Part 3 out of 5
the tide of brimming youth and passion; violent, ecstatic happiness had
burst into his soul, and had taken full possession of him--and he of it.
* * * * *
'Is that your final decision?' I pronounced mournfully.
'Yes, Petya, my boy, it's final.'
'In that case, there's nothing for me but to say good-bye.'
Tarhov faintly dropped his eyelids.... He was too happy at that moment.
'Good-bye, Petya, old boy,' he said, a little through his nose, with a
candid smile and a gay flash of all his white teeth.
What was I to do? I left him to his 'happiness.' As I slammed the door
after me, the other door of the room slammed also--I heard it.
* * * * *
It was with a heavy heart that I trudged off next day to see my luckless
acquaintances. I secretly hoped--such is human weakness--that I should
not find them at home, and again I was mistaken. Both were at home. The
change that had taken place in them during the last three days must have
struck any one. Punin looked ghastly white and flabby. His talkativeness
had completely vanished. He spoke listlessly, feebly, still in the same
husky voice, and looked somehow lost and bewildered. Baburin, on the
contrary, seemed shrunk into himself, and blacker than ever; taciturn at
the best of times, he uttered nothing now but a few abrupt sounds; an
expression of stony severity seemed to have frozen on his countenance.
I felt it impossible to be silent; but what was there to say? I confined
myself to whispering to Punin, 'I have discovered nothing, and my advice
to you is to give up all hope.' Punin glanced at me with his swollen,
red little eyes--the only red left in his face--muttered something
inaudible, and hobbled away. Baburin most likely guessed what I had been
speaking about to Punin, and opening his lips, which were tightly
compressed, as though glued together, he pronounced, in a deliberate
voice, 'My dear sir, since your last visit to us, something disagreeable
has happened to us; our young friend, Musa Pavlovna Vinogradov, finding
it no longer convenient to live with us, has decided to leave us, and
has given us a written communication to that effect. Not considering
that we have any right to hinder her doing so, we have left her to act
according to her own views of what is best. We trust that she may be
happy,' he added, with some effort; 'and I humbly beg you not to allude
to the subject, as any such references are useless, and even painful.'
'So he too, like Tarhov, forbids my speaking of Musa,' was the thought
that struck me, and I could not help wondering inwardly. He might well
prize Zeno so highly. I wished to impart to him some facts about that
sage, but my tongue would not form the words, and it did well.
I soon went about my business. At parting neither Punin nor Baburin
said, 'Till we meet!' both with one voice pronounced, 'Good-bye.'
Punin even returned me a volume of the _Telegraph_ I had brought him, as
much as to say, 'he had no need of anything of that kind now.'
A week later I had a curious encounter. An early spring had set in
abruptly; at midday the heat rose to eighteen degrees Reaumur.
Everything was turning green, and shooting up out of the spongy, damp
earth. I hired a horse at the riding-school, and went out for a ride
into the outskirts of the town, towards the Vorobyov hills. On the road
I was met by a little cart, drawn by a pair of spirited ponies,
splashed with mud up to their ears, with plaited tails, and red ribbons
in their manes and forelocks. Their harness was such as sportsmen
affect, with copper discs and tassels; they were being driven by a
smart young driver, in a blue tunic without sleeves, a yellow striped
silk shirt, and a low felt hat with peacock's feathers round the crown.
Beside him sat a girl of the artisan or merchant class, in a flowered
silk jacket, with a big blue handkerchief on her head--and she was
simply bubbling over with mirth. The driver was laughing too. I drew my
horse on one side, but did not, however, take particular notice of the
swiftly passing, merry couple, when, all at once, the young man shouted
to his ponies.... Why, that was Tarhov's voice! I looked round.... Yes,
it was he; unmistakably he, dressed up as a peasant, and beside
him--wasn't it Musa?
But at that instant their ponies quickened their pace, and they were
out of my sight in a minute. I tried to put my horse into a gallop
in pursuit of them, but it was an old riding school hack, that
shambled from side to side as it moved; it went more slowly
galloping than trotting.
'Enjoy yourselves, my dear friends!' I muttered through my teeth.
I ought to observe that I had not seen Tarhov during the whole week,
though I had been three times to his rooms. He was never at home.
Baburin and Punin I had not seen either.... I had not been to see them.
I caught cold on my ride; though it was very warm, there was a piercing
wind. I was dangerously ill, and when I recovered I went with my
grandmother into the country 'to feed up,' by the doctor's advice. I did
not get to Moscow again; in the autumn I was transferred to the
Not seven, but fully twelve years had passed by, and I was in my
thirty-second year. My grandmother had long been dead; I was living in
Petersburg, with a post in the Department of Home Affairs. Tarhov I had
lost sight of; he had gone into the army, and lived almost always in the
provinces. We had met twice, as old friends, glad to see each other; but
we had not touched on the past in our talk. At the time of our last
meeting he was, if I remember right, already a married man.
One sultry summer day I was sauntering along Gorohov Street, cursing
my official duties for keeping me in Petersburg, and the heat and
stench and dust of the city. A funeral barred my way. It consisted of
a solitary car, that is, to be accurate, of a decrepit hearse, on
which a poor-looking wooden coffin, half-covered with a threadbare
black cloth, was shaking up and down as it was jolted violently over
the uneven pavement. An old man with a white head was walking alone
after the hearse.
I looked at him.... His face seemed familiar.... He too turned his eyes
upon me.... Merciful heavens! it was Baburin! I took off my hat, went up
to him, mentioned my name, and walked along beside him.
'Whom are you burying?' I asked.
'Nikander Vavilitch Punin,' he answered.
I felt, I knew beforehand, that he would utter that name, and yet it set
my heart aching. I felt melancholy, and yet I was glad that chance had
enabled me to pay my last respects to my old friend....
'May I go with you, Paramon Semyonitch?'
'You may.... I was following him alone; now there'll be two of us.'
Our walk lasted more than an hour. My companion moved forward, without
lifting his eyes or opening his lips. He had become quite an old man
since I had seen him last; his deeply furrowed, copper-coloured face
stood out sharply against his white hair. Signs of a life of toil and
suffering, of continual struggle, could be seen in Baburin's whole
figure; want and poverty had worked cruel havoc with him. When
everything was over, when what was Punin had disappeared for ever in the
damp ... yes, undoubtedly damp earth of the Smolensky cemetery, Baburin,
after standing a couple of minutes with bowed, uncovered head before the
newly risen mound of sandy clay, turned to me his emaciated, as it were
embittered, face, his dry, sunken eyes, thanked me grimly, and was about
to move away; but I detained him.
'Where do you live, Paramon Semyonitch? Let me come and see you. I had
no idea you were living in Petersburg. We could recall old days, and
talk of our dead friend.'
Baburin did not answer me at once.
'It's two years since I found my way to Petersburg,' he observed at
last; 'I live at the very end of the town. However, if you really care
to visit me, come.' He gave me his address. 'Come in the evening; in the
evening we are always at home ... both of us.'
'Both of you?'
'I am married. My wife is not very well to-day, and that's why she
did not come too. Though, indeed, it's quite enough for one person to
go through this empty formality, this ceremony. As if anybody
believed in it all!'
I was a little surprised at Baburin's last words, but I said nothing,
called a cab, and proposed to Baburin to take him home; but he refused.
* * * * *
The same day I went in the evening to see him. All the way there I was
thinking of Punin. I recalled how I had met him the first time, and how
ecstatic and amusing he was in those days; and afterwards in Moscow how
subdued he had grown--especially the last time I saw him; and now he had
made his last reckoning with life;--life is in grim earnest, it seems!
Baburin was living in the Viborgsky quarter, in a little house which
reminded me of the Moscow 'nest': the Petersburg abode was almost
shabbier in appearance. When I went into his room he was sitting on a
chair in a corner with his hands on his knees; a tallow candle, burning
low, dimly lighted up his bowed, white head. He heard the sound of my
footsteps, started up, and welcomed me more warmly than I had expected.
A few moments later his wife came in; I recognised her at once as
Musa--and only then understood why Baburin had invited me to come; he
wanted to show me that he had after all come by his own.
Musa was greatly changed--in face, in voice, and in manners; but her
eyes were changed most of all. In old times they had darted about like
live creatures, those malicious, beautiful eyes; they had gleamed
stealthily, but brilliantly; their glance had pierced, like a
pin-prick.... Now they looked at one directly, calmly, steadily; their
black centres had lost their lustre. 'I am broken in, I am tame, I am
good,' her soft and dull gaze seemed to say. Her continued, submissive
smile told the same story. And her dress, too, was subdued; brown, with
little spots on it. She came up to me, asked me whether I knew her. She
obviously felt no embarrassment, and not because she had lost a sense of
shame or memory of the past, but simply because all petty
self-consciousness had left her.
Musa talked a great deal about Punin, talked in an even voice, which too
had lost its fire. I learned that of late years he had become very
feeble, had almost sunk into childishness, so much so that he was
miserable if he had not toys to play with; they persuaded him, it is
true, that he made them out of waste stuff for sale ... but he really
played with them himself. His passion for poetry, however, never died
out, and he kept his memory for nothing but verses; a few days before
his death he recited a passage from the _Rossiad_; but Pushkin he
feared, as children fear bogies. His devotion to Baburin had also
remained undiminished; he worshipped him as much as ever, and even at
the last, wrapped about by the chill and dark of the end, he had
faltered with halting tongue, 'benefactor!' I learned also from Musa
that soon after the Moscow episode, it had been Baburin's fate once more
to wander all over Russia, continually tossed from one private situation
to another; that in Petersburg, too, he had been again in a situation,
in a private business, which situation he had, however, been obliged to
leave a few days before, owing to some unpleasantness with his employer:
Baburin had ventured to stand up for the workpeople.... The invariable
smile, with which Musa accompanied her words, set me musing mournfully;
it put the finishing touch to the impression made on me by her husband's
appearance. They had hard work, the two of them, to make a bare
living--there was no doubt of it. He took very little part in our
conversation; he seemed more preoccupied than grieved.... Something was
'Paramon Semyonitch, come here,' said the cook, suddenly appearing in
'What is it? what's wanted?' he asked in alarm.
'Come here,' the cook repeated insistently and meaningly. Baburin
buttoned up his coat and went out.
When I was left alone with Musa, she looked at me with a somewhat
changed glance, and observed in a voice which was also changed, and with
no smile: 'I don't know, Piotr Petrovitch, what you think of me now, but
I dare say you remember what I used to be.... I was self-confident,
light-hearted ... and not good; I wanted to live for my own pleasure.
But I want to tell you this: when I was abandoned, and was like one
lost, and was only waiting for God to take me, or to pluck up spirit to
make an end of myself,--once more, just as in Voronezh, I met with
Paramon Semyonitch--and he saved me once again.... Not a word that could
wound me did I hear from him, not a word of reproach; he asked nothing
of me--I was not worthy of that; but he loved me ... and I became his
wife. What was I to do? I had failed of dying; and I could not live
either after my own choice....What was I to do with myself? Even so--it
was a mercy to be thankful for. That is all.'
She ceased, turned away for an instant ... the same submissive smile
came back to her lips. 'Whether life's easy for me, you needn't ask,'
was the meaning I fancied now in that smile.
The conversation passed to ordinary subjects. Musa told me that Punin
had left a cat that he had been very fond of, and that ever since his
death she had gone up to the attic and stayed there, mewing
incessantly, as though she were calling some one ... the neighbours
were very much scared, and fancied that it was Punin's soul that had
passed into the cat.
'Paramon Semyonitch is worried about something,' I said at last.
'Oh, you noticed it?'--Musa sighed. 'He cannot help being worried. I
need hardly tell you that Paramon Semyonitch has remained faithful to
his principles.... The present condition of affairs can but strengthen
them.' (Musa expressed herself quite differently now from in the old
days in Moscow; there was a literary, bookish flavour in her phrases.)
'I don't know, though, whether I can rely upon you, and how you will
'Why should you imagine you cannot rely upon me?'
'Well, you are in the government service--you are an official.'
'Well, what of that?'
'You are, consequently, loyal to the government.'
I marvelled inwardly ... at Musa's innocence. 'As to my attitude to the
government, which is not even aware of my existence, I won't enlarge
upon that,' I observed; 'but you may set your mind at rest. I will make
no bad use of your confidence. I sympathise with your husband's
ideas ... more than you suppose.'
Musa shook her head.
'Yes; that's all so,' she began, not without hesitation; 'but you see
it's like this. Paramon Semyonitch's ideas will shortly, it may be, find
expression in action. They can no longer be hidden under a bushel. There
are comrades whom we cannot now abandon ...'
Musa suddenly ceased speaking, as though she had bitten her tongue. Her
last words had amazed and a little alarmed me. Most likely my face
showed what I was feeling--and Musa noticed it.
As I have said already, our interview took place in the year 1849. Many
people still remember what a disturbed and difficult time that was, and
by what incidents it was signalised in St. Petersburg. I had been struck
myself by certain peculiarities in Baburin's behaviour, in his whole
demeanour. Twice he had referred to governmental action, to personages
in high authority, with such intense bitterness and hatred, with such
loathing, that I had been dumbfoundered....
'Well?' he asked me suddenly: 'did you set your peasants free?'
I was obliged to confess I had not.
'Why, I suppose your granny's dead, isn't she?'
I was obliged to admit that she was.
'To be sure, you noble gentlemen,' Baburin muttered between his teeth,
'... use other men's hands ... to poke up your fire ... that's what
In the most conspicuous place in his room hung the well-known lithograph
portrait of Belinsky; on the table lay a volume of the old _Polar Star_,
edited by Bestuzhev.
A long time passed, and Baburin did not come back after the cook had
called him away. Musa looked several times uneasily towards the door by
which he had gone out. At last she could bear it no longer; she got up,
and with an apology she too went out by the same door. A quarter of an
hour later she came back with her husband; the faces of both, so at
least I thought, looked troubled. But all of a sudden Baburin's face
assumed a different, an intensely bitter, almost frenzied expression.
'What will be the end of it?' he began all at once in a jerky, sobbing
voice, utterly unlike him, while his wild eyes shifted restlessly about
him. 'One goes on living and living, and hoping that maybe it'll be
better, that one will breathe more freely; but it's quite the other
way--everything gets worse and worse! They have _squeezed_ us right up
to the wall! In my youth I bore all with patience; they ... maybe ...
beat me ... even ... yes!' he added, turning sharply round on his heels
and swooping down as it were, upon me: 'I, a man of full age, was
subjected to corporal punishment ... yes;--of other wrongs I will not
speak.... But is there really nothing before us but to go back to those
old times again? The way they are treating the young people now! ...
Yes, it breaks down all endurance at last.... It breaks it down! Yes!
Wait a bit!'
I had never seen Baburin in such a condition. Musa turned positively
white.... Baburin suddenly cleared his throat, and sank down into a
seat. Not wishing to constrain either him or Musa by my presence, I
decided to go, and was just saying good-bye to them, when the door
into the next room suddenly opened, and a head appeared.... It was not
the cook's head, but the dishevelled and terrified-looking head of a
'Something's wrong, Baburin, something's wrong!' he faltered hurriedly,
then vanished at once on perceiving my unfamiliar figure.
Baburin rushed after the young man. I pressed Musa's hand warmly, and
withdrew, with presentiments of evil in my heart.
'Come to-morrow,' she whispered anxiously.
'I certainly will come,' I answered.
* * * * *
I was still in bed next morning, when my man handed me a letter
'Dear Piotr Petrovitch!' she wrote: 'Paramon Semyonitch has been this
night arrested by the police and carried off to the fortress, or I don't
know where; they did not tell me. They ransacked all our papers, sealed
up a great many, and took them away with them. It has been the same with
our books and letters. They say a mass of people have been arrested in
the town. You can fancy how I feel. It is well Nikander Vavilitch did
not live to see it! He was taken just in time. Advise me what I am to
do. For myself I am not afraid--I shall not die of starvation--but the
thought of Paramon Semyonitch gives me no rest. Come, please, if only
you are not afraid to visit people in our position.--Yours faithfully,
* * * * *
Half an hour later I was with Musa. On seeing me she held out her
hand, and, though she did not utter a word, a look of gratitude
flitted over her face. She was wearing the same clothes as on the
previous day; there was every sign that she had not been to bed or
slept all night. Her eyes were red, but from sleeplessness, not from
tears. She had not been crying. She was in no mood for weeping. She
wanted to act, wanted to struggle with the calamity that had fallen
upon them: the old, energetic, self-willed Musa had risen up in her
again. She had no time even to be indignant, though she was choking
with indignation. How to assist Baburin, to whom to appeal so as to
soften his lot--she could think of nothing else. She wanted to go
instantly, ... to petition, ... demand.... But where to go, whom to
petition, what to demand--this was what she wanted to hear from me,
this was what she wanted to consult me about.
I began by counselling her ... to have patience. For the first moment
there was nothing left to be done but to wait, and, as far as might be,
to make inquiries; and to take any decisive step now when the affair had
scarcely begun, and hardly yet taken shape, would be simply senseless,
irrational. To hope for any success was irrational, even if I had been a
person of much more importance and influence, ... but what could I, a
petty official, do? As for her, she was absolutely without any powerful
It was no easy matter to make all this plain to her ... but at last she
understood my arguments; she understood, too, that I was not prompted by
egoistic feeling, when I showed her the uselessness of all efforts. 'But
tell me, Musa Pavlovna,' I began, when she sank at last into a chair
(till then she had been standing up, as though on the point of setting
off at once to the aid of Baburin),'how Paramon Semyonitch, at his age,
comes to be mixed up in such an affair? I feel sure that there are none
but young people implicated in it, like the one who came in yesterday to
'Those young people are our friends!' cried Musa, and her eyes flashed
and darted as of old. Something strong, irrepressible, seemed, as it
were, to rise up from the bottom of her soul, ... and I suddenly recalled
the expression 'a new type,' which Tarhov had once used of her. 'Years
are of no consequence when it is a matter of political principles!' Musa
laid a special stress on these last two words. One might fancy that in
all her sorrow it was not unpleasing to her to show herself before me in
this new, unlooked-for character--in the character of a cultivated and
mature woman, fit wife of a republican! ... 'Some old men are younger
than some young ones,' she pursued, 'more capable of sacrifice.... But
that's not the point.'
'I think, Musa Pavlovna,' I observed, 'that you are exaggerating a
little. Knowing the character of Paramon Semyonitch, I should have felt
sure beforehand that he would sympathise with every ... sincere
impulse; but, on the other hand, I have always regarded him as a man of
sense.... Surely he cannot fail to realise all the impracticability,
all the absurdity of conspiracies in Russia? In his position, in his
'Oh, of course,' Musa interrupted, with bitterness in her voice, 'he is
a working man; and in Russia it is only permissible for noblemen to take
part in conspiracies, ... as, for instance, in that of the fourteenth of
December, ... that's what you meant to say.'
'In that case, what do you complain of now?' almost broke from my
lips, ... but I restrained myself. 'Do you consider that the result of
the fourteenth of December was such as to encourage other such
attempts?' I said aloud.
Musa frowned. 'It is no good talking to you about it,' was what I read
in her downcast face.
'Is Paramon Semyonitch very seriously compromised?' I ventured to ask
her. Musa made no reply.... A hungry, savage mewing was heard from
Musa started. 'Ah, it is a good thing Nikander Vavilitch did not see all
this!' she moaned almost despairingly. 'He did not see how violently in
the night they seized his benefactor, our benefactor--maybe, the best
and truest man in the whole world,--he did not see how they treated that
noble man at his age, how rudely they addressed him, ... how they
threatened him, and the threats they used to him!--only because he was a
working man! That young officer, too, was no doubt just such an
unprincipled, heartless wretch as I have known in my life....'
Musa's voice broke. She was quivering all over like a leaf.
Her long-suppressed indignation broke out at last; old memories stirred
up, brought to the surface by the general tumult of her soul, showed
themselves alive within her.... But the conviction I carried off at that
moment was that the 'new type' was still the same, still the same
passionate, impulsive nature.... Only the impulses by which Musa was
carried away were not the same as in the days of her youth. What on my
first visit I had taken for resignation, for meekness, and what really
was so--the subdued, lustreless glance, the cold voice, the quietness
and simplicity--all that had significance only in relation to the past,
to what would never return....
Now it was the present asserted itself.
I tried to soothe Musa, tried to put our conversation on a more
practical level. Some steps must be taken that could not be postponed;
we must find out exactly where Baburin was; and then secure both for him
and for Musa the means of subsistence. All this presented no
inconsiderable difficulty; what was needed was not to find money, but
work, which is, as we all know, a far more complicated problem....
I left Musa with a perfect swarm of reflections in my head.
I soon learned that Baburin was in the fortress.
The proceedings began, ... dragged on. I saw Musa several times every
week. She had several interviews with her husband. But just at the
moment of the decision of the whole melancholy affair, I was not in
Petersburg. Unforeseen business had obliged me to set off to the
south of Russia. During my absence I heard that Baburin had been
acquitted at the trial; it appeared that all that could be proved
against him was, that young people regarding him as a person unlikely
to awaken suspicion, had sometimes held meetings at his house, and he
had been present at their meetings; he was, however, by
administrative order sent into exile in one of the western provinces
of Siberia. Musa went with him.
'Paramon Semyonitch did not wish it,' she wrote to me; 'as, according to
his ideas, no one ought to sacrifice self for another person, and not
for a cause; but I told him there was no question of sacrifice at all.
When I said to him in Moscow that I would be his wife, I thought to
myself--for ever, indissolubly! So indissoluble it must be till the end
of our days....'
Twelve more years passed by.... Every one in Russia knows, and will ever
remember, what passed between the years 1849 and 1861. In my personal
life, too, many changes took place, on which, however, there is no need
to enlarge. New interests came into it, new cares.... The Baburin couple
first fell into the background, then passed out of my mind altogether.
Yet I kept up a correspondence with Musa--at very long intervals,
however. Sometimes more than a year passed without any tidings of her or
of her husband. I heard that soon after 1855 he received permission to
return to Russia; but that he preferred to remain in the little Siberian
town, where he had been flung by destiny, and where he had apparently
made himself a home, and found a haven and a sphere of activity....
And, lo and behold! towards the end of March in 1861, I received the
following letter from Musa:--
'It is so long since I have written to you, most honoured Piotr
Petrovitch, that I do not even know whether you are still living; and if
you are living, have you not forgotten our existence? But no matter; I
cannot resist writing to you to-day. Everything till now has gone on
with us in the same old way: Paramon Semyonitch and I have been always
busy with our schools, which are gradually making good progress; besides
that, Paramon Semyonitch was taken up with reading and correspondence
and his usual discussions with the Old-believers, members of the clergy,
and Polish exiles; his health has been fairly good.... So has mine. But
yesterday! the manifesto of the 19th of February reached us! We had long
been on the look-out for it. Rumours had reached us long before of what
was being done among you in Petersburg, ... but yet I can't describe what
it was! You know my husband well; he was not in the least changed by his
misfortune; on the contrary, he has grown even stronger and more
energetic, and has a will as strong as iron, but at this he could not
restrain himself! His hands shook as he read it; then he embraced me
three times, and three times he kissed me, tried to say something--but
no! he could not! and ended by bursting into tears, which was very
astounding to see, and suddenly he shouted, "Hurrah! hurrah! God save
the Tsar!" Yes, Piotr Petrovitch, those were his very words! Then he
went on: "Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart" ... and again: "This is
the first step, others are bound to follow it"; and, just as he was,
bareheaded, ran to tell the great news to our friends. There was a
bitter frost, and even a snowstorm coming on. I tried to prevent him,
but he would not listen to me. And when he came home, he was all covered
with snow, his hair, his face, and his beard--he has a beard right down
to his chest now--and the tears were positively frozen on his cheeks!
But he was very lively and cheerful, and told me to uncork a bottle of
home-made champagne, and he drank with our friends that he had brought
back with him, to the health of the Tsar and of Russia, and all free
Russians; and taking the glass, and fixing his eyes on the ground, he
said: "Nikander, Nikander, do you hear? There are no slaves in Russia
any more! Rejoice in the grave, old comrade!" And much more he said; to
the effect that his "expectations were fulfilled!" He said, too, that
now there could be no turning back; that this was in its way a pledge or
promise.... I don't remember everything, but it is long since I have
seen him so happy. And so I made up my mind to write to you, so that you
might know how we have been rejoicing and exulting in the remote
Siberian wilds, so that you might rejoice with us....'
This letter I received at the end of March. At the beginning of May
another very brief letter arrived from Musa. She informed me that her
husband, Paramon Semyonitch Baburin, had taken cold on the very day of
the arrival of the manifesto, and died on the 12th of April of
inflammation of the lungs, in the 67th year of his age. She added that
she intended to remain where his body lay at rest, and to go on with the
work he had bequeathed her, since such was the last wish of Paramon
Semyonitch, and that was her only law.
Since then I have heard no more of Musa.
About thirty miles from our village there lived, many years ago, a
distant cousin of my mother's, a retired officer of the Guards, and
rather wealthy landowner, Alexey Sergeitch Teliegin. He lived on his
estate and birth-place, Suhodol, did not go out anywhere, and so did not
visit us; but I used to be sent, twice a year, to pay him my
respects--at first with my tutor, but later on alone. Alexey Sergeitch
always gave me a very cordial reception, and I used to stay three or
four days at a time with him. He was an old man even when I first made
his acquaintance; I was twelve, I remember, on my first visit, and he
was then over seventy. He was born in the days of the Empress
Elisabeth--in the last year of her reign. He lived alone with his wife,
Malania Pavlovna; she was ten years younger than he. They had two
daughters; but their daughters had been long married, and rarely visited
Suhodol; they were not on the best of terms with their parents, and
Alexey Sergeitch hardly ever mentioned their names.
I see, even now, the old-fashioned house, a typical manor-house of the
steppes. One story in height, with immense attics, it was built at the
beginning of this century, of amazingly thick beams of pine,--such beams
came in plenty in those days from the Zhizdrinsky pine-forests; they
have passed out of memory now! It was very spacious, and contained a
great number of rooms, rather low-pitched and dark, it is true; the
windows in the walls had been made small for the sake of greater warmth.
In the usual fashion (I ought rather to say, in what was then the usual
fashion), the offices and house-serfs' huts surrounded the manorial
house on all sides, and the garden was close to it--a small garden, but
containing fine fruit-trees, juicy apples, and pipless pears. The flat
steppe of rich, black earth stretched for ten miles round. No lofty
object for the eye; not a tree, nor even a belfry; somewhere, maybe,
jutting up, a windmill, with rents in its sails; truly, well-named
Suhodol, or Dry-flat! Inside the house the rooms were filled with
ordinary, simple furniture; somewhat unusual was the milestone-post that
stood in the window of the drawing-room, with the following
inscription:--'If you walk sixty-eight times round this drawing-room you
will have gone a mile; if you walk eighty-seven times from the furthest
corner of the parlour to the right-hand corner of the billiard-room, you
will have gone a mile,' and so on. But what most of all impressed a
guest at the house for the first time was the immense collection of
pictures hanging on the walls, for the most part works of the so-called
Italian masters: all old-fashioned landscapes of a sort, or mythological
and religious subjects. But all these pictures were very dark, and even
cracked with age;--in one, all that met the eye was some patches of
flesh-colour; in another, undulating red draperies on an unseen body; or
an arch which seemed to be suspended in the air; or a dishevelled tree
with blue foliage; or the bosom of a nymph with an immense breast, like
the lid of a soup-tureen; a cut water-melon, with black seeds; a turban,
with a feather in it, above a horse's head; or the gigantic brown leg of
an apostle, suddenly thrust out, with a muscular calf, and toes turned
upwards. In the drawing-room in the place of honour hung a portrait of
the Empress Catherine II., full length; a copy of the famous portrait by
Lampi--an object of the special reverence, one might say the adoration,
of the master of the house. From the ceiling hung glass lustres in
bronze settings, very small and very dusty.
Alexey Sergeitch himself was a stumpy, paunchy little old man, with a
chubby face of one uniform tint, yet pleasant, with drawn-in lips, and
very lively little eyes under high eyebrows. He wore his scanty locks
combed to the back of his head; it was only since 1812 that he had given
up wearing powder. Alexey Sergeitch invariably wore a grey 'redingote,'
with three capes falling over his shoulders, a striped waistcoat,
chamois-leather breeches, and high boots of dark red morocco, with
heart-shaped scallops and tassels at the tops; he wore a white muslin
cravat, a jabot, lace cuffs, and two gold English 'turnip watches,' one
in each pocket of his waistcoat. In his right hand he usually carried an
enamelled snuff-box full of 'Spanish' snuff, and his left hand leaned on
a cane with a silver-chased knob, worn smooth by long use. Alexey
Sergeitch had a little nasal, piping voice, and an invariable
smile--kindly, but, as it were, condescending, and not without a certain
self-complacent dignity. His laugh, too, was kindly--a shrill little
laugh that tinkled like glass beads. Courteous and affable he was to the
last degree--in the old-fashioned manner of the days of Catherine--and
he moved his hands with slow, rounded gestures, also in the old style.
His legs were so weak that he could not walk, but ran with hurried
little steps from one armchair to another, in which he would suddenly
sit down, or rather fall softly, like a cushion.
As I have said already, Alexey Sergeitch went out nowhere, and saw very
little of his neighbours, though he liked society, for he was very fond
of talking! It is true that he had society in plenty in his own house;
various Nikanor Nikanoritchs, Sevastiey Sevastietchs, Fedulitchs,
Miheitchs, all poor gentlemen in shabby cossack coats and camisoles,
often from the master's wardrobe, lived under his roof, to say nothing
of the poor gentlewomen in chintz gowns, black kerchiefs thrown over
their shoulders, and worsted reticules in their tightly clenched
fingers--all sorts of Avdotia Savishnas, Pelagea Mironovnas, and plain
Feklushkas and Arinkas, who found a home in the women's quarters. Never
less than fifteen persons sat down to Alexey Sergeitch's table.... He
was such a hospitable man! Among all those dependants two were
particularly conspicuous: a dwarf, nicknamed Janus, or the Double-faced,
of Danish--or, as some maintained, Jewish--extraction, and the mad
Prince L. Contrary to what was customary in those days, the dwarf did
nothing to amuse the master or mistress, and was not a jester--quite the
opposite; he was always silent, had an ill-tempered and sullen
appearance, and scowled and gnashed his teeth directly a question was
addressed to him. Alexey Sergeitch called him a philosopher, and
positively respected him; at table the dishes were handed to him first,
after the guests and master and mistress. 'God has afflicted him,'
Alexey Sergeitch used to say; 'such is His Divine will; but it's not for
me to afflict him further.' 'How is he a philosopher?' I asked him once.
(Janus didn't take to me; if I went near him he would fly into a rage,
and mutter thickly, 'Stranger! keep off!') 'Eh, God bless me! isn't he a
philosopher?' answered Alexey Sergeitch. 'Look ye, little sir, how
wisely he holds his tongue!' 'But why is he double-faced?' 'Because,
little sir, he has one face on the outside--and so you, surface-gazers,
judge him.... But the other, the real face he hides. And that face I
know, and no one else--and I love him for it ... because that face is
good. You, for instance, look and see nothing ... but I see without a
word: he is blaming me for something; for he's a severe critic! And it's
always with good reason. That, little sir, you can't understand; but you
may believe an old man like me!' The real history of the two-faced
Janus--where he came from, and how he came into Alexey Sergeitch's
hands--no one knew; but the story of Prince L. was well known to every
one. He went, a lad of twenty, of a wealthy and distinguished family, to
Petersburg, to serve in a regiment of the Guards. At the first levee the
Empress Catherine noticed him, stood still before him, and, pointing at
him with her fan, she said aloud, addressing one of her courtiers, who
happened to be near, 'Look, Adam Vassilievitch, what a pretty fellow! a
perfect doll!' The poor boy's head was completely turned; when he got
home he ordered his coach out, and, putting on a ribbon of St. Anne,
proceeded to drive all over the town, as though he had reached the
pinnacle of fortune. 'Drive over every one,' he shouted to his coachman,
'who does not move out of the way!' All this was promptly reported to
the empress: the decree went forth that he should be declared insane,
and put under the guardianship of two of his brothers; and they, without
a moment's delay, carried him off to the country, and flung him into a
stone cell in chains. As they wanted to get the benefit of his property,
they did not let the poor wretch out, even when he had completely
recovered his balance, and positively kept him locked up till he really
did go out of his mind. But their evil doings did not prosper; Prince L.
outlived his brothers, and, after long years of adversity, he came into
the charge of Alexey Sergeitch, whose kinsman he was. He was a stout,
completely bald man, with a long, thin nose and prominent blue eyes. He
had quite forgotten how to talk--he simply uttered a sort of
inarticulate grumbling; but he sang old-fashioned Russian ballads
beautifully, preserving the silvery freshness of his voice to extreme
old age; and, while he was singing, he pronounced each word clearly and
distinctly. He had attacks at times of a sort of fury, and then he
became terrible: he would stand in the corner, with his face to the
wall, and all perspiring and red--red all down his bald head and down
his neck--he used to go off into vicious chuckles, and, stamping with
his feet, order some one--his brothers probably--to be punished. 'Beat
'em!' he growled hoarsely, coughing and choking with laughter; 'flog
'em, don't spare 'em! beat, beat, beat the monsters, my oppressors!
That's it! That's it!' On the day before his death he greatly alarmed
and astonished Alexey Sergeitch. He came, pale and subdued, into his
room, and, making him a low obeisance, first thanked him for his care
and kindness, and then asked him to send for a priest, for death had
come to him--he had seen death, and he must forgive every one and purify
his soul. 'How did you see death?' muttered Alexey Sergeitch in
bewilderment at hearing connected speech from him for the first time.
'In what shape? with a scythe?' 'No,' answered Prince L.; 'a simple old
woman in a jacket, but with only one eye in her forehead, and that eye
without an eyelid.' And the next day Prince L. actually did die, duly
performing everything, and taking leave of every one in a rational and
affecting manner. 'That's just how I shall die,' Alexey Sergeitch would
sometimes observe. And, as a fact, something of the same sort did happen
with him--but of that later.
But now let us go back to our story. Of the neighbours, as I have stated
already, Alexey Sergeitch saw little; and they did not care much for
him, called him a queer fish, stuck up, and a scoffer, and even a
'martiniste' who recognised no authorities, though they had no clear
idea of the meaning of this term. To a certain extent the neighbours
were right: Alexey Sergeitch had lived in his Suhodol for almost seventy
years on end, and had had hardly anything whatever to do with the
existing authorities, with the police or the law-courts. 'Police-courts
are for the robber, and discipline for the soldier,' he used to say;
'but I, thank God, am neither robber nor soldier!' Rather queer Alexey
Sergeitch certainly was, but the soul within him was by no means a petty
one. I will tell you something about him.
To tell the truth, I never knew what were his political opinions, if an
expression so modern can be used in reference to him; but, in his own
way, he was an aristocrat--more an aristocrat than a typical Russian
country gentleman. More than once he expressed his regret that God had
not given him a son and heir, 'for the honour of our name, to keep up
the family.' In his own room there hung on the wall the family-tree of
the Teliegins, with many branches, and a multitude of little circles
like apples in a golden frame. 'We Teliegins,' he used to say, 'are an
ancient line, from long, long ago: however many there've been of us
Teliegins, we have never hung about great men's ante-rooms; we've never
bent our backs, or stood about in waiting, nor picked up a living in the
courts, nor run after decorations; we've never gone trailing off to
Moscow, nor intriguing in Petersburg; we've sat at home, each in his
hole, his own man on his own land ... home-keeping birds, sir!--I
myself, though I did serve in the Guards--but not for long, thank you.'
Alexey Sergeitch preferred the old days. 'There was more freedom in
those days, more decorum; on my honour, I assure you! but since the year
eighteen hundred' (why from that year, precisely, he did not explain),
'militarism, the soldiery, have got the upper hand. Our soldier
gentlemen stuck some sort of turbans of cocks' feathers on their heads
then, and turned like cocks themselves; began binding their necks up as
stiff as could be ... they croak, and roll their eyes--how could they
help it, indeed? The other day a police corporal came to me; "I've come
to you," says he, "honourable sir," ... (fancy his thinking to surprise
me with that! ... I know I'm honourable without his telling me!) "I have
business with you." And I said to him, "My good sir, you'd better first
unfasten the hooks on your collar. Or else, God have mercy on us--you'll
sneeze. Ah, what would happen to you! what would happen to you! You'd
break off, like a mushroom ... and I should have to answer for it!" And
they do drink, these military gentlemen--oh, oh, oh! I generally order
home-made champagne to be given them, because to them, good wine or
poor, it's all the same; it runs so smoothly, so quickly, down their
throats--how can they distinguish it? And, another thing, they've
started sucking at a pap-bottle, smoking a tobacco-pipe. Your military
gentleman thrusts his pap-bottle under his moustaches, between his lips,
and puffs the smoke out of his nose, his mouth, and even his ears--and
fancies himself a hero! There are my sons-in-law--though one of them's a
senator, and the other some sort of an administrator over there--they
suck the pap-bottle, and they reckon themselves clever fellows too!'
Alexey Sergeitch could not endure smoking; and moreover, he could not
endure dogs, especially little dogs. 'If you're a Frenchman, to be sure,
you may well keep a lapdog: you run and you skip about here and there,
and it runs after you with its tail up ... but what's the use of it to
people like us?' He was exceedingly neat and particular. Of the Empress
Catherine he never spoke but with enthusiasm, and in exalted, rather
bookish phraseology: 'Half divine she was, not human! Only look, little
sir, at that smile,' he would add, pointing reverentially to Lampi's
portrait, 'and you will agree: half divine! I was so fortunate in my
life as to be deemed worthy to behold that smile close, and never will
it be effaced from my heart!' And thereupon he would relate anecdotes of
the life of Catherine, such as I have never happened to read or hear
elsewhere. Here is one of them. Alexey Sergeitch did not permit the
slightest allusion to the weaknesses of the great Tsaritsa. 'And,
besides,' he exclaimed, 'can one judge of her as of other people?'
One day while she was sitting in her peignoir during her morning
toilette, she commanded her hair to be combed.... And what do you
think? The lady-in-waiting passed the comb through, and sparks of
electricity simply showered out! Then she summoned to her presence the
court physician Rogerson, who happened to be in waiting at the court,
and said to him: 'I am, I know, censured for certain actions; but do
you see this electricity? Consequently, as such is my nature and
constitution, you can judge for yourself, as you are a doctor, that it
is unjust for them to censure me, and they ought to comprehend me!' The
following incident remained indelible in Alexey Sergeitch's memory. He
was standing one day on guard indoors, in the palace--he was only
sixteen at the time--and behold the empress comes walking past him; he
salutes ... 'and she,' Alexey Sergeitch would exclaim at this point
with much feeling, 'smiling at my youth and my zeal, deigned to give me
her hand to kiss and patted my cheek, and asked me "who I was? where I
came from? of what family?" and then' ... here the old man's voice
usually broke ... 'then she bade me greet my mother in her name and
thank her for having brought up her children so well. And whether I was
on earth or in heaven, and how and where she deigned to vanish, whether
she floated away into the heights or went her way into the other
apartments ... to this day I do not know!'
More than once I tried to question Alexey Sergeitch about those far-away
times, about the people who made up the empress's circle.... But for the
most part he edged off the subject. 'What's the use of talking about old
times?' he used to say ... 'it's only making one's self miserable,
remembering that then one was a fine young fellow, and now one hasn't a
tooth left in one's head. And what is there to say? They were good old
times ... but there, enough of them! And as for those folks--you were
asking, you troublesome boy, about the lucky ones!--haven't you seen how
a bubble comes up on the water? As long as it lasts and is whole, what
colours play upon it! Red, and blue, and yellow--a perfect rainbow or
diamond you'd say it was! Only it soon bursts, and there's no trace of
it left. And so it was with those folks.'
'But how about Potiomkin?' I once inquired.
Alexey Sergeitch looked grave. 'Potiomkin, Grigory Alexandrovitch, was a
statesman, a theologian, a pupil of Catherine's, her cherished creation,
one must say.... But enough of that, little sir!'
Alexey Sergeitch was a very devout man, and, though it was a great
effort, he attended church regularly. Superstition was not noticeable in
him; he laughed at omens, the evil eye, and such 'nonsense,' but he did
not like a hare to run across his path, and to meet a priest was not
altogether agreeable to him. For all that, he was very respectful to
clerical persons, and went up to receive their blessing, and even kissed
the priest's hand every time, but he was not willing to enter into
conversation with them. 'Such an extremely strong odour comes from
them,' he explained: 'and I, poor sinner, am fastidious beyond reason;
they've such long hair, and all oily, and they comb it out on all
sides--they think they show me respect by so doing, and they clear their
throats so loudly when they talk--from shyness may be, or I dare say
they want to show respect in that way too. And besides, they make one
think of one's last hour. And, I don't know how it is, but I still want
to go on living. Only, my little sir, don't you repeat my words; we must
respect the clergy--it's only fools that don't respect them; and I'm to
blame to babble nonsense in my old age.'
Alexey Sergeitch, like most of the noblemen of his day, had received a
very slight education; but he had, to some extent, made good the
deficiency himself by reading. He read none but Russian books of the end
of last century; the more modern authors he thought insipid and
deficient in style.... While he read, he had placed at his side on a
round, one-legged table, a silver tankard of frothing spiced kvas of a
special sort, which sent an agreeable fragrance all over the house. He
used to put on the end of his nose a pair of big, round spectacles, but
in latter years he did not so much read as gaze dreamily over the rims
of his spectacles, lifting his eyebrows, chewing his lips, and sighing.
Once I caught him weeping with a book on his knees, greatly, I own, to
He had recalled these lines:
'O pitiful race of man!
Peace is unknown to thee!
Thou canst not find it save
In the dust of the grave....
Bitter, bitter is that sleep!
Rest, rest in death ... but living weep!'
These lines were the composition of a certain Gormitch-Gormitsky, a
wandering poet, to whom Alexey Sergeitch had given a home in his house,
as he struck him as a man of delicate feeling and even of subtlety; he
wore slippers adorned with ribbons, spoke with a broad accent, and
frequently sighed, turning his eyes to heaven; in addition to all these
qualifications, Gormitch-Gormitsky spoke French decently, having been
educated in a Jesuit college, while Alexey Sergeitch only 'followed
conversation.' But having once got terribly drunk at the tavern, that
same subtle Gormitsky showed a turbulence beyond all bounds; he gave a
fearful thrashing to Alexey Sergeitch's valet, the man cook, two
laundry-maids who chanced to get in his way, and a carpenter from
another village, and he broke several panes in the windows, screaming
furiously all the while: 'There, I'll show them, these Russian loafers,
And the strength the frail-looking creature put forth! It was hard work
for eight men to master him! For this violent proceeding Alexey
Sergeitch ordered the poet to be turned out of the house, after being
put, as a preliminary measure, in the snow--it was winter-time--to
'Yes,' Alexey Sergeitch used to say, 'my day is over; I was a spirited
steed, but I've run my last race now. Then, I used to keep poets at my
expense, and I used to buy pictures and books of the Jews, geese of the
best breeds, and pouter-pigeons of pure blood.... I used to go in for
everything! Though dogs I never did care for keeping, because it goes
with drinking, foulness, and buffoonery! I was a young man of spirit,
not to be outdone. That there should be anything of Teliegin's and not
first-rate ... why, it was not to be thought of! And I had a splendid
stud of horses. And my horses came--from what stock do you think, young
sir? Why, from none other than the celebrated stables of the Tsar, Ivan
Alexeitch, brother of Peter the Great ... it's the truth I'm telling
you! All fawn-coloured stallions, sleek--their manes to their knees,
their tails to their hoofs.... Lions! And all that was--and is buried in
the past. Vanity of vanities--and every kind of vanity! But still--why
regret it? Every man has his limits set him. There's no flying above the
sky, no living in the water, no getting away from the earth.... We'll
live a bit longer, anyway!'
And the old man would smile again and sniff his Spanish snuff.
The peasants liked him; he was, in their words, a kind master, not
easily angered. Only they, too, repeated that he was a worn-out steed.
In former days Alexey Sergeitch used to go into everything himself--he
used to drive out to the fields, and to the mill, and to the dairy, and
peep into the granaries and the peasants' huts; every one knew his
racing droshky, upholstered in crimson plush, and drawn by a tall mare,
with a broad white star all over her forehead, called 'Beacon,' of the
same famous breed. Alexey Sergeitch used to drive her himself, the ends
of the reins crushed up in his fists. But when his seventieth year came,
the old man let everything go, and handed over the management of the
estate to the bailiff Antip, of whom he was secretly afraid, and whom he
called Micromegas (a reminiscence of Voltaire!), or simply, plunderer.
'Well, plunderer, what have you to say? Have you stacked a great deal in
the barn?' he would ask with a smile, looking straight into the
plunderer's eyes. 'All, by your good favour, please your honour,' Antip
would respond cheerfully. 'Favour's all very well, only you mind what I
say, Micromegas! don't you dare touch the peasants, my subjects, out of
my sight! If they come to complain ... I've a cane, you see, not far
off!' 'Your cane, your honour, Alexey Sergeitch, I always keep well in
mind,' Antip Micromegas would respond, stroking his beard. 'All right,
don't forget it.' And the master and the bailiff would laugh in each
other's faces. With the servants, and with the serfs in general, his
'subjects' (Alexey Sergeitch liked that word) he was gentle in his
behaviour. 'Because, think a little, nephew; nothing of their own, but
the cross on their neck--and that copper--and daren't hanker after other
people's goods ... how can one expect sense of them?' It is needless to
state that of the so-called 'serf question' no one even dreamed in those
days; it could not disturb the peace of mind of Alexey Sergeitch: he was
quite happy in the possession of his 'subjects'; but he was severe in
his censure of bad masters, and used to call them the enemies of their
order. He divided the nobles generally into three classes: the prudent,
'of whom there are too few'; the prodigal, 'of whom there are quite
enough'; and the senseless, 'of whom there are shoals and shoals.'
'And if any one of them is harsh and oppressive with his subjects'--he
would say--'then he sins against God, and is guilty before men!'
Yes, the house-serfs had an easy life of it with the old man; the
'subjects out of sight' no doubt fared worse, in spite of the cane with
which he threatened Micromegas. And what a lot there were of them, those
house-serfs, in his house! And for the most part sinewy, hairy,
grumbling old fellows, with stooping shoulders, in long-skirted nankeen
coats, belted round the waist, with a strong, sour smell always clinging
to them. And on the women's side, one could hear nothing but the patter
of bare feet, the swish of petticoats. The chief valet was called
Irinarh, and Alexey Sergeitch always called him in a long-drawn-out
call: 'I-ri-na-a-arh!' The others he called: 'Boy! Lad! Whoever's there
of the men!' Bells he could not endure: 'It's not an eating-house, God
forbid!' And what used to surprise me was that whatever time Alexey
Sergeitch called his valet, he always promptly made his appearance, as
though he had sprung out of the earth, and with a scrape of his heels,
his hands behind his back, would stand before his master, a surly, as it
were angry, but devoted servant!
Alexey Sergeitch was liberal beyond his means; but he did not like to be
called 'benefactor.' 'Benefactor to you, indeed, sir! ... I'm doing
myself a benefit, and not you, sir!' (when he was angry or indignant, he
always addressed people with greater formality). 'Give to a beggar
once,' he used to say, 'and give him twice, and three times.... And--if
he should come a fourth time, give to him still--only then you might say
too: "It's time, my good man, you found work for something else, not
only for your mouth."' 'But, uncle,' one asked, sometimes, 'suppose even
after that the beggar came again, a fifth time?' 'Oh, well, give again
the fifth time.' He used to have the sick, who came to him for aid,
treated at his expense, though he had no faith in doctors himself, and
never sent for them. 'My mother,' he declared, 'used to cure illnesses
of all sorts with oil and salt--she gave it internally, and rubbed it on
too--it always answered splendidly. And who was my mother? She was born
in the days of Peter the Great--only fancy that!'
Alexey Sergeitch was a Russian in everything; he liked none but Russian
dishes, he was fond of Russian songs, but the harmonica--a
'manufactured contrivance'--he hated; he liked looking at the
serf-girls' dances and the peasant-women's jigs; in his youth, I was
told, he had been an enthusiastic singer and a dashing dancer; he liked
steaming himself in the bath, and steamed himself so vigorously that
Irinarh, who, serving him as bathman, used to beat him with a bundle of
birch-twigs steeped in beer, to rub him with a handful of tow, and then
with a woollen cloth--the truly devoted Irinarh used to say every time,
as he crept off his shelf red as a 'new copper image': 'Well, this time
I, the servant of God, Irinarh Tolobiev, have come out alive. How will
it be next time?'
And Alexey Sergeitch spoke excellent Russian, a little old-fashioned,
but choice and pure as spring water, continually interspersing his
remarks with favourite expressions: ''Pon my honour, please God,
howsoever that may be, sir, and young sir....'
But enough of him. Let us talk a little about Alexey Sergeitch's wife,
Malania Pavlovna. Malania Pavlovna was born at Moscow.
She had been famous as the greatest beauty in Moscow--_la Venus de
Moscou_. I knew her as a thin old woman with delicate but insignificant
features, with crooked teeth, like a hare's, in a tiny little mouth,
with a multitude of finely crimped little yellow curls on her forehead,
and painted eyebrows. She invariably wore a pyramidal cap with pink
ribbons, a high ruff round her neck, a short white dress, and prunella
slippers with red heels; and over her dress she wore a jacket of blue
satin, with a sleeve hanging loose from her right shoulder. This was
precisely the costume in which she was arrayed on St. Peter's Day in the
year 1789! On that day she went, being still a girl, with her relations
to the Hodinskoe field to see the famous boxing-match arranged by Orlov.
'And Count Alexey Grigorievitch' (oh, how often I used to hear this
story!) 'noticing me, approached, bowed very low, taking his hat in both
hands, and said: "Peerless beauty," said he, "why have you hung that
sleeve from your shoulder? Do you, too, wish to try a tussle with me? ...
By all means; only I will tell you beforehand you have vanquished me--I
give in! And I am your captive." And every one was looking at us and
wondering.' And that very costume she had worn continually ever since.
'Only I didn't wear a cap, but a hat _a la bergere de Trianon_; and
though I was powdered, yet my hair shone through it, positively shone
through it like gold!' Malania Pavlovna was foolish to the point of
'holy innocence,' as it is called; she chattered quite at random, as
though she were hardly aware herself of what dropped from her lips--and
mostly about Orlov. Orlov had become, one might say, the principal
interest of her life. She usually walked ... or rather swam, into the
room with a rhythmic movement of the head, like a peacock, stood still
in the middle, with one foot strangely turned out, and two fingers
holding the tip of the loose sleeve (I suppose this pose, too, must once
have charmed Orlov); she would glance about her with haughty
nonchalance, as befits a beauty--and with a positive sniff, and a murmur
of 'What next!' as though some importunate gallant were besieging her
with compliments, she would go out again, tapping her heels and
shrugging her shoulders. She used, too, to take Spanish snuff out of a
tiny bonbonniere, picking it up with a tiny golden spoon; and from time
to time, especially when any one unknown to her was present, she would
hold up--not to her eyes, she had splendid sight, but to her nose--a
double eyeglass in the shape of a half-moon, with a coquettish turn of
her little white hand, one finger held out separate from the rest. How
often has Malania Pavlovna described to me her wedding in the church of
the Ascension, in Arbaty--such a fine church!--and how all Moscow was
there ... 'and the crush there was!--awful! Carriages with teams, golden
coaches, outriders ... one outrider of Count Zavadovsky got run over!
and we were married by the archbishop himself--and what a sermon he gave
us! every one was crying--wherever I looked I saw tears ... and the
governor-general's horses were tawny, like tigers. And the flowers, the
flowers that were brought! ... Simply loads of flowers!' And how on that
day a foreigner, a wealthy, tremendously wealthy person, had shot
himself from love--and how Orlov too had been there.... And going up to
Alexey Sergeitch, he had congratulated him and called him a lucky
man.... 'A lucky man you are, you silly fellow!' said he. And how in
answer to these words Alexey Sergeitch had made a wonderful bow, and had
swept the floor from left to right with the plumes of his hat, as if he
would say: 'Your Excellency, there is a line now between you and my
spouse, which you will not overstep!' And Orlov, Alexey Grigorievitch
understood at once, and commended him. 'Oh! that was a man! such a man!'
And how, 'One day, Alexis and I were at his house at a ball--I was
married then--and he had the most marvellous diamond buttons! And I
could not resist it, I admired them. "What marvellous diamonds you have,
Count!" said I. And he, taking up a knife from the table, at once cut
off a button and presented it to me and said: "In your eyes, my charmer,
the diamonds are a hundred times brighter; stand before the
looking-glass and compare them." And I stood so, and he stood beside me.
"Well, who's right?" said he, while he simply rolled his eyes, looking
me up and down. And Alexey Sergeitch was very much put out about it, but
I said to him: "Alexis," said I, "please don't you be put out; you ought
to know me better!" And he answered me: "Don't disturb yourself,
Melanie!" And these very diamonds are now round my medallion of Alexey
Grigorievitch--you've seen it, I dare say, my dear;--I wear it on
feast-days on a St. George ribbon, because he was a brave hero, a
knight of St. George: he burned the Turks.'
For all that, Malania Pavlovna was a very kind-hearted woman; she was
easily pleased. 'She's not one to snarl, nor to sneer,' the maids used
to say of her. Malania Pavlovna was passionately fond of sweet
things--and a special old woman who looked after nothing but the jam,
and so was called the jam-maid, would bring her, ten times a day, a
china dish with rose-leaves crystallised in sugar, or barberries in
honey, or sherbet of bananas. Malania Pavlovna was afraid of solitude--
dreadful thoughts are apt to come over one, she would say--and was
almost always surrounded by companions, whom she would urgently implore:
'Talk, talk! why do you sit like that, simply keeping your seats warm!'
and they would begin twittering like canaries. She was no less devout
than Alexey Sergeitch, and was very fond of praying; but as, in her own
words, she had never learned to repeat prayers well, she kept for the
purpose a poor deacon's widow who prayed with such relish! Never
stumbled over a word in her life! And this deacon's widow certainly
could utter the words of prayer in a sort of unbroken flow, not
interrupting the stream to breathe out or draw breath in, while Malania
Pavlovna listened and was much moved. She had another widow in
attendance on her--it was her duty to tell her stories in the night.
'But only the old ones,' Malania Pavlovna would beg--'those I know
already; the new ones are all so far-fetched.' Malania Pavlovna was
flighty in the extreme, and at times she was fanciful too; some
ridiculous notion would suddenly come into her head. She did not like
the dwarf, Janus, for instance; she was always fancying he would
suddenly get up and shout, 'Don't you know who I am? The prince of the
Buriats. Mind, you are to obey me!' Or else that he would set fire to
the house in a fit of spleen. Malania Pavlovna was as liberal as Alexey
Sergeitch; but she never gave money--she did not like to soil her
hands--but kerchiefs, bracelets, dresses, ribbons; or she would send
pies from the table, or a piece of roast meat, or a bottle of wine. She
liked feasting the peasant-women, too, on holidays; they would dance,
and she would tap with her heels and throw herself into attitudes.
Alexey Sergeitch was well aware that his wife was a fool; but almost
from the first year of his marriage he had schooled himself to keep up
the fiction that she was very witty and fond of saying cutting things.
Sometimes when her chatter began to get beyond all bounds, he would
threaten her with his finger, and say as he did so: 'Ah, the tongue, the
tongue! what it will have to answer for in the other world! It will be
pierced with a redhot pin!'
Malania Pavlovna was not offended, however, at this; on the contrary,
she seemed to feel flattered at hearing a reproof of that sort, as
though she would say, 'Well! is it my fault if I'm naturally witty?'
Malania Pavlovna adored her husband, and had been all her life an
exemplarily faithful wife; but there had been a romance even in her
life--a young cousin, an hussar, killed, as she supposed, in a duel on
her account; but, according to more trustworthy reports, killed by a
blow on the head from a billiard-cue in a tavern brawl. A water-colour
portrait of this object of her affections was kept by her in a secret
drawer. Malania Pavlovna always blushed up to her ears when she
mentioned Kapiton--such was the name of the young hero--and Alexey
Sergeitch would designedly scowl, shake his finger at his wife again,
and say: 'No trusting a horse in the field nor a woman in the house.
Don't talk to me of Kapiton, he's Cupidon!' Then Malania Pavlovna would
be all of a flutter and say: 'Alexis, Alexis, it's too bad of you! In
your young days you flirted, I've no doubt, with all sorts of misses and
madams--and so now you imagine....' 'Come, that's enough, that's enough,
my dear Malania,' Alexey Sergeitch interrupted with a smile. 'Your gown
is white--but whiter still your soul!' 'Yes, Alexis, it is whiter!' 'Ah,
what a tongue, what a tongue!' Alexis would repeat, patting her hand.
To speak of 'views' in the case of Malania Pavlovna would be even more
inappropriate than in the case of Alexey Sergeitch; yet I once chanced
to witness a strange manifestation of my aunt's secret feelings. In the
course of conversation I once somehow mentioned the famous chief of
police, Sheshkovsky; Malania Pavlovna turned suddenly livid--positively
livid, green, in spite of her rouge and paint--and in a thick and
perfectly unaffected voice (a very rare thing with her--she usually
minced a little, intoned, and lisped) she said: 'Oh, what a name to
utter! And towards nightfall, too! Don't utter that name!' I was
astonished; what kind of significance could his name have for such a
harmless and inoffensive creature, incapable--not merely of doing--even
of thinking of anything not permissible? Anything but cheerful
reflections were aroused in me by this terror, manifesting itself after
almost half a century.
Alexey Sergeitch died in his eighty-eighth year--in the year 1848, which
apparently disturbed even him. His death, too, was rather strange. He
had felt well the same morning, though by that time he never left his
easy-chair. And all of a sudden he called his wife: 'Malania, my dear,
come here.' 'What is it, Alexis?' 'It's time for me to die, my dear,
that's what it is.' 'Mercy on you, Alexey Sergeitch! What for?'
'Because, first of all, one must know when to take leave; and, besides,
I was looking the other day at my feet.... Look at my feet ... they
are not mine ... say what you like ... look at my hands, look at my
stomach ... that stomach's not mine--so really I'm using up another man's
life. Send for the priest; and meanwhile, put me to bed--from which I
shall not get up again.' Malania Pavlovna was terribly upset; however, she
put the old man to bed and sent for the priest. Alexey Sergeitch confessed,
took the sacrament, said good-bye to his household, and fell asleep.
Malania Pavlovna was sitting by his bedside. 'Alexis!' she cried
suddenly, 'don't frighten me, don't shut your eyes! Are you in pain?'
The old man looked at his wife: 'No, no pain ... but it's difficult ...
difficult to breathe.' Then after a brief silence: 'Malania,' he said,
'so life has slipped by--and do you remember when we were married ...
what a couple we were?' 'Yes, we were, my handsome, charming Alexis!'
The old man was silent again. 'Malania, my dear, shall we meet again in
the next world?' 'I will pray God for it, Alexis,' and the old woman
burst into tears. 'Come, don't cry, silly; maybe the Lord God will make
us young again then--and again we shall be a fine pair!' 'He will make
us young, Alexis!' 'With the Lord all things are possible,' observed
Alexey Sergeitch. 'He worketh great marvels!--maybe He will make you
sensible.... There, my love, I was joking; come, let me kiss your hand.'
'And I yours.' And the two old people kissed each other's hands
Alexey Sergeitch began to grow quieter and to sink into forgetfulness.
Malania Pavlovna watched him tenderly, brushing the tears off her
eyelashes with her finger-tips. For two hours she continued sitting
there. 'Is he asleep?' the old woman with the talent for praying
inquired in a whisper, peeping in behind Irinarh, who, immovable as a
post, stood in the doorway, gazing intently at his expiring master. 'He
is asleep,' answered Malania Pavlovna also in a whisper. And suddenly
Alexey Sergeitch opened his eyes. 'My faithful companion,' he faltered,
'my honoured wife, I would bow down at your little feet for all your
love and faithfulness--but how to get up? Let me sign you with the
cross.' Malania Pavlovna moved closer, bent down.... But the hand he had
raised fell back powerless on the quilt, and a few moments later Alexey
Sergeitch was no more.
His daughters arrived only on the day of the funeral with their
husbands; they had no children either of them. Alexey Sergeitch showed
them no animosity in his will, though he never even mentioned them on
his death-bed. 'My heart has grown hard to them,' he once said to me.
Knowing his kindly nature, I was surprised at his words. It is hard to
judge between parents and children. 'A great ravine starts from a little
rift,' Alexey Sergeitch said to me once in this connection: 'a wound a
yard wide may heal; but once cut off even a finger nail, it will not
I fancy the daughters were ashamed of their eccentric old parents.
A month later and Malania Pavlovna too passed away. From the very day of
Alexey Sergeitch's death she had hardly risen from her bed, and had not
put on her usual attire; but they buried her in the blue jacket, and
with Orlov's medallion on her shoulder, only without the diamonds. Those
her daughters divided, on the pretext that the diamonds should be used
in the setting of some holy pictures; in reality, they used them to
adorn their own persons.
And so I can see my old friends as though they were alive and before my
eyes, and pleasant is the memory I preserve of them. And yet on my very
last visit to them (I was a student by then) an incident occurred which
jarred upon the impression of patriarchal harmony always produced in me
by the Teliegin household.
Among the house-serfs there was one Ivan, called 'Suhys' Ivan,' a
coachman or coach-boy, as they called him on account of his small size,
in spite of his being no longer young. He was a tiny little man, brisk,
snub-nosed, curly-headed, with an everlastingly smiling, childish face,
and little eyes, like a mouse's. He was a great joker, a most comic
fellow; he was great at all sorts of tricks--he used to fly kites, let
off fireworks and rockets, to play all sorts of games, gallop standing
up on the horse's back, fly higher than all the rest in the swing, and
could even make Chinese shadows. No one could amuse children better; and
he would gladly spend the whole day looking after them. When he started
laughing, the whole house would seem to liven up; they would answer
him--one would say one thing, one another, but he always made them all
merry.... And even if they abused him, they could not but laugh. Ivan
danced marvellously, especially the so-called 'fish dance.' When the
chorus struck up a dance tune, the fellow would come into the middle of
the ring, and then there would begin such a turning and skipping and
stamping, and then he would fall flat on the ground, and imitate the
movement of a fish brought out of the water on to dry land; such turning
and wriggling, the heels positively clapped up to the head; and then he
would get up and shriek--the earth seemed simply quivering under him. At
times Alexey Sergeitch, who was, as I have said already, exceedingly
fond of watching dancing, could not resist shouting, 'Little Vania,
here! coach-boy! Dance us the fish, smartly now'; and a minute later he
would whisper enthusiastically: 'Ah, what a fellow it is!'
Well, on my last visit, this Ivan Suhih came into my room, and, without
saying a word, fell on his knees. 'Ivan, what's the matter?' 'Save me,
sir.' 'Why, what is it?' And thereupon Ivan told me his trouble.
He was exchanged, twenty years ago, by 'the Suhy family for a serf of
the Teliegins';--simply exchanged without any kind of formality or
written deed: the man given in exchange for him had died, but the Suhys
had forgotten about Ivan, and he had stayed on in Alexey Sergeitch's
house as his own serf; only his nickname had served to recall his
origin. But now his former masters were dead; the estate had passed into
other hands; and the new owner, who was reported to be a cruel and
oppressive man, having learned that one of his serfs was detained
without cause or reason at Alexey Sergeitch's, began to demand him back;
in case of refusal he threatened legal proceedings, and the threat was
not an empty one, as he was himself of the rank of privy councillor, and
had great weight in the province. Ivan had rushed in terror to Alexey
Sergeitch. The old man was sorry for his dancer, and he offered the
privy councillor to buy Ivan for a considerable sum. But the privy
councillor would not hear of it; he was a Little Russian, and obstinate
as the devil. The poor fellow would have to be given up. 'I have spent
my life here, and I'm at home here; I have served here, here I have
eaten my bread, and here I want to die,' Ivan said to me--and there was
no smile on his face now; on the contrary, it looked turned to stone....
'And now I am to go to this wretch.... Am I a dog to be flung from one
kennel to another with a noose round my neck? ... to be told: "There,
get along with you!" Save me, master; beg your uncle, remember how I
always amused you.... Or else there'll be harm come of it; it won't end
'What sort of sin, Ivan?'
'I shall kill that gentleman. I shall simply go and say to him,
"Master, let me go back; or else, mind, be careful of yourself.... I
shall kill you."'
If a siskin or a chaffinch could have spoken, and had begun declaring
that it would peck another bird to death, it would not have reduced me
to greater amazement than did Ivan at that moment. What! Suhys' Vania,
that dancing, jesting, comic fellow, the favourite playfellow of
children, and a child himself, that kindest-hearted of creatures, a
murderer! What ridiculous nonsense! Not for an instant did I believe
him; what astonished me to such a degree was that he was capable of
saying such a thing. Anyway I appealed to Alexey Sergeitch. I did not
repeat what Ivan had said to me, but began asking him whether something
couldn't be done. 'My young sir,' the old man answered, 'I should be
only too happy--but what's to be done? I offered this Little Russian an
immense compensation--I offered him three hundred roubles, 'pon my
honour, I tell you! but he--there's no moving him! what's one to do? The
transaction was not legal, it was done on trust, in the old-fashioned
way ... and now see what mischief's come of it! This Little Russian
fellow, you see, will take Ivan by force, do what we will: his arm is
powerful, the governor eats cabbage-soup at his table; he'll be sending
along soldiers. And I'm afraid of those soldiers! In old days, to be
sure, I would have stood up for Ivan, come what might; but now, look at
me, what a feeble creature I have grown! How can I make a fight for it?'
It was true; on my last visit I found Alexey Sergeitch greatly aged;
even the centres of his eyes had that milky colour that babies' eyes
have, and his lips wore not his old conscious smile, but that unnatural,
mawkish, unconscious grin, which never, even in sleep, leaves the faces
of very decrepit old people.
I told Ivan of Alexey Sergeitch's decision. He stood still, was silent
for a little, shook his head. 'Well,' said he at last, 'what is to be
there's no escaping. Only my mind's made up. There's nothing left, then,
but to play the fool to the end. Something for drink, please!' I gave
him something; he drank himself drunk, and that day danced the 'fish
dance' so that the serf-girls and peasant-women positively shrieked with
delight--he surpassed himself in his antics so wonderfully.
Next day I went home, and three months later, in Petersburg, I heard
that Ivan had kept his word. He had been sent to his new master; his
master had called him into his room, and explained to him that he would
be made coachman, that a team of three ponies would be put in his
charge, and that he would be severely dealt with if he did not look
after them well, and were not punctual in discharging his duties
generally. 'I'm not fond of joking.' Ivan heard the master out, first
bowed down to his feet, and then announced it was as his honour pleased,
but he could not be his servant.
'Let me off for a yearly quit-money, your honour,' said he, 'or send me
for a soldier; or else there'll be mischief come of it!'
The master flew into a rage. 'Ah, what a fellow you are! How dare you
speak to me like that? In the first place, I'm to be called your
excellency, and not your honour; and, secondly, you're beyond the age,
and not of a size to be sent for a soldier; and, lastly, what mischief
do you threaten me with? Do you mean to set the house on fire, eh?'
'No, your excellency, not the house on fire.'
'Murder me, then, eh?'
Ivan was silent. 'I'm not your servant,' he said at last.
'Oh well, I'll show you,' roared the master, 'whether you 're my servant
or not.' And he had Ivan cruelly punished, but yet had the three ponies
put into his charge, and made him coachman in the stables.
Ivan apparently submitted; he began driving about as coachman. As he
drove well, he soon gained favour with the master, especially as Ivan
was very quiet and steady in his behaviour, and the ponies improved so
much in his hands; he turned them out as sound and sleek as
cucumbers--it was quite a sight to see. The master took to driving out
with him oftener than with the other coachmen. Sometimes he would ask
him, 'I say, Ivan, do you remember how badly we got on when we met?
You've got over all that nonsense, eh?' But Ivan never made any response
to such remarks. So one day the master was driving with Ivan to the town
in his three-horse sledge with bells and a highback covered with carpet.
The horses began to walk up the hill, and Ivan got off the box-seat and
went behind the back of the sledge as though he had dropped something.
It was a sharp frost; the master sat wrapped up, with a beaver cap
pulled down on to his ears. Then Ivan took an axe from under his skirt,
came up to the master from behind, knocked off his cap, and saying, 'I
warned you, Piotr Petrovitch--you've yourself to blame now!' he struck
off his head at one blow. Then he stopped the ponies, put the cap on his
dead master, and, getting on the box-seat again, drove him to the town,
straight to the courts of justice.
'Here's the Suhinsky general for you, dead; I have killed him. As I told
him, so I did to him. Put me in fetters.'
They took Ivan, tried him, sentenced him to the knout, and then to hard
labour. The light-hearted, bird-like dancer was sent to the mines, and
there passed out of sight for ever....
Yes; one can but repeat, in another sense, Alexey Sergeitch's words:
'They were good old times ... but enough of them!'
Reader, do you know those little homesteads of country gentlefolks,
which were plentiful in our Great Russian Oukraine twenty-five or thirty
years ago? Now one rarely comes across them, and in another ten years
the last of them will, I suppose, have disappeared for ever. The running
pond overgrown with reeds and rushes, the favourite haunt of fussy
ducks, among whom one may now and then come across a wary 'teal'; beyond
the pond a garden with avenues of lime-trees, the chief beauty and glory
of our black-earth plains, with smothered rows of 'Spanish'
strawberries, with dense thickets of gooseberries, currants, and
raspberries, in the midst of which, in the languid hour of the stagnant
noonday heat, one would be sure to catch glimpses of a serf-girl's
striped kerchief, and to hear the shrill ring of her voice. Close by
would be a summer-house standing on four legs, a conservatory, a
neglected kitchen garden, with flocks of sparrows hung on stakes, and a
cat curled up on the tumble-down well; a little further, leafy
apple-trees in the high grass, which is green below and grey above,
straggling cherry-trees, pear-trees, on which there is never any fruit;
then flower-beds, poppies, peonies, pansies, milkwort, 'maids in green,'
bushes of Tartar honeysuckle, wild jasmine, lilac and acacia, with the
continual hum of bees and wasps among their thick, fragrant, sticky
branches. At last comes the manor-house, a one-storied building on a
brick foundation, with greenish window-panes in narrow frames, a
sloping, once painted roof, a little balcony from which the vases of the
balustrade are always jutting out, a crooked gable, and a husky old dog
in the recess under the steps at the door. Behind the house a wide yard
with nettles, wormwood, and burdocks in the corners, outbuildings with
doors that stick, doves and rooks on the thatched roofs, a little
storehouse with a rusty weathercock, two or three birch-trees with
rooks' nests in their bare top branches, and beyond--the road with
cushions of soft dust in the ruts and a field and the long hurdles of
the hemp patches, and the grey little huts of the village, and the
cackle of geese in the far-away rich meadows.... Is all this familiar to
you, reader? In the house itself everything is a little awry, a little
rickety--but no matter. It stands firm and keeps warm; the stoves are
like elephants, the furniture is of all sorts, home-made. Little paths
of white footmarks run from the doors over the painted floors. In the
hall siskins and larks in tiny cages; in the corner of the dining-room
an immense English clock in the form of a tower, with the inscription,
'Strike--silent'; in the drawing-room portraits of the family, painted
in oils, with an expression of ill-tempered alarm on the brick-coloured
faces, and sometimes too an old warped picture of flowers and fruit or a
mythological subject. Everywhere there is the smell of kvas, of apples,
of linseed-oil and of leather. Flies buzz and hum about the ceiling and
the windows. A daring cockroach suddenly shows his countenance from
behind the looking-glass frame.... No matter, one can live here--and
live very well too.
Just such a homestead it was my lot to visit thirty years ago ... it was
in days long past, as you perceive. The little estate in which this
house stood belonged to a friend of mine at the university; it had only
recently come to him on the death of a bachelor cousin, and he was not
living in it himself.... But at no great distance from it there were
wide tracts of steppe bog, in which at the time of summer migration,
when they are on the wing, there are great numbers of snipe; my friend
and I, both enthusiastic sportsmen, agreed therefore to go on St.
Peter's day, he from Moscow, I from my own village, to his little house.
My friend lingered in Moscow, and was two days late; I did not care to
start shooting without him. I was received by an old servant, Narkiz
Semyonov, who had had notice of my coming. This old servant was not in
the least like 'Savelitch' or 'Caleb'; my friend used to call him in
joke 'Marquis.' There was something of conceit, even of affectation,
about him; he looked down on us young men with a certain dignity, but
cherished no particularly respectful sentiments for other landowners
either; of his old master he spoke slightingly, while his own class he
simply scorned for their ignorance. He could read and write, expressed
himself correctly and with judgment, and did not drink. He seldom went
to church, and so was looked upon as a dissenter. In appearance he was
thin and tall, had a long and good-looking face, a sharp nose, and
overhanging eyebrows, which he was continually either knitting or
lifting; he wore a neat, roomy coat, and boots to his knees with
heart-shaped scallops at the tops.
On the day of my arrival, Narkiz, having given me lunch and cleared the
table, stood in the doorway, looked intently at me, and with some play
of the eyebrows observed:
'What are you going to do now, sir?'
'Well, really, I don't know. If Nikolai Petrovitch had kept his word and
come, we should have gone shooting together.'
'So you really expected, sir, that he would come at the time he
'Of course I did.'
'H'm.' Narkiz looked at me again and shook his head as it were with
commiseration. 'If you 'd care to amuse yourself with reading,' he
continued: 'there are some books left of my old master's; I'll get them
you, if you like; only you won't read them, I expect.'
'They're books of no value; not written for the gentlemen of
'Have you read them?'
'If I hadn't read them, I wouldn't have spoken about them. A dream-book,
for instance ... that's not much of a book, is it? There are others too,
of course ... only you won't read them either.'
'They are religious books.'
I was silent for a space.... Narkiz was silent too.
'What vexes me most,' I began, 'is staying in the house in such
'Take a walk in the garden; or go into the copse. We've a copse here
beyond the threshing-floor. Are you fond of fishing?'
'Are there fish here?'
'Yes, in the pond. Loaches, sand-eels, and perches are caught there.
Now, to be sure, the best time is over; July's here. But anyway, you
might try.... Shall I get the tackle ready?'
'Yes, do please.'
'I'll send a boy with you ... to put on the worms. Or maybe I 'd better
come myself?' Narkiz obviously doubted whether I knew how to set about
things properly by myself.
'Come, please, come along.'
Narkiz, without a word, grinned from ear to ear, then suddenly knitted
his brows ... and went out of the room.
Half an hour later we set off to catch fish. Narkiz had put on an
extraordinary sort of cap with ears, and was more dignified than ever.
He walked in front with a steady, even step; two rods swayed regularly
up and down on his shoulders; a bare-legged boy followed him carrying a
can and a pot of worms.
'Here, near the dike, there's a seat, put up on the floating platform on
purpose,' Narkiz was beginning to explain to me, but he glanced ahead,
and suddenly exclaimed: 'Aha! but our poor folk are here already ...
they keep it up, it seems.'
I craned my head to look from behind him, and saw on the floating
platform, on the very seat of which he had been speaking, two persons
sitting with their backs to us; they were placidly fishing.
'Who are they?' I asked.
'Neighbours,' Narkiz responded, with displeasure. 'They've nothing to
eat at home, and so here they come to us.'
'Are they allowed to?'
'The old master allowed them.... Nikolai Petrovitch maybe won't give
them permission.... The long one is a superannuated deacon--quite a
silly creature; and as for the other, that's a little stouter--he's a
'A brigadier?' I repeated, wondering. This 'brigadier's' attire was
almost worse than the deacon's.
'I assure you he's a brigadier. And he did have a fine property once.
But now he has only a corner given him out of charity, and he lives ...
on what God sends him. But, by the way, what are we to do? They've taken
the best place.... We shall have to disturb our precious visitors.'
'No, Narkiz, please don't disturb them. We'll sit here a little aside;
they won't interfere with us. I should like to make acquaintance with
'As you like. Only, as far as acquaintance goes ... you needn't expect
much satisfaction from it, sir; he's grown very weak in his head, and in
conversation he's silly as a little child. As well he may be; he's past
his eightieth year.'
'What's his name?'
'Vassily Fomitch. Guskov's his surname.'
'And the deacon?'
'The deacon? ... his nickname's Cucumber. Every one about here calls him
so; but what his real name is--God knows! A foolish creature! A regular
'Do they live together?'
'No; but there--the devil has tied them together, it seems.'
We approached the platform. The brigadier cast one glance upon us ...
and promptly fixed his eyes on the float; Cucumber jumped up, pulled
back his rod, took off his worn-out clerical hat, passed a trembling
hand over his rough yellow hair, made a sweeping bow, and gave vent to a
feeble little laugh. His bloated face betrayed him an inveterate
drunkard; his staring little eyes blinked humbly. He gave his neighbour
a poke in the ribs, as though to let him know that they must clear
out.... The brigadier began to move on the seat.
'Sit still, I beg; don't disturb yourselves,' I hastened to say. 'You
won't interfere with us in the least. We'll take up our position here;
Cucumber wrapped his ragged smock round him, twitched his shoulders, his
lips, his beard.... Obviously he felt our presence oppressive and he
would have been glad to slink away, ... but the brigadier was again lost
in the contemplation of his float.... The 'ne'er-do-weel' coughed twice,
sat down on the very edge of the seat, put his hat on his knees, and,
tucking his bare legs up under him, he discreetly dropped in his line.
'Any bites?' Narkiz inquired haughtily, as in leisurely fashion he
unwound his reel.
'We've caught a matter of five loaches,' answered Cucumber in a cracked
and husky voice: 'and he took a good-sized perch.'
'Yes, a perch,' repeated the brigadier in a shrill pipe.
I fell to watching closely--not him, but his reflection in the pond. It
was as clearly reflected as in a looking-glass--a little darker, a
little more silvery. The wide stretch of pond wafted a refreshing
coolness upon us; a cool breath of air seemed to rise, too, from the
steep, damp bank; and it was the sweeter, as in the dark blue, flooded
with gold, above the tree tops, the stagnant sultry heat hung, a burden
that could be felt, over our heads. There was no stir in the water near
the dike; in the shade cast by the drooping bushes on the bank, water
spiders gleamed, like tiny bright buttons, as they described their
everlasting circles; at long intervals there was a faint ripple just
perceptible round the floats, when a fish was 'playing' with the worm.
Very few fish were taken; during a whole hour we drew up only two
loaches and an eel. I could not say why the brigadier aroused my
curiosity; his rank could not have any influence on me; ruined noblemen
were not even at that time looked upon as a rarity, and his appearance
presented nothing remarkable. Under the warm cap, which covered the
whole upper part of his head down to his ears and his eyebrows, could be
seen a smooth, red, clean-shaven, round face, with a little nose, little
lips, and small, clear grey eyes. Simplicity and weakness of character,
and a sort of long-standing, helpless sorrow, were visible in that meek,
almost childish face; the plump, white little hands with short fingers
had something helpless, incapable about them too.... I could not
conceive how this forlorn old man could once have been an officer, could
have maintained discipline, have given his commands--and that, too, in
the stern days of Catherine! I watched him; now and then he puffed out
his cheeks and uttered a feeble whistle, like a little child; sometimes
he screwed up his eyes painfully, with effort, as all decrepit people
will. Once he opened his eyes wide and lifted them.... They stared at me
from out of the depths of the water--and strangely touching and even
full of meaning their dejected glance seemed to me.
I tried to begin a conversation with the brigadier ... but Narkiz had
not misinformed me; the poor old man certainly had become weak in his
intellect. He asked me my surname, and after repeating his inquiry
twice, pondered and pondered, and at last brought out: 'Yes, I fancy
there was a judge of that name here. Cucumber, wasn't there a judge
about here of that name, hey?' 'To be sure there was, Vassily Fomitch,
your honour,' responded Cucumber, who treated him altogether as a child.
'There was, certainly. But let me have your hook; your worm must have
been eaten off.... Yes, so it is.'
'Did you know the Lomov family?' the brigadier suddenly asked me in a
'What Lomov family is that?'
'Why, Fiodor Ivanitch, Yevstigney Ivanitch, Alexey Ivanitch the Jew, and
Fedulia Ivanovna the plunderer, ... and then, too ...'
The brigadier suddenly broke off and looked down confused.
They were the people he was most intimate with,' Narkiz whispered,
bending towards me; 'it was through them, through that same Alexey
Ivanitch, that he called a Jew, and through a sister of Alexey
Ivanitch's, Agrafena Ivanovna, as you may say, that he lost all his
'What are you saying there about Agrafena Ivanovna?' the brigadier
called out suddenly, and his head was raised, his white eyebrows were
frowning.... 'You'd better mind! And why Agrafena, pray? Agrippina
Ivanovna--that's what you should call her.'
'There--there--there, sir,' Cucumber was beginning to falter.
'Don't you know the verses the poet Milonov wrote about her?' the old
man went on, suddenly getting into a state of excitement, which was a
complete surprise to me. 'No hymeneal lights were kindled,' he began
chanting, pronouncing all the vowels through his nose, giving the
syllables 'an,' 'en,' the nasal sound they have in French; and it was
strange to hear this connected speech from his lips: 'No torches ... No,
that's not it:
"Not vain Corruption's idols frail
Not amaranth nor porphyry
Rejoiced their hearts ...
One thing in them ..."
'That was about us. Do you hear?
"One thing in them unquenchable,
Subduing, sweet, desirable,
To nurse their mutual flame in love!"
And you talk about Agrafena!'
Narkiz chuckled half-contemptuously, half-indifferently. 'What a queer
fish it is!' he said to himself. But the brigadier had again relapsed
into dejection, the rod had dropped from his hands and slipped into
'Well, to my thinking, our fishing is a poor business,' observed
Cucumber; 'the fish, see, don't bite at all. It's got fearfully hot, and
there's a fit of "mencholy" come over our gentleman. It's clear we must
be going home; that will be best.' He cautiously drew out of his pocket
a tin bottle with a wooden stopper, uncorked it, scattered snuff on his
wrist, and sniffed it up in both nostrils at once.... 'Ah, what good
snuff!' he moaned, as he recovered himself. 'It almost made my tooth
ache! Now, my dear Vassily Fomitch, get up--it's time to be off!'
The brigadier got up from the bench.
'Do you live far from here?' I asked Cucumber.
'No, our gentleman lives not far ... it won't be as much as a mile.'
'Will you allow me to accompany you?' I said, addressing the brigadier.
I felt disinclined to let him go.
Narkiz was surprised at my intention; but I paid no attention to the
disapproving shake of his long-eared cap, and walked out of the garden
with the brigadier, who was supported by Cucumber. The old man moved
fairly quickly, with a motion as though he were on stilts.
We walked along a scarcely trodden path, through a grassy glade between
two birch copses. The sun was blazing; the orioles called to each other
in the green thicket; corncrakes chattered close to the path; blue
butterflies fluttered in crowds about the white, and red flowers of the
low-growing clover; in the perfectly still grass bees hung, as though
asleep, languidly buzzing. Cucumber seemed to pull himself together, and
brightened up; he was afraid of Narkiz--he lived always under his eye; I
was a stranger--a new comer--with me he was soon quite at home.
'Here's our gentleman,' he said in a rapid flow; 'he's a small eater
and no mistake! but only one perch, is that enough for him? Unless,
your honour, you would like to contribute something? Close here round
the corner, at the little inn, there are first-rate white wheaten
rolls. And if so, please your honour, this poor sinner, too, will
gladly drink on this occasion to your health, and may it be of long
years and long days.' I gave him a little silver, and was only just in
time to pull away my hand, which he was falling upon to kiss. He
learned that I was a sportsman, and fell to talking of a very good
friend of his, an officer, who had a 'Mindindenger' Swedish gun, with a
copper stock, just like a cannon, so that when you fire it off you are
almost knocked senseless--it had been left behind by the French--and a
dog--simply one of Nature's marvels! that he himself had always had a
great passion for the chase, and his priest would have made no trouble
about it--he used in fact to catch quails with him--but the
ecclesiastical superior had pursued him with endless persecution; 'and
as for Narkiz Semyonitch,' he observed in a sing-song tone, 'if
according to his notions I'm not a trustworthy person--well, what I say
is: he's let his eyebrows grow till he's like a woodcock, and he
fancies all the sciences are known to him.' By this time we had reached
the inn, a solitary tumble-down, one-roomed little hut without backyard
or outbuildings; an emaciated dog lay curled up under the window; a hen
was scratching in the dust under his very nose. Cucumber sat the
brigadier down on the bank, and darted instantly into the hut. While he
was buying the rolls and emptying a glass, I never took my eyes off the
brigadier, who, God knows why, struck me as something of an enigma. In
the life of this man--so I mused--there must certainly have been
something out of the ordinary. But he, it seemed, did not notice me at
all. He was sitting huddled up on the bank, and twisting in his fingers
some pinks which he had gathered in my friend's garden. Cucumber made
his appearance, at last, with a bundle of rolls in his hand; he made
his appearance, all red and perspiring, with an expression of gleeful
surprise on his face, as though he had just seen something exceedingly
agreeable and unexpected. He at once offered the brigadier a roll to
eat, and the latter at once ate it. We proceeded on our way.
On the strength of the spirits he had drunk, Cucumber quite 'unbent,' as
it is called. He began trying to cheer up the brigadier, who was still
hurrying forward with a tottering motion as though he were on stilts.
'Why are you so downcast, sir, and hanging your head? Let me sing you a
song. That'll cheer you up in a minute.' He turned to me: 'Our gentleman
is very fond of a joke, mercy on us, yes! Yesterday, what did I see?--a
peasant-woman washing a pair of breeches on the platform, and a great
fat woman she was, and he stood behind her, simply all of a shake with
laughter--yes, indeed! ... In a minute, allow me: do you know the song of
the hare? You mustn't judge me by my looks; there's a gypsy woman living
here in the town, a perfect fright, but sings--'pon my soul! one's ready
to lie down and die.' He opened wide his moist red lips and began
singing, his head on one side, his eyes shut, and his beard quivering:
'The hare beneath the bush lies still,
The hunters vainly scour the hill;
The hare lies hid and holds his breath,
His ears pricked up, he lies there still
Waiting for death.
O hunters! what harm have I done,
To vex or injure you? Although
Among the cabbages I run,
One leaf I nibble--only one,
And that's not yours!
Cucumber went on with ever-increasing energy:
'Into the forest dark he fled,
His tail he let the hunters see;
"Excuse me, gentlemen," says he,
"That so I turn my back on you--
I am not yours!"'
Cucumber was not singing now ... he was bellowing:
'The hunters hunted day and night,
And still the hare was out of sight.
So, talking over his misdeeds,
They ended by disputing quite--
Alas, the hare is not for us!
The squint-eye is too sharp for us!'
The first two lines of each stanza Cucumber sang with each syllable
drawn out; the other three, on the contrary, very briskly, and
accompanied them with little hops and shuffles of his feet; at the
conclusion of each verse he cut a caper, in which he kicked himself with
his own heels. As he shouted at the top of his voice: 'The squint-eye is
too sharp for us!' he turned a somersault.... His expectations were
fulfilled. The brigadier suddenly went off into a thin, tearful little
chuckle, and laughed so heartily that he could not go on, and stayed
still in a half-sitting posture, helplessly slapping his knees with his
hands. I looked at his face, flushed crimson, and convulsively working,
and felt very sorry for him at that instant especially. Encouraged by
his success, Cucumber fell to capering about in a squatting position,
singing the refrain of: 'Shildi-budildi!' and 'Natchiki-tchikaldi!' He
stumbled at last with his nose in the dust.... The brigadier suddenly
ceased laughing and hobbled on.
We went on another quarter of a mile. A little village came into sight
on the edge of a not very deep ravine; on one side stood the 'lodge,'
with a half-ruined roof and a solitary chimney; in one of the two rooms
of this lodge lived the brigadier. The owner of the village, who always
resided in Petersburg, the widow of the civil councillor Lomov, had--so
I learned later--bestowed this little nook upon the brigadier. She had
given orders that he should receive a monthly pension, and had also
assigned for his service a half-witted serf-girl living in the same
village, who, though she barely understood human speech, was yet
capable, in the lady's opinion, of sweeping a floor and cooking
cabbage-soup. At the door of the lodge the brigadier again addressed me
with the same eighteenth-century smile: would I be pleased to walk into
his 'apartement'? We went into this 'apartement.' Everything in it was
exceedingly filthy and poor, so filthy and so poor that the brigadier,
noticing, probably, by the expression of my face, the impression it made
on me, observed, shrugging his shoulders, and half closing his eyelids:
'Ce n'est pas ... oeil de perdrix.' ... What precisely he meant by this
remained a mystery to me.... When I addressed him in French, I got no
reply from him in that language. Two objects struck me especially in the
brigadier's abode: a large officer's cross of St. George in a black
frame, under glass, with an inscription in an old-fashioned handwriting:
'Received by the Colonel of the Tchernigov regiment, Vassily Guskov, for
the storming of Prague in the year 1794'; and secondly, a half-length
portrait in oils of a handsome, black-eyed woman with a long, dark face,
hair turned up high and powdered, with postiches on the temple and chin,
in a flowered, low-cut bodice, with blue frills, the style of 1780. The
portrait was badly painted, but was probably a good likeness; there was
a wonderful look of life and will, something extraordinarily living and
resolute, about the face. It was not looking at the spectator; it was,
as it were, turning away and not smiling; the curve of the thin nose,
the regular but flat lips, the almost unbroken straight line of the
thick eyebrows, all showed an imperious, haughty, fiery temper. No great
effort was needed to picture that face glowing with passion or with
rage. Just below the portrait on a little pedestal stood a half-withered
bunch of simple wild flowers in a thick glass jar. The brigadier went up
to the pedestal, stuck the pinks he was carrying into the jar, and
turning to me, and lifting his hand in the direction of the portrait, he
observed: 'Agrippina Ivanovna Teliegin, by birth Lomov.' The words of
Narkiz came back to my mind; and I looked with redoubled interest at the
expressive and evil face of the woman for whose sake the brigadier had
lost all his fortune.
'You took part, I see, sir, in the storming of Prague,' I began,
pointing to the St. George cross, 'and won a sign of distinction, rare
at any time, but particularly so then; you must remember Suvorov?'
'Alexander Vassilitch?' the brigadier answered, after a brief silence,
in which he seemed to be pulling his thoughts together; 'to be sure, I
remember him; he was a little, brisk old man. Before one could stir a
finger, he'd be here and there and everywhere (the brigadier chuckled).
He rode into Warsaw on a Cossack horse; he was all in diamonds, and he
says to the Poles: "I've no watch, I forgot it in Petersburg--no watch!"
and they shouted and huzzaed for him. Queer chaps! Hey! Cucumber! lad!'
he added suddenly, changing and raising his voice (the deacon-buffoon
had remained standing at the door), 'where's the rolls, eh? And tell
Grunka ... to bring some kvas!'
'Directly, your honour,' I heard Cucumber's voice reply. He handed the
brigadier the bundle of rolls, and, going out of the lodge, approached a
dishevelled creature in rags--the half-witted girl, Grunka, I
suppose--and as far as I could make out through the dusty little window,
proceeded to demand kvas from her--at least, he several times raised one
hand like a funnel to his mouth, and waved the other in our direction.
I made another attempt to get into conversation with the brigadier;
but he was evidently tired: he sank, sighing and groaning, on the
little couch, and moaning, 'Oy, oy, my poor bones, my poor bones,'
untied his garters. I remember I wondered at the time how a man came
to be wearing garters. I did not realise that in former days every one
wore them. The brigadier began yawning with prolonged, unconcealed
yawns, not taking his drowsy eyes off me all the time; so very little
children yawn. The poor old man did not even seem quite to understand
my question.... And he had taken Prague! He, sword in hand, in the
smoke and the dust--at the head of Suvorov's soldiers, the
bullet-pierced flag waving above him, the hideous corpses under his
feet.... He ... he! Wasn't it wonderful! But yet I could not help
fancying that there had been events more extraordinary in the
brigadier's life. Cucumber brought white kvas in an iron jug; the
brigadier drank greedily--his hands shook. Cucumber supported the
bottom of the jug. The old man carefully wiped his toothless mouth
with both hands--and again staring at me, fell to chewing and munching
his lips. I saw how it was, bowed, and went out of the room.
'Now he'll have a nap,' observed Cucumber, coming out behind me. 'He's
terribly knocked up to-day--he went to the grave early this morning.'
'To whose grave?'
'To Agrafena Ivanovna's, to pay his devotions.... She is buried in our
parish cemetery here; it'll be four miles from here. Vassily Fomitch
visits it every week without fail. Indeed, it was he who buried her and
put the fence up at his own expense.'