read
to him; you see, he's no scholar.' (The clerk on duty was silent again
for a while.) 'But what do you say?' he added, simpering; 'is it well
'Very well written.'
'It wasn't composed, I must confess, by me. Konstantin is the great one
'What?… Do you mean the orders have first to be composed among you?'
'Why, how else could we do? Couldn't write them off straight without
making a fair copy.'
'And what salary do you get?' I inquired.
'Thirty-five roubles, and five roubles for boots.'
'And are you satisfied?'
'Of course I am satisfied. It's not everyone can get into an office
like ours. It was God's will, in my case, to be sure; I'd an uncle who
was in service as a butler.'
'And you're well-off?'
'Yes, sir. Though, to tell the truth,' he went on, with a sigh, 'a
place at a merchant's, for instance, is better for the likes of us. At
a merchant's they're very well off. Yesterday evening a merchant came
to us from Venev, and his man got talking to me…. Yes, that's a good
place, no doubt about it; a very good place.'
'Why? Do the merchants pay more wages?'
'Lord preserve us! Why, a merchant would soon give you the sack if you
asked him for wages. No, at a merchant's you must live on trust and on
fear. He'll give you food, and drink, and clothes, and all. If you give
him satisfaction, he'll do more…. Talk of wages, indeed! You don't
need them…. And a merchant, too, lives in plain Russian style, like
ourselves; you go with him on a journey—he has tea, and you have it;
what he eats, you eat. A merchant … one can put up with; a merchant's
a very different thing from what a gentleman is; a merchant's not
whimsical; if he's out of temper, he'll give you a blow, and there it
ends. He doesn't nag nor sneer…. But with a gentleman it's a woeful
business! Nothing's as he likes it—this is not right, and that he
can't fancy. You hand him a glass of water or something to eat: "Ugh,
the water stinks! positively stinks!" You take it out, stay a minute
outside the door, and bring it back: "Come, now, that's good; this
doesn't stink now." And as for the ladies, I tell you, the ladies are
something beyond everything!… and the young ladies above all!…'
'Fedyushka!' came the fat man's voice from the office.
The clerk went out quickly. I drank a glass of tea, lay down on the
sofa, and fell asleep. I slept for two hours.
When I woke, I meant to get up, but I was overcome by laziness; I
closed my eyes, but did not fall asleep again. On the other side of the
partition, in the office, they were talking in subdued voices.
Unconsciously I began to listen.
'Quite so, quite so, Nikolai Eremyitch,' one voice was saying; 'quite
so. One can't but take that into account; yes, certainly!… Hm!' (The
'You may believe me, Gavrila Antonitch,' replied the fat man's voice:
'don't I know how things are done here? Judge for yourself.'
'Who does, if you don't, Nikolai Eremyitch? you're, one may say, the
first person here. Well, then, how's it to be?' pursued the voice I did
not recognise; 'what decision are we to come to, Nikolai Eremyitch?
Allow me to put the question.'
'What decision, Gavrila Antonitch? The thing depends, so to say, on
you; you don't seem over anxious.'
'Upon my word, Nikolai Eremyitch, what do you mean? Our business is
trading, buying; it's our business to buy. That's what we live by,
Nikolai Eremyitch, one may say.'
'Eight roubles a measure,' said the fat man emphatically.
A sigh was audible.
'Nikolai Eremyitch, sir, you ask a heavy price.' 'Impossible, Gavrila
Antonitch, to do otherwise; I speak as before God Almighty; impossible.'
I got up softly and looked through a crack in the partition. The fat
man was sitting with his back to me. Facing him sat a merchant, a man
about forty, lean and pale, who looked as if he had been rubbed with
oil. He was incessantly fingering his beard, and very rapidly blinking
and twitching his lips.
'Wonderful the young green crops this year, one may say,' he began
again; 'I've been going about everywhere admiring them. All the way
from Voronezh they've come up wonderfully, first-class, one may say.'
'The crops are pretty fair, certainly,' answered the head-clerk; 'but
you know the saying, Gavrila Antonitch, autumn bids fair, but spring
may be foul.'
'That's so, indeed, Nikolai Eremyitch; all is in God's hands; it's the
absolute truth what you've just remarked, sir…. But perhaps your
visitor's awake now.'
The fat man turned round … listened….
'No, he's asleep. He may, though….'
He went to the door.
'No, he's asleep,' he repeated and went back to his place.
'Well, so what are we to say, Nikolai Eremyitch?' the merchant began
again; 'we must bring our little business to a conclusion…. Let it be
so, Nikolai Eremyitch, let it be so,' he went on, blinking incessantly;
'two grey notes and a white for your favour, and there' (he nodded in
the direction of the house), 'six and a half. Done, eh?'
'Four grey notes,' answered the clerk.
'Come, three, then.'
'Four greys, and no white.'
'Three, Nikolai Eremyitch.'
'Three and a half, and not a farthing less.'
'Three, Nikolai Eremyitch.'
'You're not talking sense, Gavrila Antonitch.'
'My, what a pig-headed fellow!' muttered the merchant. 'Then I'd better
arrange it with the lady herself.'
'That's as you like,' answered the fat man; 'far better, I should say.
Why should you worry yourself, after all?… Much better, indeed!'
'Well, well! Nikolai Eremyitch. I lost my temper for a minute! That was
nothing but talk.'
'No, really, why?…'
'Nonsense, I tell you…. I tell you I was joking. Well, take your
three and a half; there's no doing anything with you.'
'I ought to have got four, but I was in too great a hurry—like an
ass!' muttered the fat man.
'Then up there at the house, six and a half, Nikolai Eremyitch; the
corn will be sold for six and a half?'
'Six and a half, as we said already.'
'Well, your hand on that then, Nikolai Eremyitch' (the merchant clapped
his outstretched fingers into the clerk's palm). 'And good-bye, in
God's name!' (The merchant got up.) 'So then, Nikolai Eremyitch, sir,
I'll go now to your lady, and bid them send up my name, and so I'll say
to her, "Nikolai Eremyitch," I'll say, "has made a bargain with me for
six and a half."'
'That's what you must say, Gavrila Antonitch.'
'And now, allow me.'
The merchant handed the manager a small roll of notes, bowed, shook his
head, picked up his hat with two fingers, shrugged his shoulders, and,
with a sort of undulating motion, went out, his boots creaking after
the approved fashion. Nikolai Eremyitch went to the wall, and, as far
as I could make out, began sorting the notes handed him by the
merchant. A red head, adorned with thick whiskers, was thrust in at the
'Well?' asked the head; 'all as it should be?'
The fat man made an angry gesture with his hand, and pointed to my room.
'Ah, all right!' responded the head, and vanished.
The fat man went up to the table, sat down, opened a book, took out a
reckoning frame, and began shifting the beads to and fro as he counted,
using not the forefinger but the third finger of his right hand, which
has a much more showy effect.
The clerk on duty came in.
'What is it?'
'Sidor is here from Goloplek.'
'Oh! ask him in. Wait a bit, wait a bit…. First go and look whether
the strange gentleman's still asleep, or whether he has waked up.'
The clerk on duty came cautiously into my room. I laid my head on my
game-bag, which served me as a pillow, and closed my eyes.
'He's asleep,' whispered the clerk on duty, returning to the
The fat man muttered something.
'Well, send Sidor in,' he said at last.
I got up again. A peasant of about thirty, of huge stature, came in—a
red-cheeked, vigorous-looking fellow, with brown hair, and a short
curly beard. He crossed himself, praying to the holy image, bowed to
the head-clerk, held his hat before him in both hands, and stood erect.
'Good day, Sidor,' said the fat man, tapping with the reckoning beads.
'Good-day to you, Nikolai Eremyitch.'
'Well, what are the roads like?'
'Pretty fair, Nikolai Eremyitch. A bit muddy.' (The peasant spoke
slowly and not loud.)
'Wife quite well?'
'She's all right!'
The peasant gave a sigh and shifted one leg forward. Nikolai Eremyitch
put his pen behind his ear, and blew his nose.
'Well, what have you come about?' he proceeded to inquire, putting his
check handkerchief into his pocket.
'Why, they do say, Nikolai Eremyitch, they're asking for carpenters
'Well, aren't there any among you, hey?'
'To be sure there are, Nikolai Eremyitch; our place is right in the
woods; our earnings are all from the wood, to be sure. But it's the
busy time, Nikolai Eremyitch. Where's the time to come from?'
'The time to come from! Busy time! I dare say, you're so eager to work
for outsiders, and don't care to work for your mistress…. It's all
'The work's all the same, certainly, Nikolai Eremyitch … but….'
'The pay's … very….'
'What next! You've been spoiled; that's what it is. Get along with you!'
'And what's more, Nikolai Eremyitch, there'll be only a week's work,
but they'll keep us hanging on a month. One time there's not material
enough, and another time they'll send us into the garden to weed the
'What of it? Our lady herself is pleased to give the order, so it's
useless you and me talking about it.'
Sidor was silent; he began shifting from one leg to the other.
Nikolai Eremyitch put his head on one side, and began busily playing
with the reckoning beads.
'Our … peasants … Nikolai Eremyitch….' Sidor began at last,
hesitating over each word; 'sent word to your honour … there is …
see here….' (He thrust his big hand into the bosom of his coat, and
began to pull out a folded linen kerchief with a red border.)
'What are you thinking of? Goodness, idiot, are you out of your
senses?' the fat man interposed hurriedly. 'Go on; go to my cottage,'
he continued, almost shoving the bewildered peasant out; 'ask for my
wife there … she'll give you some tea; I'll be round directly; go on.
For goodness' sake, I tell you, go on.'
Sidor went away.
'Ugh!… what a bear!' the head clerk muttered after him, shaking his
head, and set to work again on his reckoning frame.
Suddenly shouts of 'Kuprya! Kuprya! there's no knocking down Kuprya!'
were heard in the street and on the steps, and a little later there
came into the counting-house a small man of sickly appearance, with an
extraordinarily long nose and large staring eyes, who carried himself
with a great air of superiority. He was dressed in a ragged little old
surtout, with a plush collar and diminutive buttons. He carried a
bundle of firewood on his shoulder. Five house-serfs were crowding
round him, all shouting, 'Kuprya! there's no suppressing Kuprya!
Kuprya's been turned stoker; Kuprya's turned a stoker!' But the man in
the coat with the plush collar did not pay the slightest attention to
the uproar made by his companions, and was not in the least out of
countenance. With measured steps he went up to the stove, flung down
his load, straightened himself, took out of his tail-pocket a
snuff-box, and with round eyes began helping himself to a pinch of dry
trefoil mixed with ashes. At the entrance of this noisy party the fat
man had at first knitted his brows and risen from his seat, but, seeing
what it was, he smiled, and only told them not to shout. 'There's a
sportsman,' said he, 'asleep in the next room.' 'What sort of
sportsman?' two of them asked with one voice.
'Let them make a row,' said the man with the plush collar, waving his
arms; 'what do I care, so long as they don't touch me? They've turned
me into a stoker….'
'A stoker! a stoker!' the others put in gleefully.
'It's the mistress's orders,' he went on, with a shrug of his
shoulders; 'but just you wait a bit … they'll turn you into
swineherds yet. But I've been a tailor, and a good tailor too, learnt
my trade in the best house in Moscow, and worked for generals … and
nobody can take that from me. And what have you to boast of?… What?
you're a pack of idlers, not worth your salt; that's what you are! Turn
me off! I shan't die of hunger; I shall be all right; give me a
passport. I'd send a good rent home, and satisfy the masters. But what
would you do? You'd die off like flies, that's what you'd do!'
'That's a nice lie!' interposed a pock-marked lad with white eyelashes,
a red cravat, and ragged elbows. 'You went off with a passport sharp
enough, but never a halfpenny of rent did the masters see from you, and
you never earned a farthing for yourself, you just managed to crawl
home again and you've never had a new rag on you since.'
'Ah, well, what could one do! Konstantin Narkizitch,' responded Kuprya;
'a man falls in love—a man's ruined and done for! You go through what
I have, Konstantin Narkizitch, before you blame me!'
'And you picked out a nice one to fall in love with!—a regular fright.'
'No, you must not say that, Konstantin Narkizitch.'
'Who's going to believe that? I've seen her, you know; I saw her with
my own eyes last year in Moscow.'
'Last year she had gone off a little certainly,' observed Kuprya.
'No, gentlemen, I tell you what,' a tall, thin man, with a face spotted
with pimples, a valet probably, from his frizzed and pomatumed head,
remarked in a careless and disdainful voice; 'let Kuprya Afanasyitch
sing us his song. Come on, now; begin, Kuprya Afanasyitch.
'Yes! yes!' put in the others. 'Hoorah for Alexandra! That's one for
Kuprya; 'pon my soul … Sing away, Kuprya!… You're a regular brick,
Alexandra!' (Serfs often use feminine terminations in referring to a
man as an expression of endearment.) 'Sing away!'
'This is not the place to sing,' Kuprya replied firmly; 'this is the
'And what's that to do with you? you've got your eye on a place as
clerk, eh?' answered Konstantin with a coarse laugh. 'That's what it
'Everything rests with the mistress,' observed the poor wretch.
'There, that's what he's got his eye on! a fellow like him! oo! oo! a!'
And they all roared; some rolled about with merriment. Louder than all
laughed a lad of fifteen, probably the son of an aristocrat among the
house-serfs; he wore a waistcoat with bronze buttons, and a cravat of
lilac colour, and had already had time to fill out his waistcoat.
'Come tell us, confess now, Kuprya,' Nikolai Eremyitch began
complacently, obviously tickled and diverted himself; 'is it bad being
stoker? Is it an easy job, eh?'
'Nikolai Eremyitch,' began Kuprya, 'you're head-clerk among us now,
certainly; there's no disputing that, no; but you know you have been in
disgrace yourself, and you too have lived in a peasant's hut.'
'You'd better look out and not forget yourself in my place,' the fat
man interrupted emphatically; 'people joke with a fool like you; you
ought, you fool, to have sense, and be grateful to them for taking
notice of a fool like you.'
'It was a slip of the tongue, Nikolai Eremyitch; I beg your pardon….'
'Yes, indeed, a slip of the tongue.'
The door opened and a little page ran in.
'Nikolai Eremyitch, mistress wants you.'
'Who's with the mistress?' he asked the page.
'Aksinya Nikitishna, and a merchant from Venev.'
'I'll be there this minute. And you, mates,' he continued in a
persuasive voice, 'better move off out of here with the newly-appointed
stoker; if the German pops in, he'll make a complaint for certain.'
The fat man smoothed his hair, coughed into his hand, which was almost
completely hidden in his coat-sleeve, buttoned himself, and set off
with rapid strides to see the lady of the manor. In a little while the
whole party trailed out after him, together with Kuprya. My old friend,
the clerk-on duty, was left alone. He set to work mending the pens, and
dropped asleep in his chair. A few flies promptly seized the
opportunity and settled on his mouth. A mosquito alighted on his
forehead, and, stretching its legs out with a regular motion, slowly
buried its sting into his flabby flesh. The same red head with whiskers
showed itself again at the door, looked in, looked again, and then came
into the office, together with the rather ugly body belonging to it.
'Fedyushka! eh, Fedyushka! always asleep,' said the head.
The clerk on duty opened his eyes and got up from his seat.
'Nikolai Eremyitch has gone to the mistress?'
'Yes, Vassily Nikolaevitch.'
'Ah! ah!' thought I; 'this is he, the head cashier.'
The head cashier began walking about the room. He really slunk rather
than walked, and altogether resembled a cat. An old black frock-coat
with very narrow skirts hung about his shoulders; he kept one hand in
his bosom, while the other was for ever fumbling about his high, narrow
horse-hair collar, and he turned his head with a certain effort. He
wore noiseless kid boots, and trod very softly.
'The landowner, Yagushkin, was asking for you to-day,' added the clerk
'Hm, asking for me? What did he say?'
'Said he'd go to Tyutyurov this evening and would wait for you. "I want
to discuss some business with Vassily Nikolaevitch," said he, but what
the business was he didn't say; "Vassily Nikolaevitch will know," says
'Hm!' replied the head cashier, and he went up to the window.
'Is Nikolai Eremyitch in the counting-house?' a loud voice was heard
asking in the outer room, and a tall man, apparently angry, with an
irregular but bold and expressive face, and rather clean in his dress,
stepped over the threshold.
'Isn't he here?' he inquired, looking rapidly round.
'Nikolai Eremyitch is with the mistress,' responded the cashier. 'Tell
me what you want, Pavel Andreitch; you can tell me…. What is it you
'What do I want? You want to know what I want?' (The cashier gave a
sickly nod.) 'I want to give him a lesson, the fat, greasy villain, the
scoundrelly tell-tale!… I'll give him a tale to tell!'
Pavel flung himself into a chair.
'What are you saying, Pavel Andreitch! Calm yourself…. Aren't you
ashamed? Don't forget whom you're talking about, Pavel Andreitch!'
lisped the cashier.
'Forget whom I'm talking about? What do I care for his being made
head-clerk? A fine person they've found to promote, there's no denying
that! They've let the goat loose in the kitchen garden, you may say!'
'Hush, hush, Pavel Andreitch, hush! drop that … what rubbish are you
'So Master Fox is beginning to fawn? I will wait for him,' Pavel said
with passion, and he struck a blow on the table. 'Ah, here he's
coming!' he added with a look at the window; 'speak of the devil. With
your kind permission!' (He, got up.)
Nikolai Eremyitch came into the counting-house. His face was shining
with satisfaction, but he was rather taken aback at seeing Pavel
'Good day to you, Nikolai Eremyitch,' said Pavel in a significant tone,
advancing deliberately to meet him.
The head-clerk made no reply. The face of the merchant showed itself in
'What, won't you deign to answer me?' pursued Pavel. 'But no … no,'
he added; 'that's not it; there's no getting anything by shouting and
abuse. No, you'd better tell me in a friendly way, Nikolai Eremyitch;
what do you persecute me for? what do you want to ruin me for? Come,
'This is no fit place to come to an understanding with you,' the
head-clerk answered in some agitation, 'and no fit time. But I must say
I wonder at one thing: what makes you suppose I want to ruin you, or
that I'm persecuting you? And if you come to that, how can I persecute
you? You're not in my counting-house.'
'I should hope not,' answered Pavel; 'that would be the last straw! But
why are you hum-bugging, Nikolai Eremyitch?… You understand me, you
'No, I don't understand.'
'No, you do understand.'
'No, by God, I don't understand!'
'Swearing too! Well, tell us, since it's come to that: have you no fear
of God? Why can't you let the poor girl live in peace? What do you want
'Whom are you talking of?' the fat man asked with feigned amazement.
'Ugh! doesn't know; what next? I'm talking of Tatyana. Have some fear
of God—what do you want to revenge yourself for? You ought to be
ashamed: a married man like you, with children as big as I am; it's a
very different thing with me…. I mean marriage: I'm acting
'How am I to blame in that, Pavel Andreitch? The mistress won't permit
you to marry; it's her seignorial will! What have I to do with it?'
'Why, haven't you been plotting with that old hag, the housekeeper, eh?
Haven't you been telling tales, eh? Tell me, aren't you bringing all
sorts of stories up against the defenceless girl? I suppose it's not
your doing that she's been degraded from laundrymaid to washing dishes
in the scullery? And it's not your doing that she's beaten and dressed
in sackcloth?… You ought to be ashamed, you ought to be ashamed—an
old man like you! You know there's a paralytic stroke always hanging
over you…. You will have to answer to God.'
'You're abusive, Pavel Andreitch, you're abusive…. You shan't have a
chance to be insolent much longer.'
Pavel fired up.
'What? You dare to threaten me?' he said passionately. 'You think I'm
afraid of you. No, my man, I'm not come to that! What have I to be
afraid of?… I can make my bread everywhere. For you, now, it's
another thing! It's only here you can live and tell tales, and
'Fancy the conceit of the fellow!' interrupted the clerk, who was also
beginning to lose patience; 'an apothecary's assistant, simply an
apothecary's assistant, a wretched leech; and listen to him—fie upon
you! you're a high and mighty personage!'
'Yes, an apothecary's assistant, and except for this apothecary's
assistant you'd have been rotting in the graveyard by now…. It was
some devil drove me to cure him,' he added between his teeth.
'You cured me?… No, you tried to poison me; you dosed me with aloes,'
the clerk put in.
'What was I to do if nothing but aloes had any effect on you?'
'The use of aloes is forbidden by the Board of Health,' pursued
Nikolai. 'I'll lodge a complaint against you yet…. You tried to
compass my death—that was what you did! But the Lord suffered it not.'
'Hush, now, that's enough, gentlemen,' the cashier was beginning….
'Stand off!' bawled the clerk. 'He tried to poison me! Do you
'That's very likely…. Listen, Nikolai Eremyitch,' Pavel began in
despairing accents. 'For the last time, I beg you…. You force me to
it—can't stand it any longer. Let us alone, do you hear? or else, by
God, it'll go ill with one or other of us—I mean with you!'
The fat man flew into a rage.
'I'm not afraid of you!' he shouted; 'do you hear, milksop? I got the
better of your father; I broke his horns—a warning to you; take care!'
'Don't talk of my father, Nikolai Eremyitch.'
'Get away! who are you to give me orders?'
'I tell you, don't talk of him!'
'And I tell you, don't forget yourself…. However necessary you think
yourself, if our lady has a choice between us, it's not you'll be kept,
my dear! None's allowed to mutiny, mind!' (Pavel was shaking with
fury.) 'As for the wench, Tatyana, she deserves … wait a bit, she'll
get something worse!'
Pavel dashed forward with uplifted fists, and the clerk rolled heavily
on the floor.
'Handcuff him, handcuff him,' groaned Nikolai Eremyitch….
I won't take upon myself to describe the end of this scene; I fear I
have wounded the reader's delicate susceptibilities as it is.
The same day I returned home. A week later I heard that Madame
Losnyakov had kept both Pavel and Nikolai in her service, but had sent
away the girl Tatyana; it appeared she was not wanted.
I was coming back from hunting one evening alone in a racing droshky. I
was six miles from home; my good trotting mare galloped bravely along
the dusty road, pricking up her ears with an occasional snort; my weary
dog stuck close to the hind-wheels, as though he were fastened there. A
tempest was coming on. In front, a huge, purplish storm-cloud slowly
rose from behind the forest; long grey rain-clouds flew over my head
and to meet me; the willows stirred and whispered restlessly. The
suffocating heat changed suddenly to a damp chilliness; the darkness
rapidly thickened. I gave the horse a lash with the reins, descended a
steep slope, pushed across a dry water-course overgrown with brushwood,
mounted the hill, and drove into the forest. The road ran before me,
bending between thick hazel bushes, now enveloped in darkness; I
advanced with difficulty. The droshky jumped up and down over the hard
roots of the ancient oaks and limes, which were continually intersected
by deep ruts—the tracks of cart wheels; my horse began to stumble. A
violent wind suddenly began to roar overhead; the trees blustered; big
drops of rain fell with slow tap and splash on the leaves; there came a
flash of lightning and a clap of thunder. The rain fell in torrents. I
went on a step or so, and soon was forced to stop; my horse foundered;
I could not see an inch before me. I managed to take refuge somehow in
a spreading bush. Crouching down and covering my face, I waited
patiently for the storm to blow over, when suddenly, in a flash of
lightning, I saw a tall figure on the road. I began to stare intently
in that direction—the figure seemed to have sprung out of the ground
near my droshky.
'Who's that?' inquired a ringing voice.
'Why, who are you?'
'I'm the forester here.'
I mentioned my name.
'Oh, I know! Are you on your way home?'
'Yes. But, you see, in such a storm….'
'Yes, there is a storm,' replied the voice.
A pale flash of lightning lit up the forester from head to foot; a
brief crashing clap of thunder followed at once upon it. The rain
lashed with redoubled force.
'It won't be over just directly,' the forester went on.
'What's to be done?'
'I'll take you to my hut, if you like,' he said abruptly.
'That would be a service.'
'Please to take your seat'
He went up to the mare's head, took her by the bit, and pulled her up.
We set off. I held on to the cushion of the droshky, which rocked 'like
a boat on the sea,' and called my dog. My poor mare splashed with
difficulty through the mud, slipped and stumbled; the forester hovered
before the shafts to right and to left like a ghost. We drove rather a
long while; at last my guide stopped. 'Here we are home, sir,' he
observed in a quiet voice. The gate creaked; some puppies barked a
welcome. I raised my head, and in a flash of lightning I made out a
small hut in the middle of a large yard, fenced in with hurdles. From
the one little window there was a dim light. The forester led his horse
up to the steps and knocked at the door. 'Coming, coming!' we heard in
a little shrill voice; there was the patter of bare feet, the bolt
creaked, and a girl of twelve, in a little old smock tied round the
waist with list, appeared in the doorway with a lantern in her hand.
'Show the gentleman a light,' he said to her 'and I will put your
droshky in the shed.'
The little girl glanced at me, and went into the hut. I followed her.
The forester's hut consisted of one room, smoky, low-pitched, and
empty, without curtains or partition. A tattered sheepskin hung on the
wall. On the bench lay a single-barrelled gun; in the corner lay a heap
of rags; two great pots stood near the oven. A pine splinter was
burning on the table flickering up and dying down mournfully. In the
very middle of the hut hung a cradle, suspended from the end of a long
horizontal pole. The little girl put out the lantern, sat down on a
tiny stool, and with her right hand began swinging the cradle, while
with her left she attended to the smouldering pine splinter. I looked
round—my heart sank within me: it's not cheering to go into a
peasant's hut at night. The baby in the cradle breathed hard and fast.
'Are you all alone here?' I asked the little girl.
'Yes,' she uttered, hardly audibly.
'You're the forester's daughter?'
'Yes,' she whispered.
The door creaked, and the forester, bending his head, stepped across
the threshold. He lifted the lantern from the floor, went up to the
table, and lighted a candle.
'I dare say you're not used to the splinter light?' said he, and he
shook back his curls.
I looked at him. Rarely has it been my fortune to behold such a comely
creature. He was tall, broad-shouldered, and in marvellous proportion.
His powerful muscles stood out in strong relief under his wet homespun
shirt. A curly, black beard hid half of his stern and manly face; small
brown eyes looked out boldly from under broad eyebrows which met in the
middle. He stood before me, his arms held lightly akimbo.
I thanked him, and asked his name.
'My name's Foma,' he answered, 'and my nickname's Biryuk' (i.e.
wolf). [Footnote: The name Biryuk is used in the Orel province to
denote a solitary, misanthropic man.—Author's Note.]
'Oh, you're Biryuk.'
I looked with redoubled curiosity at him. From my Yermolaï and others I
had often heard stories about the forester Biryuk, whom all the
peasants of the surrounding districts feared as they feared fire.
According to them there had never been such a master of his business in
the world before. 'He won't let you carry off a handful of brushwood;
he'll drop upon you like a fall of snow, whatever time it may be, even
in the middle of the night, and you needn't think of resisting
him—he's strong, and cunning as the devil…. And there's no getting
at him anyhow; neither by brandy nor by money; there's no snare he'll
walk into. More than once good folks have planned to put him out of the
world, but no—it's never come off.'
That was how the neighbouring peasants spoke of Biryuk.
'So you're Biryuk,' I repeated; 'I've heard talk of you, brother. They
say you show no mercy to anyone.'
'I do my duty,' he answered grimly; 'it's not right to eat the master's
bread for nothing.'
He took an axe from his girdle and began splitting splinters.
'Have you no wife?' I asked him.
'No,' he answered, with a vigorous sweep of the axe.
'She's dead, I suppose?'
'No … yes … she's dead,' he added, and turned away. I was silent;
he raised his eyes and looked at me.
'She ran away with a travelling pedlar,' he brought out with a bitter
smile. The little girl hung her head; the baby waked up and began
crying; the little girl went to the cradle. 'There, give it him,' said
Biryuk, thrusting a dirty feeding-bottle into her hand. 'Him, too, she
abandoned,' he went on in an undertone, pointing to the baby. He went
up to the door, stopped, and turned round.
'A gentleman like you,' he began, 'wouldn't care for our bread, I dare
say, and except bread, I've—'
'I'm not hungry.'
'Well, that's for you to say. I would have heated the samovar, but I've
no tea…. I'll go and see how your horse is getting on.'
He went out and slammed the door. I looked round again, the hut struck
me as more melancholy than ever. The bitter smell of stale smoke choked
my breathing unpleasantly. The little girl did not stir from her place,
and did not raise her eyes; from time to time she jogged the cradle,
and timidly pulled her slipping smock up on to shoulder; her bare legs
'What's your name?' I asked her.
'Ulita,' she said, her mournful little face drooping more than ever.
The forester came in and sat down on the bench.
'The storm 's passing over,' he observed, after a brief silence; 'if
you wish it, I will guide you out of the forest.'
I got up; Biryuk took his gun and examined the firepan.
'What's that for?' I inquired.
'There's mischief in the forest…. They're cutting a tree down on
Mares' Ravine,' he added, in reply to my look of inquiry.
'Could you hear it from here?'
'I can hear it outside.'
We went out together. The rain had ceased. Heavy masses of storm-cloud
were still huddled in the distance; from time to time there were long
flashes of lightning; but here and there overhead the dark blue sky was
already visible; stars twinkled through the swiftly flying clouds. The
outline of the trees, drenched with rain, and stirred by the wind,
began to stand out in the darkness. We listened. The forester took off
his cap and bent his head…. 'Th … there!' he said suddenly, and he
stretched out his hand: 'see what a night he's pitched on.' I had heard
nothing but the rustle of the leaves. Biryuk led the mare out of the
shed. 'But, perhaps,' he added aloud, 'this way I shall miss him.'
'I'll go with you … if you like?' 'Certainly,' he answered, and he
backed the horse in again; 'we'll catch him in a trice, and then I'll
take you. Let's be off.' We started, Biryuk in front, I following him.
Heaven only knows how he found out his way, but he only stopped once or
twice, and then merely to listen to the strokes of the axe. 'There,' he
muttered, 'do you hear? do you hear?' 'Why, where?' Biryuk shrugged his
shoulders. We went down into the ravine; the wind was still for an
instant; the rhythmical strokes reached my hearing distinctly. Biryuk
glanced at me and shook his head. We went farther through the wet
bracken and nettles. A slow muffled crash was heard….
'He's felled it,' muttered Biryuk. Meantime the sky had grown clearer
and clearer; there was a faint light in the forest. We clambered at
last out of the ravine.
'Wait here a little,' the forester whispered to me. He bent down, and
raising his gun above his head, vanished among the bushes. I began
listening with strained attention. Across the continual roar of the
wind faint sounds from close by reached me; there was a cautious blow
of an axe on the brushwood, the crash of wheels, the snort of a
'Where are you off to? Stop!' the iron voice of Biryuk thundered
suddenly. Another voice was heard in a pitiful shriek, like a trapped
hare…. A struggle was beginning.
'No, no, you've made a mistake,' Biryuk declared panting; 'you're not
going to get off….' I rushed in the direction of the noise, and ran
up to the scene of the conflict, stumbling at every step. A felled tree
lay on the ground, and near it Biryuk was busily engaged holding the
thief down and binding his hands behind his back with a kerchief. I
came closer. Biryuk got up and set him on his feet. I saw a peasant
drenched with rain, in tatters, and with a long dishevelled beard. A
sorry little nag, half covered with a stiff mat, was standing by,
together with a rough cart. The forester did not utter a word; the
peasant too was silent; his head was shaking.
'Let him go,' I whispered in Biryuk's ears; 'I'll pay for the tree.'
Without a word Biryuk took the horse by the mane with his left hand; in
his right he held the thief by the belt. 'Now turn round, you rat!' he
'The bit of an axe there, take it,' muttered the peasant.
'No reason to lose it, certainly,' said the forester, and he picked up
the axe. We started. I walked behind…. The rain began sprinkling
again, and soon fell in torrents. With difficulty we made our way to
the hut. Biryuk pushed the captured horse into the middle of the yard,
led the peasant into the room, loosened the knot in the kerchief, and
made him sit down in a corner. The little girl, who had fallen asleep
near the oven, jumped up and began staring at us in silent terror. I
sat down on the locker.
'Ugh, what a downpour!' remarked the forester; 'you will have to wait
till it's over. Won't you lie down?'
'I would have shut him in the store loft, on your honour's account,' he
went on, indicating the peasant; 'but you see the bolt—'
'Leave him here; don't touch him,' I interrupted.
The peasant stole a glance at me from under his brows. I vowed inwardly
to set the poor wretch free, come what might. He sat without stirring
on the locker. By the light of the lantern I could make out his worn,
wrinkled face, his overhanging yellow eyebrows, his restless eyes, his
thin limbs…. The little girl lay down on the floor, just at his feet,
and again dropped asleep. Biryuk sat at the table, his head in his
hands. A cricket chirped in the corner … the rain pattered on the
roof and streamed down the windows; we were all silent.
'Foma Kuzmitch,' said the peasant suddenly in a thick, broken voice;
'What is it?'
'Let me go.'
Biryuk made no answer.
'Let me go … hunger drove me to it; let me go.'
'I know you,' retorted the forester severely; 'your set's all
'Let me go,' repeated the peasant. 'Our manager … we 're ruined,
that's what it is—let me go!'
'Ruined, indeed!… Nobody need steal.'
'Let me go, Foma Kuzmitch…. Don't destroy me. Your manager, you know
yourself, will have no mercy on me; that's what it is.'
Biryuk turned away. The peasant was shivering as though he were in the
throes of fever. His head was shaking, and his breathing came in broken
'Let me go,' he repeated with mournful desperation. 'Let me go; by God,
let me go! I'll pay; see, by God, I will! By God, it was through
hunger!… the little ones are crying, you know yourself. It's hard for
'You needn't go stealing, for all that.'
'My little horse,' the peasant went on, 'my poor little horse, at least
… our only beast … let it go.'
'I tell you I can't. I'm not a free man; I'm made responsible. You
oughtn't to be spoilt, either.'
'Let me go! It's through want, Foma Kuzmitch, want—and nothing
else—let me go!'
'I know you!'
'Oh, let me go!'
'Ugh, what's the use of talking to you! sit quiet, or else you'll catch
it. Don't you see the gentleman, hey?'
The poor wretch hung his head…. Biryuk yawned and laid his head on
the table. The rain still persisted. I was waiting to see what would
Suddenly the peasant stood erect. His eyes were glittering, and his
face flushed dark red. 'Come, then, here; strike yourself, here,' he
began, his eyes puckering up and the corners of his mouth dropping;
'come, cursed destroyer of men's souls! drink Christian blood, drink.'
The forester turned round.
'I'm speaking to you, Asiatic, blood-sucker, you!'
'Are you drunk or what, to set to being abusive?' began the forester,
puzzled. 'Are you out of your senses, hey?'
'Drunk! not at your expense, cursed destroyer of souls—brute, brute,
'Ah, you——I'll show you!'
'What's that to me? It's all one; I'm done for; what can I do without a
home? Kill me—it's the same in the end; whether it's through hunger or
like this—it's all one. Ruin us all—wife, children … kill us all at
once. But, wait a bit, we'll get at you!'
Biryuk got up.
'Kill me, kill me,' the peasant went on in savage tones; 'kill me;
come, come, kill me….' (The little girl jumped up hastily from the
ground and stared at him.) 'Kill me, kill me!'
'Silence!' thundered the forester, and he took two steps forward.
'Stop, Foma, stop,' I shouted; 'let him go…. Peace be with him.'
'I won't be silent,' the luckless wretch went on. 'It's all the
same—ruin anyway—you destroyer of souls, you brute; you've not come
to ruin yet…. But wait a bit; you won't have long to boast of;
they'll wring your neck; wait a bit!'
Biryuk clutched him by the shoulder. I rushed to help the peasant….
'Don't touch him, master!' the forester shouted to me.
I should not have feared his threats, and already had my fist in the
air; but to my intense amazement, with one pull he tugged the kerchief
off the peasant's elbows, took him by the scruff of the neck, thrust
his cap over his eyes, opened the door, and shoved him out.
'Go to the devil with your horse!' he shouted after him; 'but mind,
He came back into the hut and began rummaging in the corner.
'Well, Biryuk,' I said at last, 'you've astonished me; I see you're a
'Oh, stop that, master,' he cut me short with an air of vexation;
'please don't speak of it. But I'd better see you on your way now,' he
added; 'I suppose you won't wait for this little rain….'
In the yard there was the rattle of the wheels of the peasant's cart.
'He's off, then!' he muttered; 'but next time!'
Half-an-hour later he parted from me at the edge of the wood.
TWO COUNTRY GENTLEMEN
I have already had the honour, kind readers, of introducing to you
several of my neighbours; let me now seize a favourable opportunity (it
is always a favourable opportunity with us writers) to make known to
you two more gentlemen, on whose lands I often used to go
shooting—very worthy, well-intentioned persons, who enjoy universal
esteem in several districts.
First I will describe to you the retired General-major Vyatcheslav
Ilarionovitch Hvalinsky. Picture to yourselves a tall and once slender
man, now inclined to corpulence, but not in the least decrepit or even
elderly, a man of ripe age; in his very prime, as they say. It is true
the once regular and even now rather pleasing features of his face have
undergone some change; his cheeks are flabby; there are close wrinkles
like rays about his eyes; a few teeth are not, as Saadi, according to
Pushkin, used to say; his light brown hair—at least, all that is left
of it—has assumed a purplish hue, thanks to a composition bought at
the Romyon horse-fair of a Jew who gave himself out as an Armenian; but
Vyatcheslav Ilarionovitch has a smart walk and a ringing laugh, jingles
his spurs and curls his moustaches, and finally speaks of himself as an
old cavalry man, whereas we all know that really old men never talk of
being old. He usually wears a frock-coat buttoned up to the top, a high
cravat, starched collars, and grey sprigged trousers of a military cut;
he wears his hat tilted over his forehead, leaving all the back of his
head exposed. He is a good-natured man, but of rather curious notions
and principles. For instance, he can never treat noblemen of no wealth
or standing as equals. When he talks to them, he usually looks sideways
at them, his cheek pressed hard against his stiff white collar, and
suddenly he turns and silently fixes them with a clear stony stare,
while he moves the whole skin of his head under his hair; he even has a
way of his own in pronouncing many words; he never says, for instance:
'Thank you, Pavel Vasilyitch,' or 'This way, if you please, Mihalo
Ivanitch,' but always 'Fanks, Pa'l 'Asilitch,' or ''Is wy, please, Mil'
'Vanitch.' With persons of the lower grades of society, his behaviour
is still more quaint; he never looks at them at all, and before making
known his desires to them, or giving an order, he repeats several times
in succession, with a puzzled, far-away air: 'What's your name?…
what, what's your name?' with extraordinary sharp emphasis on the first
word, which gives the phrase a rather close resemblance to the call of
a quail. He is very fussy and terribly close-fisted, but manages his
land badly; he had chosen as overseer on his estate a retired
quartermaster, a Little Russian, and a man of really exceptional
stupidity. None of us, though, in the management of land, has ever
surpassed a certain great Petersburg dignitary, who, having perceived
from the reports of his steward that the cornkilns in which the corn
was dried on his estate were often liable to catch fire, whereby he
lost a great deal of grain, gave the strictest orders that for the
future they should not put the sheaves in till the fire had been
completely put out! This same great personage conceived the brilliant
idea of sowing his fields with poppies, as the result of an apparently
simple calculation; poppy being dearer than rye, he argued, it is
consequently more profitable to sow poppy. He it was, too, who ordered
his women serfs to wear tiaras after a pattern bespoken from Moscow;
and to this day the peasant women on his lands do actually wear the
tiaras, only they wear them over their skull-caps…. But let us return
to Vyatcheslav Ilarionovitch. Vyatcheslav Ilarionovitch is a devoted
admirer of the fair sex, and directly he catches sight of a pretty
woman in the promenade of his district town, he is promptly off in
pursuit, but falls at once into a sort of limping gait—that is the
remarkable feature of the case. He is fond of playing cards, but only
with people of a lower standing; they toady him with 'Your Excellency'
in every sentence, while he can scold them and find fault to his
heart's content. When he chances to play with the governor or any
official personage, a marvellous change comes over him; he is all nods
and smiles; he looks them in the face; he seems positively flowing with
honey…. He even loses without grumbling. Vyatcheslav Ilarionovitch
does not read much; when he is reading he incessantly works his
moustaches and eyebrows up and down, as if a wave were passing from
below upwards over his face. This undulatory motion in Vyatcheslav
Ilarionovitch's face is especially marked when (before company, of
course) he happens to be reading the columns of the Journal des
Débats. In the assemblies of nobility he plays a rather important
part, but on grounds of economy he declines the honourable dignity of
marshal. 'Gentlemen,' he usually says to the noblemen who press that
office upon him, and he speaks in a voice filled with condescension and
self-sufficiency: 'much indebted for the honour; but I have made up my
mind to consecrate my leisure to solitude.' And, as he utters these
words, he turns his head several times to right and to left, and then,
with a dignified air, adjusts his chin and his cheek over his cravat.
In his young days he served as adjutant to some very important person,
whom he never speaks of except by his Christian name and patronymic;
they do say he fulfilled other functions than those of an adjutant;
that, for instance, in full parade get-up, buttoned up to the chin, he
had to lather his chief in his bath—but one can't believe everything
one hears. General Hvalinsky is not, however, fond of talking himself
about his career in the army, which is certainly rather curious; it
seems that he had never seen active service. General Hvalinsky lives in
a small house alone; he has never known the joys of married life, and
consequently he still regards himself as a possible match, and indeed a
very eligible one. But he has a house-keeper, a dark-eyed, dark-browed,
plump, fresh-looking woman of five-and-thirty with a moustache; she
wears starched dresses even on week-days, and on Sundays puts on muslin
sleeves as well. Vyatcheslav Ilarionovitch is at his best at the large
invitation dinners given by gentlemen of the neighbourhood in honour of
the governor and other dignitaries: then he is, one may say, in his
natural element. On these occasions he usually sits, if not on the
governor's right hand, at least at no great distance from him; at the
beginning of dinner he is more disposed to nurse his sense of personal
dignity, and, sitting back in his chair, he loftily scans the necks and
stand-up collars of the guests, without turning his head, but towards
the end of the meal he unbends, begins smiling in all directions (he
had been all smiles for the governor from the first), and sometimes
even proposes the toast in honour of the fair sex, the ornament of our
planet, as he says. General Hvalinsky shows to advantage too at all
solemn public functions, inspections, assemblies, and exhibitions; no
one in church goes up for the benediction with such style. Vyatcheslav
Ilarionovitch's servants are never noisy and clamorous on the breaking
up of assemblies or in crowded thoroughfares; as they make a way for
him through the crowd or call his carriage, they say in an agreeable
guttural baritone: 'By your leave, by your leave allow General
Hvalinsky to pass,' or 'Call for General Hvalinsky's carriage.' …
Hvalinsky's carriage is, it must be admitted, of a rather queer design,
and the footmen's liveries are rather threadbare (that they are grey,
with red facings, it is hardly necessary to remark); his horses too
have seen a good deal of hard service in their time; but Vyatcheslav
Ilarionovitch has no pretensions to splendour, and goes so far as to
think it beneath his rank to make an ostentation of wealth. Hvalinsky
has no special gift of eloquence, or possibly has no opportunity of
displaying his rhetorical powers, as he has a particular aversion, not
only for disputing, but for discussion in general, and assiduously
avoids long conversation of all sorts, especially with young people.
This was certainly judicious on his part; the worst of having to do
with the younger generation is that they are so ready to forget the
proper respect and submission due to their superiors. In the presence
of persons of high rank Hvalinsky is for the most part silent, while
with persons of a lower rank, whom to judge by appearances he despises,
though he constantly associates with them, his remarks are sharp and
abrupt, expressions such as the following occurring incessantly:
'That's a piece of folly, what you're saying now,' or 'I feel myself
compelled, sir, to remind you,' or 'You ought to realise with whom you
are dealing,' and so on. He is peculiarly dreaded by post-masters,
officers of the local boards, and superintendents of posting stations.
He never entertains any one in his house, and lives, as the rumour
goes, like a screw. For all that, he's an excellent country gentleman,
'An old soldier, a disinterested fellow, a man of principle, vieux
grognard,' his neighbours say of him. The provincial prosecutor alone
permits himself to smile when General Hvalinsky's excellent and solid
qualities are referred to before him—but what will not envy drive men
However, we will pass now to another landed proprietor.
Mardary Apollonitch Stegunov has no sort of resemblance to Hvalinsky; I
hardly think he has ever served under government in any capacity, and
he has never been reckoned handsome. Mardary Apollonitch is a little,
fattish, bald old man of a respectable corpulence, with a double chin
and little soft hands. He is very hospitable and jovial; lives, as the
saying is, for his comfort; summer and winter alike, he wears a striped
wadded dressing-gown. There's only one thing in which he is like
General Hvalinsky; he too is a bachelor. He owns five hundred souls.
Mardary Apollonitch's interest in his estate is of a rather superficial
description; not to be behind the age, he ordered a threshing-machine
from Butenop's in Moscow, locked it up in a barn, and then felt his
mind at rest on the subject. Sometimes on a fine summer day he would
have out his racing droshky, and drive off to his fields, to look at
the crops and gather corn-flowers. Mardary Apollonitch's existence is
carried on in quite the old style. His house is of an old-fashioned
construction; in the hall there is, of course, a smell of kvas, tallow
candles, and leather; close at hand, on the right, there is a sideboard
with pipes and towels; in the dining-room, family portraits, flies, a
great pot of geraniums, and a squeaky piano; in the drawing-room, three
sofas, three tables, two looking-glasses, and a wheezy clock of
tarnished enamel with engraved bronze hands; in the study, a table
piled up with papers, and a bluish-coloured screen covered with
pictures cut out of various works of last century; a bookcase full of
musty books, spiders, and black dust; a puffy armchair; an Italian
window; a sealed-up door into the garden…. Everything, in short, just
as it always is. Mardary Apollonitch has a multitude of servants, all
dressed in the old-fashioned style; in long blue full coats, with high
collars, shortish pantaloons of a muddy hue, and yellow waistcoats.
They address visitors as 'father.' His estate is under the
superintendence of an agent, a peasant with a beard that covers the
whole of his sheepskin; his household is managed by a stingy, wrinkled
old woman, whose face is always tied up in a cinnamon-coloured
handkerchief. In Mardary Apollonitch's stable there are thirty horses
of various kinds; he drives out in a coach built on the estate, that
weighs four tons. He receives visitors very cordially, and entertains
them sumptuously; in other words, thanks to the stupefying powers of
our national cookery, he deprives them of all capacity for doing
anything but playing preference. For his part, he never does anything,
and has even given up reading the Dream-book. But there are a good
many of our landed gentry in Russia exactly like this. It will be
asked: 'What is my object in talking about him?…' Well, by way of
answering that question, let me describe to you one of my visits at
I arrived one summer evening at seven o'clock. An evening service was
only just over; the priest, a young man, apparently very timid, and
only lately come from the seminary, was sitting in the drawing-room
near the door, on the extreme edge of a chair. Mardary Apollonitch
received me as usual, very cordially; he was genuinely delighted to see
any visitor, and indeed he was the most good-natured of men altogether.
The priest got up and took his hat.
'Wait a bit, wait a bit, father,' said Mardary Apollonitch, not yet
leaving go of my hand; 'don't go … I have sent for some vodka for
'I never drink it, sir,' the priest muttered in confusion, blushing up
to his ears.
'What nonsense!' answered Mardary Apollonitch; 'Mishka! Yushka! vodka
for the father!'
Yushka, a tall, thin old man of eighty, came in with a glass of vodka
on a dark-coloured tray, with a few patches of flesh-colour on it, all
that was left of the original enamel.
The priest began to decline.
'Come, drink it up, father, no ceremony; it's too bad of you,' observed
the landowner reproachfully.
The poor young man had to obey.
'There, now, father, you may go.'
The priest took leave.
'There, there, that'll do, get along with you….'
'A capital fellow,' pursued Mardary Apollonitch, looking after him, 'I
like him very much; there's only one thing—he's young yet. But how are
you, my dear sir?… What have you been doing? How are you? Let's come
out on to the balcony—such a lovely evening.'
We went out on the balcony, sat down, and began to talk. Mardary
Apollonitch glanced below, and suddenly fell into a state of tremendous
'Whose hens are those? whose hens are those?' he shouted: 'Whose are
those hens roaming about in the garden?… Whose are those hens? How
many times I've forbidden it! How many times I've spoken about it!'
Yushka ran out.
'What disorder!' protested Mardary Apollonitch; 'it's horrible!'
The unlucky hens, two speckled and one white with a topknot, as I still
remember, went on stalking tranquilly about under the apple-trees,
occasionally giving vent to their feelings in a prolonged clucking,
when suddenly Yushka, bareheaded and stick in hand, with three other
house-serfs of mature years, flew at them simultaneously. Then the fun
began. The hens clucked, flapped their wings, hopped, raised a
deafening cackle; the house-serfs ran, tripping up and tumbling over;
their master shouted from the balcony like one possessed: 'Catch 'em,
catch 'em, catch 'em, catch 'em, catch 'em, catch 'em, catch 'em!'
At last one servant succeeded in catching the hen with the topknot,
tumbling upon her, and at the very same moment a little girl of eleven,
with dishevelled hair, and a dry branch in her hand, jumped over the
garden-fence from the village street.
'Ah, we see now whose hens!' cried the landowner in triumph. 'They're
Yermil, the coachman's, hens! he's sent his Natalka to chase them
out…. He didn't send his Parasha, no fear!' the landowner added in a
low voice with a significant snigger. 'Hey, Yushka! let the hens alone;
catch Natalka for me.'
But before the panting Yushka had time to reach the terrified little
girl the house-keeper suddenly appeared, snatched her by the arm, and
slapped her several times on the back….
'That's it! that's it!' cried the master, 'tut-tut-tut!… And carry
off the hens, Avdotya,' he added in a loud voice, and he turned with a
beaming face to me; 'that was a fine chase, my dear sir, hey?—I'm in a
regular perspiration: look.'
And Mardary Apollonitch went off into a series of chuckles.
We remained on the balcony. The evening was really exceptionally fine.
Tea was served us.
'Tell me,' I began, 'Mardary Apollonitch: are those your peasants'
huts, out there on the highroad, above the ravine?'
'Yes … why do you ask?'
'I wonder at you, Mardary Apollonitch? It's really sinful. The huts
allotted to the peasants there are wretched cramped little hovels;
there isn't a tree to be seen near them; there's not a pond even;
there's only one well, and that's no good. Could you really find no
other place to settle them?… And they say you're taking away the old
'And what is one to do with this new division of the lands?' Mardary
Apollonitch made answer. 'Do you know I've this re-division quite on my
mind, and I foresee no sort of good from it. And as for my having taken
away the hemp-ground, and their not having dug any ponds, or what
not—as to that, my dear sir, I know my own business. I'm a plain
man—I go on the old system. To my ideas, when a man's master—he's
master; and when he's peasant—he's peasant. … That's what I think
To an argument so clear and convincing there was of course no answer.
'And besides,' he went on, 'those peasants are a wretched lot; they're
in disgrace. Particularly two families there; why, my late father—God
rest his soul—couldn't bear them; positively couldn't bear them. And
you know my precept is: where the father's a thief, the son's a thief;
say what you like…. Blood, blood—oh, that's the great thing!'
Meanwhile there was a perfect stillness in the air. Only rarely there
came a gust of wind, which, as it sank for the last time near the
house, brought to our ears the sound of rhythmically repeated blows,
seeming to come from the stable. Mardary Apollonitch was in the act of
lifting a saucer full of tea to his lips, and was just inflating his
nostrils to sniff its fragrance—no true-born Russian, as we all know,
can drink his tea without this preliminary—but he stopped short,
listened, nodded his head, sipped his tea, and laying the saucer on the
table, with the most good-natured smile imaginable, he murmured as
though involuntarily accompanying the blows: 'Tchuki-tchuki-tchuk!
'What is it?' I asked puzzled. 'Oh, by my order, they're punishing a
scamp of a fellow…. Do you happen to remember Vasya, who waits at the
'Why, that waited on us at dinner just now. He with the long whiskers.'
The fiercest indignation could not have stood against the clear mild
gaze of Mardary Apollonitch.
'What are you after, young man? what is it?' he said, shaking his head.
'Am I a criminal or something, that you stare at me like that? "Whom he
loveth he chasteneth"; you know that.'
A quarter of an hour later I had taken leave of Mardary Apollonitch. As
I was driving through the village I caught sight of Vasya. He was
walking down the village street, cracking nuts. I told the coachman to
stop the horses and called him up.
'Well, my boy, so they've been punishing you to-day?' I said to him.
'How did you know?' answered Vasya.
'Your master told me.'
'The master himself?'
'What did he order you to be punished for?'
'Oh, I deserved it, father; I deserved it. They don't punish for
trifles among us; that's not the way with us—no, no. Our master's not
like that; our master … you won't find another master like him in all
'Drive on!' I said to the coachman.' There you have it, old Russia!' I
mused on my homeward way.
One of the principal advantages of hunting, my dear readers, consists
in its forcing you to be constantly moving from place to place, which
is highly agreeable for a man of no occupation. It is true that
sometimes, especially in wet weather, it's not over pleasant to roam
over by-roads, to cut 'across country,' to stop every peasant you meet
with the question, 'Hey! my good man! how are we to get to Mordovka?'
and at Mordovka to try to extract from a half-witted peasant woman (the
working population are all in the fields) whether it is far to an inn
on the high-road, and how to get to it—and then when you have gone on
eight miles farther, instead of an inn, to come upon the deserted
village of Hudobubnova, to the great amazement of a whole herd of pigs,
who have been wallowing up to their ears in the black mud in the middle
of the village street, without the slightest anticipation of ever being
disturbed. There is no great joy either in having to cross planks that
dance under your feet; to drop down into ravines; to wade across boggy
streams: it is not over-pleasant to tramp twenty-four hours on end
through the sea of green that covers the highroads or (which God
forbid!) stay for hours stuck in the mud before a striped milestone
with the figures 22 on one side and 23 on the other; it is not wholly
pleasant to live for weeks together on eggs, milk, and the rye-bread
patriots affect to be so fond of…. But there is ample compensation
for all these inconveniences and discomforts in pleasures and
advantages of another sort. Let us come, though, to our story.
After all I have said above, there is no need to explain to the reader
how I happened five years ago to be at Lebedyan just in the very thick
of the horse-fair. We sportsmen may often set off on a fine morning
from our more or less ancestral roof, in the full intention of
returning there the following evening, and little by little, still in
pursuit of snipe, may get at last to the blessed banks of Petchora.
Besides, every lover of the gun and the dog is a passionate admirer of
the noblest animal in the world, the horse. And so I turned up at
Lebedyan, stopped at the hotel, changed my clothes, and went out to the
fair. (The waiter, a thin lanky youth of twenty, had already informed
me in a sweet nasal tenor that his Excellency Prince N——, who
purchases the chargers of the—regiment, was staying at their house;
that many other gentlemen had arrived; that some gypsies were to sing
in the evenings, and there was to be a performance of Pan Tvardovsky
at the theatre; that the horses were fetching good prices; and that
there was a fine show of them.)
In the market square there were endless rows of carts drawn up, and
behind the carts, horses of every possible kind: racers, stud-horses,
dray horses, cart-horses, posting-hacks, and simple peasants' nags.
Some fat and sleek, assorted by colours, covered with striped
horse-cloths, and tied up short to high racks, turned furtive glances
backward at the too familiar whips of their owners, the horse-dealers;
private owners' horses, sent by noblemen of the steppes a hundred or
two hundred miles away, in charge of some decrepit old coachman and two
or three headstrong stable-boys, shook their long necks, stamped with
ennui, and gnawed at the fences; roan horses, from Vyatka, huddled
close to one another; race-horses, dapple-grey, raven, and sorrel, with
large hindquarters, flowing tails, and shaggy legs, stood in majestic
immobility like lions. Connoisseurs stopped respectfully before them.
The avenues formed by the rows of carts were thronged with people of
every class, age, and appearance; horse-dealers in long blue coats and
high caps, with sly faces, were on the look-out for purchasers;
gypsies, with staring eyes and curly heads, strolled up and down, like
uneasy spirits, looking into the horses' mouths, lifting up a hoof or a
tail, shouting, swearing, acting as go-betweens, casting lots, or
hanging about some army horse-contracter in a foraging-cap and military
cloak, with beaver collar. A stalwart Cossack rode up and down on a
lanky gelding with the neck of a stag, offering it for sale 'in one
lot,' that is, saddle, bridle, and all. Peasants, in sheepskins torn at
the arm-pits, were forcing their way despairingly through the crowd, or
packing themselves by dozens into a cart harnessed to a horse, which
was to be 'put to the test,' or somewhere on one side, with the aid of
a wily gypsy, they were bargaining till they were exhausted, clasping
each other's hands a hundred times over, each still sticking to his
price, while the subject of their dispute, a wretched little jade
covered with a shrunken mat, was blinking quite unmoved, as though it
was no concern of hers…. And, after all, what difference did it make
to her who was to have the beating of her? Broad-browed landowners,
with dyed moustaches and an expression of dignity on their faces, in
Polish hats and cotton overcoats pulled half-on, were talking
condescendingly with fat merchants in felt hats and green gloves.
Officers of different regiments were crowding everywhere; an
extraordinarily lanky cuirassier of German extraction was languidly
inquiring of a lame horse-dealer 'what he expected to get for that
chestnut.' A fair-haired young hussar, a boy of nineteen, was choosing
a trace-horse to match a lean carriage-horse; a post-boy in a
low-crowned hat, with a peacock's feather twisted round it, in a brown
coat and long leather gloves tied round the arm with narrow, greenish
bands, was looking for a shaft-horse. Coachmen were plaiting the
horses' tails, wetting their manes, and giving respectful advice to
their masters. Those who had completed a stroke of business were
hurrying to hotel or to tavern, according to their class…. And all
the crowd were moving, shouting, bustling, quarrelling and making it up
again, swearing and laughing, all up to their knees in the mud. I
wanted to buy a set of three horses for my covered trap; mine had begun
to show signs of breaking down. I had found two, but had not yet
succeeded in picking up a third. After a hotel dinner, which I cannot
bring myself to describe (even Aeneas had discovered how painful it is
to dwell on sorrows past), I repaired to a café so-called, which was
the evening resort of the purchasers of cavalry mounts, horse-breeders,
and other persons. In the billiard-room, which was plunged in grey
floods of tobacco smoke, there were about twenty men. Here were
free-and-easy young landowners in embroidered jackets and grey
trousers, with long curling hair and little waxed moustaches, staring
about them with gentlemanly insolence; other noblemen in Cossack dress,
with extraordinarily short necks, and eyes lost in layers of fat, were
snorting with distressing distinctness; merchants sat a little apart on
the qui-vive, as it is called; officers were chatting freely among
themselves. At the billiard-table was Prince N—— a young man of
two-and-twenty, with a lively and rather contemptuous face, in a coat
hanging open, a red silk shirt, and loose velvet pantaloons; he was
playing with the ex-lieutenant, Viktor Hlopakov.
The ex-lieutenant, Viktor Hlopakov, a little, thinnish, dark man of
thirty, with black hair, brown eyes, and a thick snub nose, is a
diligent frequenter of elections and horse-fairs. He walks with a skip
and a hop, waves his fat hands with a jovial swagger, cocks his cap on
one side, and tucks up the sleeves of his military coat, showing the
blue-black cotton lining. Mr. Hlopakov knows how to gain the favour of
rich scapegraces from Petersburg; smokes, drinks, and plays cards with
them; calls them by their Christian names. What they find to like in
him it is rather hard to comprehend. He is not clever; he is not
amusing; he is not even a buffoon. It is true they treat him with
friendly casualness, as a good-natured fellow, but rather a fool; they
chum with him for two or three weeks, and then all of a sudden do not
recognise him in the street, and he on his side, too, does not
recognise them. The chief peculiarity of Lieutenant Hlopakov consists
in his continually for a year, sometimes two at a time, using in season
and out of season one expression, which, though not in the least
humorous, for some reason or other makes everyone laugh. Eight years
ago he used on every occasion to say, "'Umble respecks and duty," and
his patrons of that date used always to fall into fits of laughter and
make him repeat ''Umble respecks and duty'; then he began to adopt a
more complicated expression: 'No, that's too, too k'essk'say,' and with
the same brilliant success; two years later he had invented a fresh
saying: 'Ne voo excite _voo_self pa, man of sin, sewn in a
sheepskin,' and so on. And strange to say! these, as you see, not
overwhelmingly witty phrases, keep him in food and drink and clothes.
(He has run through his property ages ago, and lives solely upon his
friends.) There is, observe, absolutely no other attraction about him;
he can, it is true, smoke a hundred pipes of Zhukov tobacco in a day,
and when he plays billiards, throws his right leg higher than his head,
and while taking aim shakes his cue affectedly; but, after all, not
everyone has a fancy for these accomplishments. He can drink, too …
but in Russia it is hard to gain distinction as a drinker. In short,
his success is a complete riddle to me…. There is one thing, perhaps;
he is discreet; he has no taste for washing dirty linen away from home,
never speaks a word against anyone.
'Well,' I thought, on seeing Hlopakov, 'I wonder what his catchword is
The prince hit the white.
'Thirty love,' whined a consumptive marker, with a dark face and blue
rings under his eyes.
The prince sent the yellow with a crash into the farthest pocket.
'Ah!' a stoutish merchant, sitting in the corner at a tottering little
one-legged table, boomed approvingly from the depths of his chest, and
immediately was overcome by confusion at his own presumption. But
luckily no one noticed him. He drew a long breath, and stroked his
'Thirty-six love!' the marker shouted in a nasal voice.
'Well, what do you say to that, old man?' the prince asked Hlopakov.
'What! rrrrakaliooon, of course, simply rrrrakaliooooon!'
The prince roared with laughter.
'What? what? Say it again.'
'Rrrrrakaliooon!' repeated the ex-lieutenant complacently.
'So that's the catchword!' thought I.
The prince sent the red into the pocket.
'Oh! that's not the way, prince, that's not the way,' lisped a
fair-haired young officer with red eyes, a tiny nose, and a babyish,
sleepy face. 'You shouldn't play like that … you ought … not that
'Eh?' the prince queried over his shoulder.
'You ought to have done it … in a triplet.'
'Oh, really?' muttered the prince.
'What do you say, prince? Shall we go this evening to hear the
gypsies?' the young man hurriedly went on in confusion. 'Styoshka will
sing … Ilyushka….'
The prince vouchsafed no reply.
'Rrrrrakaliooon, old boy,' said Hlopakov, with a sly wink of his left
And the prince exploded.
'Thirty-nine to love,' sang out the marker.
'Love … just look, I'll do the trick with that yellow.' … Hlopakov,
fidgeting his cue in his hand, took aim, and missed.
'Eh, rrrakalioon,' he cried with vexation.
The prince laughed again.
'What, what, what?'
'Your honour made a miss,' observed the marker. 'Allow me to chalk the
cue…. Forty love.'
'Yes, gentlemen,' said the prince, addressing the whole company, and
not looking at any one in particular; 'you know, Verzhembitskaya must
be called before the curtain to-night.'
'To be sure, to be sure, of course,' several voices cried in rivalry,
amazingly flattered at the chance of answering the prince's speech;
'Verzhembitskaya, to be sure….'
'Verzhembitskaya's an excellent actress, far superior to Sopnyakova,'
whined an ugly little man in the corner with moustaches and spectacles.
Luckless wretch! he was secretly sighing at Sopnyakova's feet, and the
prince did not even vouchsafe him a look.
'Wai-ter, hey, a pipe!' a tall gentleman, with regular features and a
most majestic manner—in fact, with all the external symptoms of a
card-sharper—muttered into his cravat.
A waiter ran for a pipe, and when he came back, announced to his
excellency that the groom Baklaga was asking for him.
'Ah! tell him to wait a minute and take him some vodka.'
Baklaga, as I was told afterwards, was the name of a youthful,
handsome, and excessively depraved groom; the prince loved him, made
him presents of horses, went out hunting with him, spent whole nights
with him…. Now you would not know this same prince, who was once a
rake and a scapegrace…. In what good odour he is now; how
straight-laced, how supercilious! How devoted to the government—and,
above all, so prudent and judicious!
However, the tobacco smoke had begun to make my eyes smart. After
hearing Hlopakov's exclamation and the prince's chuckle one last time
more, I went off to my room, where, on a narrow, hair-stuffed sofa
pressed into hollows, with a high, curved back, my man had already made
me up a bed.
The next day I went out to look at the horses in the stables, and began
with the famous horsedealer Sitnikov's. I went through a gate into a
yard strewn with sand. Before a wide open stable-door stood the
horsedealer himself—a tall, stout man no longer young, in a hareskin
coat, with a raised turnover collar. Catching sight of me, he moved
slowly to meet me, held his cap in both hands above his head, and in a
sing-song voice brought out:
'Ah, our respects to you. You'd like to have a look at the horses, may
'Yes; I've come to look at the horses.'
'And what sort of horses, precisely, I make bold to ask?'
'Show me what you have.'
We went into the stable. Some white pug-dogs got up from the hay and
ran up to us, wagging their tails, and a long-bearded old goat walked
away with an air of dissatisfaction; three stable-boys, in strong but
greasy sheepskins, bowed to us without speaking. To right and to left,
in horse-boxes raised above the ground, stood nearly thirty horses,
groomed to perfection. Pigeons fluttered cooing about the rafters.
'What, now, do you want a horse for? for driving or for breeding?'
Sitnikov inquired of me.
'Oh, I'll see both sorts.'
'To be sure, to be sure,' the horsedealer commented, dwelling on each
syllable. 'Petya, show the gentleman Ermine.'
We came out into the yard.
'But won't you let them bring you a bench out of the hut?… You don't
want to sit down…. As you please.'
There was the thud of hoofs on the boards, the crack of a whip, and
Petya, a swarthy fellow of forty, marked by small-pox, popped out of
the stable with a rather well-shaped grey stallion, made it rear, ran
twice round the yard with it, and adroitly pulled it up at the right
place. Ermine stretched himself, snorted, raised his tail, shook his
head, and looked sideways at me.
'A clever beast,' I thought.
'Give him his head, give him his head,' said Sitniker, and he stared at
'What may you think of him?' he inquired at last.
'The horse's not bad—the hind legs aren't quite sound.'
'His legs are first-rate!' Sitnikov rejoined, with an air of
conviction;' and his hind-quarters … just look, sir … broad as an
oven—you could sleep up there.' 'His pasterns are long.'
'Long! mercy on us! Start him, Petya, start him, but at a trot, a trot
… don't let him gallop.'
Again Petya ran round the yard with Ermine. None of us spoke for a
'There, lead him back,' said Sitnikov,' and show us Falcon.'
Falcon, a gaunt beast of Dutch extraction with sloping hind-quarters,
as black as a beetle, turned out to be little better than Ermine. He
was one of those beasts of whom fanciers will tell you that 'they go
chopping and mincing and dancing about,' meaning thereby that they
prance and throw out their fore-legs to right and to left without
making much headway. Middle-aged merchants have a great fancy for such
horses; their action recalls the swaggering gait of a smart waiter;
they do well in single harness for an after-dinner drive; with mincing
paces and curved neck they zealously draw a clumsy droshky laden with
an overfed coachman, a depressed, dyspeptic merchant, and his lymphatic
wife, in a blue silk mantle, with a lilac handkerchief over her head.
Falcon too I declined. Sitnikov showed me several horses…. One at
last, a dapple-grey beast of Voyakov breed, took my fancy. I could not
restrain my satisfaction, and patted him on the withers. Sitnikov at
once feigned absolute indifference.
"Well, does he go well in harness?" I inquired. (They never speak of a
trotting horse as "being driven.")
"Oh, yes," answered the horsedealer carelessly.
"Can I see him?"
"If you like, certainly. Hi, Kuzya, put Pursuer into the droshky!"
Kuzya, the jockey, a real master of horsemanship, drove three times
past us up and down the street. The horse went well, without changing
its pace, nor shambling; it had a free action, held its tail high, and
covered the ground well.
"And what are you asking for him?"
Sitnikov asked an impossible price. We began bargaining on the spot in
the street, when suddenly a splendidly-matched team of three
posting-horses flew noisily round the corner and drew up sharply at the
gates before Sitnikov's house. In the smart little sportsman's trap sat
Prince N——; beside him Hlopakov. Baklaga was driving … and how he
drove! He could have driven them through an earring, the rascal! The
bay trace-horses, little, keen, black-eyed, black-legged beasts, were
all impatience; they kept rearing—a whistle, and off they would have
bolted! The dark-bay shaft-horse stood firmly, its neck arched like a
swan's, its breast forward, its legs like arrows, shaking its head and
proudly blinking…. They were splendid! No one could desire a finer
turn out for an Easter procession!
'Your excellency, please to come in!' cried Sitnikov.
The prince leaped out of the trap. Hlopakov slowly descended on the
'Good morning, friend … any horses.'
'You may be sure we've horses for your excellency! Pray walk in….
Petya, bring out Peacock! and let them get Favourite ready too. And
with you, sir,' he went on, turning to me, 'we'll settle matters
another time…. Fomka, a bench for his excellency.'
From a special stable which I had not at first observed they led out
Peacock. A powerful dark sorrel horse seemed to fly across the yard
with all its legs in the air. Sitnikov even turned away his head and
'Oh, rrakalion!' piped Hlopakov; 'Zhaymsah (j'aime ça.)'
The prince laughed.
Peacock was stopped with difficulty; he dragged the stable-boy about
the yard; at last he was pushed against the wall. He snorted, started
and reared, while Sitnikov still teased him, brandishing a whip at him.
'What are you looking at? there! oo!' said the horsedealer with
caressing menace, unable to refrain from admiring his horse himself.
'How much?' asked the prince.
'For your excellency, five thousand.'
'Impossible, your excellency, upon my word.'
'I tell you three, rrakalion,' put in Hlopakov.
I went away without staying to see the end of the bargaining. At the
farthest corner of the street I noticed a large sheet of paper fixed on
the gate of a little grey house. At the top there was a pen-and-ink
sketch of a horse with a tail of the shape of a pipe and an endless
neck, and below his hoofs were the following words, written in an
'Here are for sale horses of various colours, brought to the Lebedyan
fair from the celebrated steppes stud of Anastasei Ivanitch Tchornobai,
landowner of Tambov. These horses are of excellent sort; broken in to
perfection, and free from vice. Purchasers will kindly ask for
Anastasei Ivanitch himself: should Anastasei Ivanitch be absent, then
ask for Nazar Kubishkin, the coachman. Gentlemen about to purchase,
kindly honour an old man.'
I stopped. 'Come,' I thought, 'let's have a look at the horses of the
celebrated steppes breeder, Mr. Tchornobai.'
I was about to go in at the gate, but found that, contrary to the
common usage, it was locked. I knocked.
'Who's there?… A customer?' whined a woman's voice.
'Coming, sir, coming.'
The gate was opened. I beheld a peasant-woman of fifty, bareheaded, in
boots, and a sheepskin worn open.
'Please to come in, kind sir, and I'll go at once, and tell Anastasei
Ivanitch … Nazar, hey, Nazar!'
'What?' mumbled an old man's voice from the stable.
'Get a horse ready; here's a customer.'
The old woman ran into the house.
'A customer, a customer,' Nazar grumbled in response; 'I've not washed
all their tails yet.'
'Oh, Arcadia!' thought I.
'Good day, sir, pleased to see you,' I heard a rich, pleasant voice
saying behind my back. I looked round; before me, in a long-skirted
blue coat, stood an old man of medium height, with white hair, a
friendly smile, and fine blue eyes.
'You want a little horse? By all means, my dear sir, by all means….
But won't you step in and drink just a cup of tea with me first?'
I declined and thanked him.
'Well, well, as you please. You must excuse me, my dear sir; you see
I'm old-fashioned.' (Mr. Tchornobai spoke with deliberation, and in a
broad Doric.) 'Everything with me is done in a plain way, you know….
Nazar, hey, Nazar!' he added, not raising his voice, but prolonging
each syllable. Nazar, a wrinkled old man with a little hawk nose and a
wedge-shaped beard, showed himself at the stable door.
'What sort of horses is it you're wanting, my dear sir?' resumed Mr.
'Not too expensive; for driving in my covered gig.'
'To be sure … we have got them to suit you, to be sure…. Nazar,
Nazar, show the gentleman the grey gelding, you know, that stands at
the farthest corner, and the sorrel with the star, or else the other
sorrel—foal of Beauty, you know.'
Nazar went back to the stable.
'And bring them out by their halters just as they are,' Mr. Tchornobai
shouted after him. 'You won't find things with me, my good sir,' he
went on, with a clear mild gaze into my face, 'as they are with the
horse-dealers; confound their tricks! There are drugs of all sorts go
in there, salt and malted grains; God forgive them! But with me, you
will see, sir, everything's above-board; no underhandedness.'
The horses were led in; I did not care for them.
'Well, well, take them back, in God's name,' said Anastasei Ivanitch.
'Show us the others.'
Others were shown. At last I picked out one, rather a cheap one. We
began to haggle over the price. Mr. Tchornobai did not get excited; he
spoke so reasonably, with such dignity, that I could not help
'honouring' the old man; I gave him the earnest-money.
'Well, now,' observed Anastasei Ivanitch, 'allow me to give over the
horse to you from hand to hand, after the old fashion…. You will
thank me for him … as sound as a nut, see … fresh … a true child
of the steppes! Goes well in any harness.'
He crossed himself, laid the skirt of his coat over his hand, took the
halter, and handed me the horse.
'You're his master now, with God's blessing…. And you still won't
take a cup of tea?'
'No, I thank you heartily; it's time I was going home.'
'That's as you think best…. And shall my coachman lead the horse
'Yes, now, if you please.'
'By all means, my dear sir, by all means…. Vassily, hey, Vassily!
step along with the gentleman, lead the horse, and take the money for
him. Well, good-bye, my good sir; God bless you.'
'Good-bye, Anastasei Ivanitch.'
They led the horse home for me. The next day he turned out to be
broken-winded and lame. I tried having him put in harness; the horse
backed, and if one gave him a flick with the whip he jibbed, kicked,
and positively lay down. I set off at once to Mr. Tchornobai's. I
inquired: 'At home?'
'What's the meaning of this?' said I; 'here you've sold me a
'Broken-winded?… God forbid!'
'Yes, and he's lame too, and vicious besides.'
'Lame! I know nothing about it: your coachman must have ill-treated him
somehow…. But before God, I—'
'Look here, Anastasei Ivanitch, as things stand, you ought to take him
'No, my good sir, don't put yourself in a passion; once gone out of the
yard, is done with. You should have looked before, sir.'
I understood what that meant, accepted my fate, laughed, and walked
off. Luckily, I had not paid very dear for the lesson.
Two days later I left, and in a week I was again at Lebedyan on my way
home again. In the café I found almost the same persons, and again I
came upon Prince N—— at billiards. But the usual change in the
fortunes of Mr. Hlopakov had taken place in this interval: the
fair-haired young officer had supplanted him in the prince's favours.
The poor ex-lieutenant once more tried letting off his catchword in my
presence, on the chance it might succeed as before; but, far from
smiling, the prince positively scowled and shrugged his shoulders. Mr.
Hlopakov looked downcast, shrank into a corner, and began furtively
filling himself a pipe….