Part 1 out of 4
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A SPORTSMAN'S SKETCHES
BY IVAN TURGENEV
_Translated from the Russian_
_By CONSTANCE GARNETT_
XV. TATYANA BORISSOVNA AND HER NEPHEW
XVII. THE SINGERS
XVIII. PIOTR PETROVITCH KARATAEV
XIX. THE TRYST
XX. THE HAMLET OF THE SHTCHIGRI DISTRICT
XXI. TCHERTOP-HANOV AND NEDOPYUSKIN
XXII. THE END OF TCHERTOP-HANOV
XXIII. A LIVING RELIC
XXIV. THE RATTLING OF WHEELS
XXV. EPILOGUE: THE FOREST AND THE STEPPE
TATYANA BORISSOVNA AND HER NEPHEW
Give me your hand, gentle reader, and come along with me. It is glorious
weather; there is a tender blue in the May sky; the smooth young leaves
of the willows glisten as though they had been polished; the wide even
road is all covered with that delicate grass with the little reddish
stalk that the sheep are so fond of nibbling; to right and to left, over
the long sloping hillsides, the green rye is softly waving; the shadows
of small clouds glide in thin long streaks over it. In the distance is
the dark mass of forests, the glitter of ponds, yellow patches of
village; larks in hundreds are soaring, singing, falling headlong with
outstretched necks, hopping about the clods; the crows on the highroad
stand still, look at you, peck at the earth, let you drive close up, and
with two hops lazily move aside. On a hill beyond a ravine a peasant is
ploughing; a piebald colt, with a cropped tail and ruffled mane, is
running on unsteady legs after its mother; its shrill whinnying reaches
us. We drive on into the birch wood, and drink in the strong, sweet,
fresh fragrance. Here we are at the boundaries. The coachman gets down;
the horses snort; the trace-horses look round; the centre horse in the
shafts switches his tail, and turns his head up towards the wooden yoke
above it... the great gate opens creaking; the coachman seats
himself.... Drive on! the village is before us. Passing five homesteads,
and turning off to the right, we drop down into a hollow and drive along
a dyke, the farther side of a small pond; behind the round tops of the
lilacs and apple-trees a wooden roof, once red, with two chimneys, comes
into sight; the coachman keeps along the hedge to the left, and to the
spasmodic and drowsy baying of three pug dogs he drives through the wide
open gates, whisks smartly round the broad courtyard past the stable and
the barn, gallantly salutes the old housekeeper, who is stepping
sideways over the high lintel in the open doorway of the storehouse, and
pulls up at last before the steps of a dark house with light windows....
We are at Tatyana Borissovna's. And here she is herself opening the
window and nodding at us.... 'Good day, ma'am!'
Tatyana Borissovna is a woman of fifty, with large, prominent grey eyes,
a rather broad nose, rosy cheeks and a double chin. Her face is brimming
over with friendliness and kindness. She was once married, but was soon
left a widow. Tatyana Borissovna is a very remarkable woman. She lives
on her little property, never leaving it, mixes very little with her
neighbours, sees and likes none but young people. She was the daughter
of very poor landowners, and received no education; in other words, she
does not know French; she has never been in Moscow--and in spite of all
these defects, she is so good and simple in her manners, so broad in her
sympathies and ideas, so little infected with the ordinary prejudices of
country ladies of small means, that one positively cannot help
marvelling at her.... Indeed, a woman who lives all the year round in
the country and does not talk scandal, nor whine, nor curtsey, is never
flurried, nor depressed, nor in a flutter of curiosity, is a real
marvel! She usually wears a grey taffetas gown and a white cap with
lilac streamers; she is fond of good cheer, but not to excess; all the
preserving, pickling, and salting she leaves to her housekeeper. 'What
does she do all day long?' you will ask.... 'Does she read?' No, she
doesn't read, and, to tell the truth, books are not written for her....
If there are no visitors with her, Tatyana Borissovna sits by herself at
the window knitting a stocking in winter; in summer time she is in the
garden, planting and watering her flowers, playing for hours together
with her cats, or feeding her doves.... She does not take much part in
the management of her estate. But if a visitor pays her a call--some
young neighbour whom she likes--Tatyana Borissovna is all life directly;
she makes him sit down, pours him out some tea, listens to his chat,
laughs, sometimes pats his cheek, but says little herself; in trouble or
sorrow she comforts and gives good advice. How many people have confided
their family secrets and the griefs of their hearts to her, and have
wept over her hands! At times she sits opposite her visitor, leaning
lightly on her elbow, and looks with such sympathy into his face, smiles
so affectionately, that he cannot help feeling: 'What a dear, good woman
you are, Tatyana Borissovna! Let me tell you what is in my heart.' One
feels happy and warm in her small, snug rooms; in her house it is
always, so to speak, fine weather. Tatyana Borissovna is a wonderful
woman, but no one wonders at her; her sound good sense, her breadth and
firmness, her warm sympathy in the joys and sorrows of others--in a
word, all her qualities are so innate in her; they are no trouble, no
effort to her.... One cannot fancy her otherwise, and so one feels no
need to thank her. She is particularly fond of watching the pranks and
follies of young people; she folds her hands over her bosom, throws back
her head, puckers up her eyes, and sits smiling at them, then all of a
sudden she heaves a sigh, and says, 'Ah, my children, my children!'...
Sometimes one longs to go up to her, take hold of her hands and say:
'Let me tell you, Tatyana Borissovna, you don't know your own value; for
all your simplicity and lack of learning, you're an extraordinary
creature!' Her very name has a sweet familiar ring; one is glad to utter
it; it calls up a kindly smile at once. How often, for instance, have I
chanced to ask a peasant: 'Tell me, my friend, how am I to get to
Gratchevka?' let us say. 'Well, sir, you go on first to Vyazovoe, and
from there to Tatyana Borissovna's, and from Tatyana Borissovna's any
one will show you the way.' And at the name of Tatyana Borissovna the
peasant wags his head in quite a special way. Her household is small, in
accordance with her means. The house, the laundry, the stores and the
kitchen, are in the charge of the housekeeper, Agafya, once her nurse, a
good-natured, tearful, toothless creature; she has under her two
stalwart girls with stout crimson cheeks like Antonovsky apples. The
duties of valet, steward, and waiter are filled by Policarp, an
extraordinary old man of seventy, a queer fellow, full of erudition,
once a violinist and worshipper of Viotti, with a personal hostility to
Napoleon, or, as he calls him, Bonaparty, and a passion for
nightingales. He always keeps five or six of the latter in his room; in
early spring he will sit for whole days together by the cage, waiting
for the first trill, and when he hears it, he covers his face with his
hands, and moans, 'Oh, piteous, piteous!' and sheds tears in floods.
Policarp has, to help him, his grandson Vasya, a curly-headed,
sharp-eyed boy of twelve; Policarp adores him, and grumbles at him from
morning till night. He undertakes his education too. 'Vasya,' he says,
'say Bonaparty was a scoundrel.' 'And what'll you give me, granddad?'
'What'll I give you?... I'll give you nothing.... Why, what are you?
Aren't you a Russian?' 'I'm a Mtchanin, granddad; I was born in
Mtchensk.' 'Oh, silly dunce! but where is Mtchensk?' 'How can I tell?'
'Mtchensk's in Russia, silly!' 'Well, what then, if it is in Russia?'
'What then? Why, his Highness the late Prince Mihalo Ilarionovitch
Golenishtchev-Kutuzov-Smolensky, with God's aid, graciously drove
Bonaparty out of the Russian territories. It's on that event the song
was composed: "Bonaparty's in no mood to dance, He's lost the garters he
brought from France."... Do you understand? he liberated your
fatherland.' 'And what's that to do with me?' 'Ah! you silly boy! Why,
if his Highness Prince Mihalo Ilarionovitch hadn't driven out Bonaparty,
some mounseer would have been beating you about the head with a stick
this minute. He'd come up to you like this, and say: "Koman voo porty
voo?" and then a box on the ear!' 'But I'd give him one in the belly
with my fist' 'But he'd go on: "Bonzhur, bonzhur, veny ici," and then a
cuff on the head.' 'And I'd give him one in his legs, his bandy legs.'
'You're quite right, their legs are bandy.... Well, but suppose he tied
your hands?' 'I wouldn't let him; I'd call Mihay the coachman to help
me.' 'But, Vasya, suppose you weren't a match for the Frenchy even with
Mihay?' 'Not a match for him! See how strong Mihay is!' 'Well, and what
would you do with him?' 'We'd get him on his back, we would.' 'And he'd
shout, "Pardon, pardon, seevooplay!"' 'We'd tell him, "None of your
seevooplays, you old Frenchy!"' 'Bravo, Vasya!... Well, now then, shout,
"Bonaparty's a scoundrel!"' 'But you must give me some sugar!' 'You
Of the neighbouring ladies Tatyana Borissovna sees very little; they do
not care about going to see her, and she does not know how to amuse
them; the sound of their chatter sends her to sleep; she starts, tries
to keep her eyes open, and drops off again. Tatyana Borissovna is not
fond of women as a rule. One of her friends, a good, harmless young man,
had a sister, an old maid of thirty-eight and a half, a good-natured
creature, but exaggerated, affected, and enthusiastic. Her brother had
often talked to her of their neighbour. One fine morning our old maid
has her horse saddled, and, without a word to any one, sallies off to
Tatyana Borissovna's. In her long habit, a hat on her head, a green veil
and floating curls, she went into the hall, and passing by the
panic-stricken Vasya, who took her for a wood-witch, ran into the
drawing-room. Tatyana Borissovna, scared, tried to rise, but her legs
sank under her. 'Tatyana Borissovna,' began the visitor in a
supplicating voice, 'forgive my temerity; I am the sister of your
friend, Alexy Nikolaevitch K----, and I have heard so much about you
from him that I resolved to make your acquaintance.' 'Greatly honoured,'
muttered the bewildered lady. The sister flung off her hat, shook her
curls, seated herself near Tatyana Borissovna; took her by the hand...
'So this is she,' she began in a pensive voice fraught with feeling:
'this is that sweet, clear, noble, holy being! This is she! that woman
at once so simple and so deep! How glad I am! how glad I am! How we
shall love each other! I can breathe easily at last... I always fancied
her just so,' she added in a whisper, her eyes riveted on the eyes of
Tatyana Borissovna. 'You won't be angry with me, will you, my dear kind
friend?' 'Really, I'm delighted!... Won't you have some tea?' The lady
smiled patronisingly: _'Wie wahr, wie unreflectiert'_, she murmured,
as it were to herself. 'Let me embrace you, my dear one!'
The old maid stayed three hours at Tatyana Borissovna's, never ceasing
talking an instant. She tried to explain to her new acquaintance all her
own significance. Directly after the unexpected visitor had departed,
the poor lady took a bath, drank some lime-flower water, and took to her
bed. But the next day the old maid came back, stayed four hours, and
left, promising to come to see Tatyana Borissovna every day. Her idea,
please to observe, was to develop, to complete the education of so rich
a nature, to use her own expression, and she would probably have really
been the death of her, if she had not, in the first place, been utterly
disillusioned as regards her brother's friend within a fortnight, and
secondly, fallen in love with a young student on a visit in the
neighbourhood, with whom she at once rushed into a fervid and active
correspondence; in her missives she consecrated him, as the manner of
such is, to a noble, holy life, offered herself wholly a sacrifice,
asked only for the name of sister, launched into endless descriptions of
nature, made allusions to Goethe, Schiller, Bettina and German
philosophy, and drove the luckless young man at last to the blackest
desperation. But youth asserted itself: one fine morning he woke up with
such a furious hatred for 'his sister and best of friends' that he
almost killed his valet in his passion, and was snappish for a long
while after at the slightest allusion to elevated and disinterested
passion. But from that time forth Tatyana Borissovna began to avoid all
intimacy with ladies of the neighbourhood more than ever.
Alas! nothing is lasting on this earth. All I have related as to the way
of life of my kind-hearted neighbour is a thing of the past; the peace
that used to reign in her house has been destroyed for ever. For more
than a year now there has been living with her a nephew, an artist from
Petersburg. This is how it came about.
Eight years ago, there was living with Tatyana Borissovna a boy of
twelve, an orphan, the son of her brother, Andryusha. Andryusha had
large, clear, humid eyes, a tiny little mouth, a regular nose, and a
fine lofty brow. He spoke in a low, sweet voice, was attentive and
coaxing with visitors, kissed his auntie's hand with an orphan's
sensibility; and one hardly had time to show oneself before he had put a
chair for one. He had no mischievous tricks; he was never noisy; he
would sit by himself in a corner with a book, and with such sedateness
and propriety, never even leaning back in his chair. When a visitor came
in, Andryusha would get up, with a decorous smile and a flush; when the
visitor went away he would sit down again, pull out of his pocket a
brush and a looking-glass, and brush his hair. From his earliest years
he had shown a taste for drawing. Whenever he got hold of a piece of
paper, he would ask Agafya the housekeeper for a pair of scissors at
once, carefully cut a square piece out of the paper, trace a border
round it and set to work; he would draw an eye with an immense pupil, or
a Grecian nose, or a house with a chimney and smoke coming out of it in
the shape of a corkscrew, a dog, _en face_, looking rather like a
bench, or a tree with two pigeons on it, and would sign it: 'Drawn by
Andrei Byelovzorov, such a day in such a year, in the village of
Maliya-Briki.' He used to toil with special industry for a fortnight
before Tatyana Borissovna's birthday; he was the first to present his
congratulations and offer her a roll of paper tied up with a pink
ribbon. Tatyana Borissovna would kiss her nephew and undo the knot; the
roll was unfolded and presented to the inquisitive gaze of the
spectator, a round, boldly sketched temple in sepia, with columns and an
altar in the centre; on the altar lay a burning heart and a wreath,
while above, on a curling scroll, was inscribed in legible characters:
'To my aunt and benefactress, Tatyana Borissovna Bogdanov, from her
dutiful and loving nephew, as a token of his deepest affection.' Tatyana
Borissovna would kiss him again and give him a silver rouble. She did
not, though, feel any very warm affection for him; Andryusha's fawning
ways were not quite to her taste. Meanwhile, Andryusha was growing up;
Tatyana Borissovna began to be anxious about his future. An unexpected
incident solved the difficulty to her.
One day eight years ago she received a visit from a certain Mr.
Benevolensky, Piotr Mihalitch, a college councillor with a decoration.
Mr. Benevolensky had at one time held an official post in the nearest
district town, and had been assiduous in his visits to Tatyana
Borissovna; then he had moved to Petersburg, got into the ministry, and
attained a rather important position, and on one of the numerous
journeys he took in the discharge of his official duties, he remembered
his old friend, and came back to see her, with the intention of taking a
rest for two days from his official labours 'in the bosom of the peace
of nature.' Tatyana Borissovna greeted him with her usual cordiality,
and Mr. Benevolensky.... But before we proceed with the rest of the
story, gentle reader, let us introduce you to this new personage.
Mr. Benevolensky was a stoutish man, of middle height and mild
appearance, with little short legs and little fat hands; he wore a roomy
and excessively spruce frock-coat, a high broad cravat, snow-white
linen, a gold chain on his silk waistcoat, a gem-ring on his forefinger,
and a white wig on his head; he spoke softly and persuasively, trod
noiselessly, and had an amiable smile, an amiable look in his eyes, and
an amiable way of settling his chin in his cravat; he was, in fact, an
amiable person altogether. God had given him a heart, too, of the
softest; he was easily moved to tears and to transports; moreover, he
was all aglow with disinterested passion for art: disinterested it
certainly was, for Mr. Benevolensky, if the truth must be told, knew
absolutely nothing about art. One is set wondering, indeed, whence, by
virtue of what mysterious uncomprehended forces, this passion had come
upon him. He was, to all appearance, a practical, even prosaic person...
however, we have a good many people of the same sort among us in
Their devotion to art and artists produces in these people an
inexpressible mawkishness; it is distressing to have to do with them and
to talk to them; they are perfect logs smeared with honey. They never,
for instance, call Raphael, Raphael, or Correggio, Correggio; 'the
divine Sanzio, the incomparable di Allegri,' they murmur, and always
with the broadest vowels. Every pretentious, conceited, home-bred
mediocrity they hail as a genius: 'the blue sky of Italy,' 'the lemons
of the South,' 'the balmy breezes of the banks of the Brenta,' are for
ever on their lips. 'Ah, Vasya, Vasya,' or 'Oh, Sasha, Sasha,' they say
to one another with deep feeling, 'we must away to the South... we are
Greeks in soul--ancient Greeks.' One may observe them at exhibitions
before the works of some Russian painters (these gentlemen, it should be
noted, are, for the most part, passionate patriots). First they step
back a couple of paces, and throw back their heads; then they go up to
the picture again; their eyes are suffused with an oily moisture....
'There you have it, my God!' they say at last, in voices broken with
emotion; 'there's soul, soul! Ah! what feeling, what feeling! Ah, what
soul he has put into it! what a mass of soul!... And how he has thought
it out! thought it out like a master!' And, oh! the pictures in their
own drawing-rooms! Oh, the artists that come to them in the evenings,
drink tea, and listen to their conversation! And the views in
perspective they make them of their own rooms, with a broom in the
foreground, a little heap of dust on the polished floor, a yellow
samovar on a table near the window, and the master of the house himself
in skull-cap and dressing-gown, with a brilliant streak of sunlight
falling on his cheek! Oh, the long-haired nurslings of the Muse, wearing
spasmodic and contemptuous smiles, that cluster about them! Oh, the
young ladies, with faces of greenish pallor, who squeal; over their
pianos! For that is the established rule with us in Russia; a man cannot
be devoted to one art alone--he must have them all. And so it is not to
be wondered at that these gentlemen extend their powerful patronage to
Russian literature also, especially to dramatic literature.... The
_Jacob Sannazars_ are written for them; the struggle of unappreciated
talent against the whole world, depicted a thousand times over, still
moves them profoundly....
The day after Mr. Benevolensky's arrival, Tatyana Borissovna told her
nephew at tea-time to show their guest his drawings. 'Why, does he
draw?' said Mr. Benevolensky, with some surprise, and he turned with
interest to Andryusha. 'Yes, he draws,' said Tatyana Borissovna; 'he's
so fond of it! and he does it all alone, without a master.' 'Ah! show
me, show me,' cried Mr. Benevolensky. Andryusha, blushing and smiling,
brought the visitor his sketch-book. Mr. Benevolensky began turning it
over with the air of a connoisseur. 'Good, young man,' he pronounced at
last; 'good, very good.' And he patted Andryusha on the head. Andryusha
intercepted his hand and kissed it 'Fancy, now, a talent like that!...
I congratulate you, Tatyana Borissovna.' 'But what am I to do, Piotr
Mihalitch? I can't get him a teacher here. To have one from the town is
a great expense; our neighbours, the Artamonovs, have a drawing-master,
and they say an excellent one, but his mistress forbids his giving
lessons to outsiders.' 'Hm,' pronounced Mr. Benevolensky; he pondered
and looked askance at Andryusha. 'Well, we will talk it over,' he added
suddenly, rubbing his hands. The same day he begged Tatyana Borissovna's
permission for an interview with her alone. They shut themselves up
together. In half-an-hour they called Andryusha--Andryusha went in. Mr.
Benevolensky was standing at the window with a slight flush on his face
and a beaming expression. Tatyana Borissovna was sitting in a corner
wiping her eyes. 'Come, Andryusha,' she said at last, 'you must thank
Piotr Mihalitch; he will take you under his protection; he will take you
to Petersburg.' Andryusha almost fainted on the spot. 'Tell me
candidly,' began Mr. Benevolensky, in a voice filled with dignity and
patronising indulgence; 'do you want to be an artist, young man? Do you
feel yourself consecrated to the holy service of Art?' 'I want to be an
artist, Piotr Mihalitch,' Andryusha declared in a trembling voice. 'I am
delighted, if so it be. It will, of course,' continued Mr.
Benevolensky,'be hard for you to part from your revered aunt; you must
feel the liveliest gratitude to her.' 'I adore my auntie,' Andryusha
interrupted, blinking. 'Of course, of course, that's readily understood,
and does you great credit; but, on the other hand, consider the pleasure
that in the future... your success....' 'Kiss me, Andryusha,' muttered
the kind-hearted lady. Andryusha flung himself on her neck. 'There, now,
thank your benefactor.' Andryusha embraced Mr. Benevolensky's stomach,
and stretching on tiptoe, reached his hand and imprinted a kiss, which
his benefactor, though with some show of reluctance, accepted.... He
had, to be sure, to pacify the child, and, after all, might reflect that
he deserved it. Two days later, Mr. Benevolensky departed, taking with
him his new _protege_.
During the first three years of Andryusha's absence he wrote pretty
often, sometimes enclosing drawings in his letters. From time to time
Mr. Benevolensky added a few words, for the most part of approbation;
then the letters began to be less and less frequent, and at last ceased
altogether. A whole year passed without a word from her nephew; and
Tatyana Borissovna was beginning to be uneasy when suddenly she got the
'DEAREST AUNTIE,--Piotr Mihalitch, my patron, died three days ago. A
severe paralytic stroke has deprived me of my sole support. To be sure,
I am now twenty. I have made considerable progress during the last seven
years; I have the greatest confidence in my talent, and can make my
living by means of it; I do not despair; but all the same send me,
if you can, as soon as convenient, 250 roubles. I kiss your hand and
Tatyana Borissovna sent her nephew 250 roubles. Two months later he
asked for more; she got together every penny she had and sent it him.
Not six weeks after the second donation he was asking a third time for
help, ostensibly to buy colours for a portrait bespoken by Princess
Tertereshenev. Tatyana Borissovna refused. 'Under these circumstances,'
he wrote to her, 'I propose coming to you to regain my health in the
country.' And in the May of the same year Andryusha did, in fact, return
Tatyana Borissovna did not recognise him for the first minute. From his
letter she had expected to see a wasted invalid, and she beheld a stout,
broad-shouldered fellow, with a big red face and greasy, curly hair. The
pale, slender little Andryusha had turned into the stalwart Andrei
Ivanovitch Byelovzorov. And it was not only his exterior that was
transformed. The modest spruceness, the sedateness and tidiness of his
earlier years, was replaced by a careless swagger and slovenliness quite
insufferable; he rolled from side to side as he walked, lolled in
easy-chairs, put his elbows on the table, stretched and yawned, and
behaved rudely to his aunt and the servants. 'I'm an artist,' he would
say; 'a free Cossack! That's our sort!' Sometimes he did not touch a
brush for whole days together; then the inspiration, as he called it,
would come upon him; then he would swagger about as if he were drunk,
clumsy, awkward, and noisy; his cheeks were flushed with a coarse
colour, his eyes dull; he would launch into discourses upon his talent,
his success, his development, the advance he was making.... It turned
out in actual fact that he had barely talent enough to produce passable
portraits. He was a perfect ignoramus, had read nothing; why should an
artist read, indeed? Nature, freedom, poetry were his fitting elements;
he need do nothing but shake his curls, talk, and suck away at his
eternal cigarette! Russian audacity is a fine thing, but it doesn't suit
every one; and Polezhaevs at second-hand, without the genius, are
insufferable beings. Andrei Ivanovitch went on living at his aunt's; he
did not seem to find the bread of charity bitter, notwithstanding the
proverb. Visitors to the house found him a mortal nuisance. He would sit
at the piano (a piano, too, had been installed at Tatyana Borissovna's)
and begin strumming 'The Swift Sledge' with one finger; he would strike
some chords, tap on the keys, and for hours together he would howl
Varlamov's songs, 'The Solitary Pine,' or 'No, doctor, no, don't come to
me,' in the most distressing manner, and his eyes seemed to disappear
altogether, his cheeks were so puffed out and tense as drums.... Then he
would suddenly strike up: 'Be still, distracting passion's tempest!'...
Tatyana Borissovna positively shuddered.
'It's a strange thing,' she observed to me one day, 'the songs they
compose nowadays; there's something desperate about them; in my day they
were very different. We had mournful songs, too, but it was always a
pleasure to hear them.... For instance:--
"'Come, come to me in the meadow,
Where I am awaiting thee;
Come, come to me in the meadow,
Where I'm shedding tears for thee...
Alas! thou'rt coming to the meadow,
But too late, dear love, for me!'"
Tatyana Borissovna smiled slyly.
'I agon-ise, I agon-ise!' yelled her nephew in the next room.
'Be quiet, Andryusha!'
'My soul's consumed apart from thee!' the indefatigable singer
Tatyana Borissovna shook her head.
'Ah, these artists! these artists!'....
A year has gone by since then. Byelovzorov is still living at his
aunt's, and still talking of going back to Petersburg. He has grown as
broad as he is long in the country. His aunt--who could have imagined
such a thing?--idolises him, and the young girls of the neighbourhood
are falling in love with him....
Many of her old friends have given up going to Tatyana Borissovna's.
I have a neighbour, a young landowner and a young sportsman. One fine
July morning I rode over to him with a proposition that we should go out
grouse-shooting together. He agreed. 'Only let's go,' he said, 'to my
underwoods at Zusha; I can seize the opportunity to have a look at
Tchapligino; you know my oakwood; they're felling timber there.' 'By all
means.' He ordered his horse to be saddled, put on a green coat with
bronze buttons, stamped with a boar's head, a game-bag embroidered in
crewels, and a silver flask, slung a new-fangled French gun over his
shoulder, turned himself about with some satisfaction before the
looking-glass, and called his dog, Hope, a gift from his cousin, an old
maid with an excellent heart, but no hair on her head. We started. My
neighbour took with him the village constable, Arhip, a stout, squat
peasant with a square face and jaws of antediluvian proportions, and an
overseer he had recently hired from the Baltic provinces, a youth of
nineteen, thin, flaxen-haired, and short-sighted, with sloping shoulders
and a long neck, Herr Gottlieb von der Kock. My neighbour had himself
only recently come into the property. It had come to him by inheritance
from an aunt, the widow of a councillor of state, Madame Kardon-Kataev,
an excessively stout woman, who did nothing but lie in her bed, sighing
and groaning. We reached the underwoods. 'You wait for me here at the
clearing,' said Ardalion Mihalitch (my neighbour) addressing his
companions. The German bowed, got off his horse, pulled a book out of
his pocket--a novel of Johanna Schopenhauer's, I fancy--and sat down
under a bush; Arhip remained in the sun without stirring a muscle for an
hour. We beat about among the bushes, but did not come on a single
covey. Ardalion Mihalitch announced his intention of going on to the
wood. I myself had no faith, somehow, in our luck that day; I, too,
sauntered after him. We got back to the clearing. The German noted the
page, got up, put the book in his pocket, and with some difficulty
mounted his bob-tailed, broken-winded mare, who neighed and kicked at
the slightest touch; Arhip shook himself, gave a tug at both reins at
once, swung his legs, and at last succeeded in starting his torpid and
dejected nag. We set off.
I had been familiar with Ardalion Mihalitch's wood from my childhood. I
had often strolled in Tchapligino with my French tutor, Monsieur Desire
Fleury, the kindest of men (who had, however, almost ruined my
constitution for life by dosing me with Leroux's mixture every evening).
The whole wood consisted of some two or three hundred immense oaks and
ash-trees. Their stately, powerful trunks were magnificently black
against the transparent golden green of the nut bushes and
mountain-ashes; higher up, their wide knotted branches stood out in
graceful lines against the clear blue sky, unfolding into a tent
overhead; hawks, honey-buzzards and kestrels flew whizzing under the
motionless tree-tops; variegated wood-peckers tapped loudly on the stout
bark; the blackbird's bell-like trill was heard suddenly in the thick
foliage, following on the ever-changing note of the gold-hammer; in the
bushes below was the chirp and twitter of hedge-warblers, siskins, and
peewits; finches ran swiftly along the paths; a hare would steal along
the edge of the wood, halting cautiously as he ran; a squirrel would hop
sporting from tree to tree, then suddenly sit still, with its tail over
its head. In the grass among the high ant-hills under the delicate shade
of the lovely, feathery, deep-indented bracken, were violets and lilies
of the valley, and funguses, russet, yellow, brown, red and crimson; in
the patches of grass among the spreading bushes red strawberries were to
be found.... And oh, the shade in the wood! In the most stifling heat,
at mid-day, it was like night in the wood: such peace, such fragrance,
such freshness.... I had spent happy times in Tchapligino, and so, I
must own, it was with melancholy feelings I entered the wood I knew so
well. The ruinous, snowless winter of 1840 had not spared my old
friends, the oaks and the ashes; withered, naked, covered here and there
with sickly foliage, they struggled mournfully up above the young growth
which 'took their place, but could never replace them.' [Footnote: In
1840 there were severe frosts, and no snow fell up to the very end of
December; all the wintercorn was frozen, and many splendid oak-forests
were destroyed by that merciless winter. It will be hard to replace
them; the productive force of the land is apparently diminishing; in the
'interdicted' wastelands (visited by processions with holy images, and
so not to be touched), instead of the noble trees of former days,
birches and aspens grow of themselves; and, indeed, they have no idea
among us of planting woods at all.--_Author's Note_.]
Some trees, still covered with leaves below, fling their lifeless,
ruined branches upwards, as it were, in reproach and despair; in others,
stout, dead, dry branches are thrust out of the midst of foliage still
thick, though with none of the luxuriant abundance of old; others have
fallen altogether, and lie rotting like corpses on the ground. And--who
could have dreamed of this in former days?--there was no shade--no shade
to be found anywhere in Tchapligino! 'Ah,' I thought, looking at the
dying trees: 'isn't it shameful and bitter for you?'... Koltsov's lines
recurred to me:
'What has become
Of the mighty voices,
The haughty strength,
The royal pomp?
Where now is the
Wealth of green?...
'How is it, Ardalion Mihalitch,' I began, 'that they didn't fell these
trees the very next year? You see they won't give for them now a tenth
of what they would have done before.'
He merely shrugged his shoulders.
'You should have asked my aunt that; the timber merchants came, offered
money down, pressed the matter, in fact.'
'_Mein Gott! mein Gott!_' Von der Kock cried at every step. 'Vat a
bity, vat a bity!'
'What's a bity!' observed my neighbour with a smile.
'That is; how bitiful, I meant to say.'
What particularly aroused his regrets were the oaks lying on the
ground--and, indeed, many a miller would have given a good sum for them.
But the constable Arhip preserved an unruffled composure, and did not
indulge in any lamentations; on the contrary, he seemed even to jump
over them and crack his whip on them with a certain satisfaction.
We were getting near the place where they were cutting down the trees,
when suddenly a shout and hurried talk was heard, following on the crash
of a falling tree, and a few instants after a young peasant, pale and
dishevelled, dashed out of the thicket towards us.
'What is it? where are you running?' Ardalion Mihalitch asked him.
He stopped at once.
'Ah, Ardalion Mihalitch, sir, an accident!'
'What is it?'
'Maksim, sir, crushed by a tree.'
'How did it happen?... Maksim the foreman?'
'The foreman, sir. We'd started cutting an ash-tree, and he was standing
looking on.... He stood there a bit, and then off he went to the well
for some water--wanted a drink, seemingly--when suddenly the ash-tree
began creaking and coming straight towards him. We shout to him: 'Run,
run, run!'.... He should have rushed to one side, but he up and ran
straight before him.... He was scared, to be sure. The ash-tree covered
him with its top branches. But why it fell so soon, the Lord only
knows!... Perhaps it was rotten at the core.'
'And so it crushed Maksim?'
'No, sir, he's still alive--but as good as dead; his arms and legs are
crushed. I was running for Seliverstitch, for the doctor.'
Ardalion Mihalitch told the constable to gallop to the village for
Seliverstitch, while he himself pushed on at a quick trot to the
clearing.... I followed him.
We found poor Maksim on the ground. The peasants were standing about
him. We got off our horses. He hardly moaned at all; from time to time
he opened his eyes wide, looked round, as it were, in astonishment, and
bit his lips, fast turning blue.... The lower part of his face was
twitching; his hair was matted on his brow; his breast heaved
irregularly: he was dying. The light shade of a young lime-tree glided
softly over his face.
We bent down to him. He recognised Ardalion Mihalitch.
'Please sir,' he said to him, hardly articulately, 'send... for the
priest... tell... the Lord... has punished me... arms, legs, all
smashed... to-day's... Sunday... and I... I... see... didn't let
the lads off... work.'
He ceased, out of breath.
'And my money... for my wife... after deducting.... Onesim here knows...
whom I... what I owe.'
'We've sent for the doctor, Maksim,' said my neighbour; 'perhaps you may
not die yet.'
He tried to open his eyes, and with an effort raised the lids.
'No, I'm dying. Here... here it is coming... here it.... Forgive me,
lads, if in any way....'
'God will forgive you, Maksim Andreitch,' said the peasants thickly with
one voice, and they took off their caps; 'do you forgive us!'
He suddenly shook his head despairingly, his breast heaved with a
painful effort, and he fell back again.
'We can't let him lie here and die, though,' cried Ardalion Mihalitch;
'lads, give us the mat from the cart, and carry him to the hospital.'
Two men ran to the cart.
'I bought a horse... yesterday,' faltered the dying man, 'off Efim...
Sitchovsky... paid earnest money... so the horse is mine.... Give it...
to my wife....'
They began to move him on to the mat.... He trembled all over, like a
wounded bird, and stiffened....
'He is dead,' muttered the peasants.
We mounted our horses in silence and rode away.
The death of poor Maksim set me musing. How wonderfully indeed the
Russian peasant dies! The temper in which he meets his end cannot be
called indifference or stolidity; he dies as though he were performing a
solemn rite, coolly and simply.
A few years ago a peasant belonging to another neighbour of mine in the
country got burnt in the drying shed, where the corn is put. (He would
have remained there, but a passing pedlar pulled him out half-dead; he
plunged into a tub of water, and with a run broke down the door of the
burning outhouse.) I went to his hut to see him. It was dark, smoky,
stifling, in the hut. I asked, 'Where is the sick man?' 'There, sir, on
the stove,' the sorrowing peasant woman answered me in a sing-song
voice. I went up; the peasant was lying covered with a sheepskin,
breathing heavily. 'Well, how do you feel?' The injured man stirred on
the stove; all over burns, within sight of death as he was, tried to
rise. 'Lie still, lie still, lie still.... Well, how are you?' 'In a bad
way, surely,' said he. 'Are you in pain?' No answer. 'Is there anything
you want?'--No answer. 'Shouldn't I send you some tea, or anything.'
'There's no need.' I moved away from him and sat down on the bench. I
sat there a quarter of an hour; I sat there half an hour--the silence of
the tomb in the hut. In the corner behind the table under the holy
pictures crouched a little girl of twelve years old, eating a piece of
bread. Her mother threatened her every now and then. In the outer room
there was coming and going, noise and talk: the brother's wife was
chopping cabbage. 'Hey, Aksinya,' said the injured man at last. 'What?'
'Some kvas.'Aksinya gave him some kvas. Silence again. I asked in a
whisper, 'Have they given him the sacrament?' 'Yes.' So, then,
everything was in order: he was waiting for death, that was all. I could
not bear it, and went away....
Again, I recall how I went one day to the hospital in the village of
Krasnogorye to see the surgeon Kapiton, a friend of mine, and an
This hospital consisted of what had once been the lodge of the
manor-house; the lady of the manor had founded it herself; in other
words, she ordered a blue board to be nailed up above the door with an
inscription in white letters: 'Krasnogorye Hospital,' and had herself
handed to Kapiton a red album to record the names of the patients in. On
the first page of this album one of the toadying parasites of this Lady
Bountiful had inscribed the following lines:
'Dans ces beaux lieux, ou regne l'allegresse
Ce temple fut ouvert par la Beaute;
De vos seigneurs admirez la tendresse
Bons habitants de Krasnogorie!'
while another gentleman had written below:
'Et moi aussi j'aime la nature!
The surgeon bought six beds at his own expense, and had set to work in a
thankful spirit to heal God's people. Besides him, the staff consisted
of two persons; an engraver, Pavel, liable to attacks of insanity, and a
one-armed peasant woman, Melikitrisa, who performed the duties of cook.
Both of them mixed the medicines and dried and infused herbs; they, too,
controlled the patients when they were delirious. The insane engraver
was sullen in appearance and sparing of words; at night he would sing a
song about 'lovely Venus,' and would besiege every one he met with a
request for permission to marry a girl called Malanya, who had long been
dead. The one-armed peasant woman used to beat him and set him to look
after the turkeys. Well, one day I was at Kapiton's. We had begun
talking over our last day's shooting, when suddenly a cart drove into
the yard, drawn by an exceptionally stout horse, such as are only found
belonging to millers. In the cart sat a thick-set peasant, in a new
greatcoat, with a beard streaked with grey. 'Hullo, Vassily Dmitritch,'
Kapiton shouted from the window; 'please come in.... The miller of
Liobovshin,' he whispered to me. The peasant climbed groaning out of the
cart, came into the surgeon's room, and after looking for the holy
pictures, crossed himself, bowing to them. 'Well, Vassily Dmitritch, any
news?... But you must be ill; you don't look well.' 'Yes, Kapiton
Timofeitch, there's something not right.' 'What's wrong with you?'
'Well, it was like this, Kapiton Timofeitch. Not long ago I bought some
mill-stones in the town, so I took them home, and as I went to lift them
out of the cart, I strained myself, or something; I'd a sort of rick in
the loins, as though something had been torn away, and ever since I've
been out of sorts. To-day I feel worse than ever.' 'Hm,' commented
Kapiton, and he took a pinch of snuff; 'that's a rupture, no doubt. But
is it long since this happened?' 'It's ten days now.' 'Ten days?' (The
surgeon drew a long inward breath and shook his head.) 'Let me examine
you.' 'Well, Vassily Dmitritch,' he pronounced at last, 'I am sorry for
you, heartily sorry, but things aren't right with you at all; you're
seriously ill; stay here with me; I will do everything I can, for my
part, though I can't answer for anything.' 'So bad as that?' muttered
the astounded peasant. 'Yes, Vassily Dmitritch, it is bad; if you'd come
to me a day or two sooner, it would have been nothing much; I could have
cured you in a trice; but now inflammation has set in; before we know
where we are, there'll be mortification.' 'But it can't be, Kapiton
Timofeitch.' 'I tell you it is so.' 'But how comes it?' (The surgeon
shrugged his shoulders.) 'And I must die for a trifle like that?' 'I
don't say that... only you must stop here.' The peasant pondered and
pondered, his eyes fixed on the floor, then he glanced up at us,
scratched his head, and picked up his cap. 'Where are you off to,
Vassily Dmitritch?' 'Where? why, home to be sure, if it's so bad. I must
put things to rights, if it's like that.' 'But you'll do yourself harm,
Vassily Dmitritch; you will, really; I'm surprised how you managed to
get here; you must stop.' 'No, brother, Kapiton Timofeitch, if I must
die, I'll die at home; why die here? I've got a home, and the Lord knows
how it will end.' 'No one can tell yet, Vassily Dmitritch, how it will
end.... Of course, there is danger, considerable danger; there's no
disputing that... but for that reason you ought to stay here.' (The
peasant shook his head.) 'No, Kapiton Timofeitch, I won't stay... but
perhaps you will prescribe me a medicine.' 'Medicine alone will be no
good.' 'I won't stay, I tell you.' 'Well, as you like.... Mind you don't
blame me for it afterwards.'
The surgeon tore a page out of the album, and, writing out a
prescription, gave him some advice as to what he could do besides. The
peasant took the sheet of paper, gave Kapiton half-a-rouble, went out of
the room, and took his seat in the cart. 'Well, good-bye, Kapiton
Timofeitch, don't remember evil against me, and remember my orphans, if
anything....' 'Oh, do stay, Vassily!' The peasant simply shook his head,
struck the horse with the reins, and drove out of the yard. The road was
muddy and full of holes; the miller drove cautiously, without hurry,
guiding his horse skilfully, and nodding to the acquaintances he met.
Three days later he was dead.
The Russians, in general, meet death in a marvellous way. Many of the
dead come back now to my memory. I recall you, my old friend, who left
the university with no degree, Avenir Sorokoumov, noblest, best of men!
I see once again your sickly, consumptive face, your lank brown tresses,
your gentle smile, your ecstatic glance, your long limbs; I can hear
your weak, caressing voice. You lived at a Great Russian landowner's,
called Gur Krupyanikov, taught his children, Fofa and Zyozya, Russian
grammar, geography, and history, patiently bore all the ponderous jokes
of the said Gur, the coarse familiarities of the steward, the vulgar
pranks of the spiteful urchins; with a bitter smile, but without
repining, you complied with the caprices of their bored and exacting
mother; but to make up for it all, what bliss, what peace was yours in
the evening, after supper, when, free at last of all duties, you sat at
the window pensively smoking a pipe, or greedily turned the pages of a
greasy and mutilated number of some solid magazine, brought you from the
town by the land-surveyor--just such another poor, homeless devil as
yourself! How delighted you were then with any sort of poem or novel;
how readily the tears started into your eyes; with what pleasure you
laughed; what genuine love for others, what generous sympathy for
everything good and noble, filled your pure youthful soul! One must tell
the truth: you were not distinguished by excessive sharpness of wit;
Nature had endowed you with neither memory nor industry; at the
university you were regarded as one of the least promising students; at
lectures you slumbered, at examinations you preserved a solemn silence;
but who was beaming with delight and breathless with excitement at a
friend's success, a friend's triumphs?... Avenir!... Who had a blind
faith in the lofty destiny of his friends? who extolled them with pride?
who championed them with angry vehemence? who was innocent of envy as of
vanity? who was ready for the most disinterested self-sacrifice? who
eagerly gave way to men who were not worthy to untie his latchet?...
That was you, all you, our good Avenir! I remember how broken-heartedly
you parted from your comrades, when you were going away to be a tutor in
the country; you were haunted by presentiment of evil.... And, indeed,
your lot was a sad one in the country; you had no one there to listen to
with veneration, no one to admire, no one to love.... The
neighbours--rude sons of the steppes, and polished gentlemen
alike--treated you as a tutor: some, with rudeness and neglect, others
carelessly. Besides, you were not pre-possessing in person; you were
shy, given to blushing, getting hot and stammering.... Even your health
was no better for the country air: you wasted like a candle, poor
fellow! It is true your room looked out into the garden; wild cherries,
apple-trees, and limes strewed their delicate blossoms on your table,
your ink-stand, your books; on the wall hung a blue silk watch-pocket, a
parting present from a kind-hearted, sentimental German governess with
flaxen curls and little blue eyes; and sometimes an old friend from
Moscow would come out to you and throw you into ecstasies with new
poetry, often even with his own. But, oh, the loneliness, the
insufferable slavery of a tutor's lot! the impossibility of escape, the
endless autumns and winters, the ever-advancing disease!... Poor, poor
I paid Sorokoumov a visit not long before his death. He was then hardly
able to walk. The landowner, Gur Krupyanikov, had not turned him out of
the house, but had given up paying him a salary, and had taken another
tutor for Zyozya.... Fofa had been sent to a school of cadets. Avenir
was sitting near the window in an old easy-chair. It was exquisite
weather. The clear autumn sky was a bright blue above the dark-brown
line of bare limes; here and there a few last leaves of lurid gold
rustled and whispered about them. The earth had been covered with frost,
now melting into dewdrops in the sun, whose ruddy rays fell aslant
across the pale grass; there was a faint crisp resonance in the air; the
voices of the labourers in the garden reached us clearly and distinctly.
Avenir wore an old Bokhara dressing-gown; a green neckerchief threw a
deathly hue over his terribly sunken face. He was greatly delighted to
see me, held out his hand, began talking and coughing at once. I made
him be quiet, and sat down by him.... On Avenir's knee lay a manuscript
book of Koltsov's poems, carefully copied out; he patted it with a
smile. 'That's a poet,' he stammered, with an effort repressing his
cough; and he fell to declaiming in a voice scarcely audible:
'Can the eagle's wings
Be chained and fettered?
Can the pathways of heaven
Be closed against him?'
I stopped him: the doctor had forbidden him to talk. I knew what would
please him. Sorokoumov never, as they say, 'kept up' with the science of
the day; but he was always anxious to know what results the leading
intellects had reached. Sometimes he would get an old friend into a
corner and begin questioning him; he would listen and wonder, take every
word on trust, and even repeat it all after him. He took a special
interest in German philosophy. I began discoursing to him about Hegel
(this all happened long ago, as you may gather). Avenir nodded his head
approvingly, raised his eyebrows, smiled, and whispered: 'I see! I see!
ah, that's splendid! splendid!'... The childish curiosity of this poor,
dying, homeless outcast, moved me, I confess, to tears. It must be noted
that Avenir, unlike the general run of consumptives, did not deceive
himself in regard to his disease.... But what of that?--he did not sigh,
nor grieve; he did not even once refer to his position....
Rallying his strength, he began talking of Moscow, of old friends, of
Pushkin, of the drama, of Russian literature; he recalled our little
suppers, the heated debates of our circle; with regret he uttered the
names of two or three friends who were dead....
'Do you remember Dasha?' he went on. 'Ah, there was a heart of pure
gold! What a heart! and how she loved me!... What has become of her now?
Wasted and fallen away, poor dear, I daresay!'
I had not the courage to disillusion the sick man; and, indeed, why
should he know that his Dasha was now broader than she was long, and
that she was living under the protection of some merchants, the brothers
Kondatchkov, that she used powder and paint, and was for ever swearing
'But can't we,' I thought, looking at his wasted face, 'get him away
from here? Perhaps there may still be a chance of curing him.' But
Avenir cut short my suggestion.
'No, brother, thanks,' he said; 'it makes no difference where one dies.
I shan't live till the winter, you see.... Why give trouble for nothing?
I'm used to this house. It's true the people...'
'They're unkind, eh?' I put in.
'No, not unkind! but wooden-headed creatures. However, I can't complain
of them. There are neighbours: there's a Mr. Kasatkin's daughter, a
cultivated, kind, charming girl... not proud...'
Sorokoumov began coughing again.
'I shouldn't mind anything,' he went on, after taking breath, 'if they'd
only let me smoke my pipe.... But I'll have my pipe, if I die for it!'
he added, with a sly wink. 'Thank God, I have had life enough! I have
known so many fine people.
'But you should, at least, write to your relations,' I interrupted.
'Why write to them? They can't be any help; when I die they'll hear of
it. But, why talk about it... I'd rather you'd tell me what you saw
I began to tell him my experiences. He seemed positively to gloat over
my story. Towards evening I left, and ten days later I received the
following letter from Mr. Krupyanikov:
'I have the honour to inform you, my dear sir, that your friend, the
student, living in my house, Mr. Avenir Sorokoumov, died at two o'clock
in the afternoon, three days ago, and was buried to-day, at my expense,
in the parish church. He asked me to forward you the books and
manuscripts enclosed herewith. He was found to have twenty-two roubles
and a half, which, with the rest of his belongings, pass into the
possession of his relatives. Your friend died fully conscious, and, I
may say, with so little sensibility that he showed no signs of regret
even when the whole family of us took a last farewell of him. My wife,
Kleopatra Aleksandrovna, sends you her regards. The death of your friend
has, of course, affected her nerves; as regards myself, I am, thank God,
in good health, and have the honour to remain, your humble servant,'
Many more examples recur to me, but one cannot relate everything. I will
confine myself to one.
I was present at an old lady's death-bed; the priest had begun reading
the prayers for the dying over her, but, suddenly noticing that the
patient seemed to be actually dying, he made haste to give her the cross
to kiss. The lady turned away with an air of displeasure. 'You're in too
great a hurry, father,' she said, in a voice almost inarticulate; 'in
too great a hurry.'... She kissed the cross, put her hand under the
pillow and expired. Under the pillow was a silver rouble; she had meant
to pay the priest for the service at her own death....
Yes, the Russians die in a wonderful way.
The small village of Kolotovka once belonged to a lady known in the
neighbourhood by the nickname of Skin-flint, in illusion to her keen
business habits (her real name is lost in oblivion), but has of late
years been the property of a German from Petersburg. The village lies on
the slope of a barren hill, which is cut in half from top to bottom by a
tremendous ravine. It is a yawning chasm, with shelving sides hollowed
out by the action of rain and snow, and it winds along the very centre
of the village street; it separates the two sides of the unlucky hamlet
far more than a river would do, for a river could, at least, be crossed
by a bridge. A few gaunt willows creep timorously down its sandy sides;
at the very bottom, which is dry and yellow as copper, lie huge slabs of
argillaceous rock. A cheerless position, there's no denying, yet all the
surrounding inhabitants know the road to Kolotovka well; they go there
often, and are always glad to go.
At the very summit of the ravine, a few paces from the point where it
starts as a narrow fissure in the earth, there stands a small square
hut. It stands alone, apart from all the others. It is thatched, and has
a chimney; one window keeps watch like a sharp eye over the ravine, and
on winter evenings when it is lighted from within, it is seen far away
in the dim frosty fog, and its twinkling light is the guiding star of
many a peasant on his road. A blue board is nailed up above the door;
this hut is a tavern, called the 'Welcome Resort.' Spirits are sold here
probably no cheaper than the usual price, but it is far more frequented
than any other establishment of the same sort in the neighbourhood. The
explanation of this is to be found in the tavern-keeper, Nikolai
Nikolai Ivanitch--once a slender, curly-headed and rosy-cheeked young
fellow, now an excessively stout, grizzled man with a fat face, sly and
good-natured little eyes, and a shiny forehead, with wrinkles like lines
drawn all over it--has lived for more than twenty years in Kolotovka.
Nikolai Ivanitch is a shrewd, acute fellow, like the majority of
tavern-keepers. Though he makes no conspicuous effort to please or to
talk to people, he has the art of attracting and keeping customers, who
find it particularly pleasant to sit at his bar under the placid and
genial, though alert eye, of the phlegmatic host. He has a great deal of
common sense; he thoroughly understands the landowner's conditions of
life, the peasant's, and the tradesman's. He could give sensible advice
on difficult points, but, like a cautious man and an egoist, prefers to
stand aloof, and at most--and that only in the case of his favourite
customers--by remote hints, dropped, as it were, unintentionally, to
lead them into the true way. He is an authority on everything that is of
interest or importance to a Russian; on horses and cattle, on timber,
bricks, and crockery, on woollen stuffs and on leather, on songs and
dances. When he has no customers he is usually sitting like a sack on
the ground before the door of his hut, his thin legs tucked under him,
exchanging a friendly greeting with every passer-by. He has seen a great
deal in his time; many a score of petty landowners, who used to come to
him for spirits, he has seen pass away before him; he knows everything
that is done for eighty miles round, and never gossips, never gives a
sign of knowing what is unsuspected by the most keen-sighted
police-officer. He keeps his own counsel, laughs, and makes his glasses
ring. His neighbours respect him; the civilian general Shtcherpetenko,
the landowner highest in rank in the district, gives him a condescending
nod whenever he drives past his little house. Nikolai Ivanitch is a man
of influence; he made a notorious horse-stealer return a horse he had
taken from the stable of one of his friends; he brought the peasants of
a neighbouring village to their senses when they refused to accept a new
overseer, and so on. It must not be imagined, though, that he does this
from love of justice, from devotion to his neighbour--no! he simply
tries to prevent anything that might, in any way, interfere with his
ease and comfort. Nikolai Ivanitch is married, and has children. His
wife, a smart, sharp-nosed and keen-eyed woman of the tradesman class,
has grown somewhat stout of late years, like her husband. He relies on
her in everything, and she keeps the key of the cash-box. Drunken
brawlers are afraid of her; she does not like them; they bring little
profit and make a great deal of noise: those who are taciturn and surly
in their cups are more to her taste. Nikolai Ivanitch's children are
still small; the first four all died, but those that are left take after
their parents: it is a pleasure to look at their intelligent, healthy
It was an insufferably hot day in July when, slowly dragging my feet
along, I went up alongside the Kolotovka ravine with my dog towards the
Welcome Resort. The sun blazed, as it were, fiercely in the sky, baking
the parched earth relentlessly; the air was thick with stifling dust.
Glossy crows and ravens with gaping beaks looked plaintively at the
passers-by, as though asking for sympathy; only the sparrows did not
droop, but, pluming their feathers, twittered more vigorously than ever
as they quarrelled among the hedges, or flew up all together from the
dusty road, and hovered in grey clouds over the green hempfields. I was
tormented by thirst. There was no water near: in Kolotovka, as in many
other villages of the steppes, the peasants, having no spring or well,
drink a sort of thin mud out of the pond.... For no one could call that
repulsive beverage water. I wanted to ask for a glass of beer or kvas at
It must be confessed that at no time of the year does Kolotovka present
a very cheering spectacle; but it has a particularly depressing effect
when the relentless rays of a dazzling July sun pour down full upon the
brown, tumble-down roofs of the houses and the deep ravine, and the
parched, dusty common over which the thin, long-legged hens are straying
hopelessly, and the remains of the old manor-house, now a hollow, grey
framework of aspenwood, with holes instead of windows, overgrown with
nettles, wormwood, and rank grass, and the pond black, as though charred
and covered with goose feathers, with its edge of half-dried mud, and
its broken-down dyke, near which, on the finely trodden, ash-like earth,
sheep, breathless and gasping with the heat, huddle dejectedly together,
their heads drooping with weary patience, as though waiting for this
insufferable heat to pass at last. With weary steps I drew near Nikolai
Ivanitch's dwelling, arousing in the village children the usual wonder
manifested in a concentrated, meaningless stare, and in the dogs an
indignation expressed in such hoarse and furious barking that it seemed
as if it were tearing their very entrails, and left them breathless and
choking, when suddenly in the tavern doorway there appeared a tall
peasant without a cap, in a frieze cloak, girt about below his waist
with a blue handkerchief. He looked like a house-serf; thick grey hair
stood up in disorder above his withered and wrinkled face. He was
calling to some one hurriedly, waving his arms, which obviously were not
quite under his control. It could be seen that he had been drinking
'Come, come along!' he stammered, raising his shaggy eyebrows with an
effort. 'Come, Blinkard, come along! Ah, brother, how you creep along,
'pon my word! It's too bad, brother. They're waiting for you within, and
here you crawl along.... Come.'
'Well, I'm coming, I'm coming!' called a jarring voice, and from behind
a hut a little, short, fat, lame man came into sight. He wore a rather
tidy cloth coat, pulled half on, and a high pointed cap right over his
brows, which gave his round plump face a sly and comic expression. His
little yellow eyes moved restlessly about, his thin lips wore a
continual forced smile, while his sharp, long nose peered forward
saucily in front like a rudder. 'I'm coming, my dear fellow.' He went
hobbling towards the tavern. 'What are you calling me for?... Who's
waiting for me?'
'What am I calling you for?' repeated the man in the frieze coat
reproachfully.' You're a queer fish, Blinkard: we call you to come to
the tavern, and you ask what for? Here are honest folks all waiting for
you: Yashka the Turk, and the Wild Master, and the booth-keeper from
Zhizdry. Yashka's got a bet on with the booth-keeper: the stake's a pot
of beer--for the one that does best, sings the best, I mean... do you
'Is Yashka going to sing?' said the man addressed as Blinkard, with
lively interest. 'But isn't it your humbug, Gabbler?'
'I'm not humbugging,' answered the Gabbler, with dignity; 'it's you are
crazy. I should think he would sing since he's got a bet on it, you
precious innocent, you noodle, Blinkard!'
'Well, come in, simpleton!' retorted the Blinkard.
'Then give us a kiss at least, lovey,' stammered the Gabbler, opening
wide his arms.
'Get out, you great softy!' responded the Blinkard contemptuously,
giving him a poke with his elbow, and both, stooping, entered the low
The conversation I had overheard roused my curiosity exceedingly. More
than once rumours had reached me of Yashka the Turk as the best singer
in the vicinity, and here was an opportunity all at once of hearing him
in competition with another master of the art. I quickened my steps and
went into the house.
Few of my readers have probably had an opportunity of getting a good
view of any village taverns, but we sportsmen go everywhere. They are
constructed on an exceedingly simple plan. They usually consist of a
dark outer-shed, and an inner room with a chimney, divided in two by a
partition, behind which none of the customers have a right to go. In
this partition there is a wide opening cut above a broad oak table. At
this table or bar the spirits are served. Sealed up bottles of various
sizes stand on the shelves, right opposite the opening. In the front
part of the room, devoted to customers, there are benches, two or three
empty barrels, and a corner table. Village taverns are for the most part
rather dark, and you hardly ever see on their wainscotted walls any of
the glaring cheap prints which few huts are without.
When I went into the Welcome Resort, a fairly large party were already
In his usual place behind the bar, almost filling up the entire opening
in the partition, stood Nikolai Ivanitch in a striped print shirt; with
a lazy smile on his full face, he poured out with his plump white hand
two glasses of spirits for the Blinkard and the Gabbler as they came in;
behind him, in a corner near the window, could be seen his sharp-eyed
wife. In the middle of the room was standing Yashka the Turk, a thin,
graceful fellow of three-and-twenty, dressed in a long skirted coat of
blue nankin. He looked a smart factory hand, and could not, to judge by
his appearance, boast of very good health. His hollow cheeks, his large,
restless grey eyes, his straight nose, with its delicate mobile
nostrils, his pale brown curls brushed back over the sloping white brow,
his full but beautiful, expressive lips, and his whole face betrayed a
passionate and sensitive nature. He was in a state of great excitement;
he blinked, his breathing was hurried, his hands shook, as though in
fever, and he was really in a fever--that sudden fever of excitement
which is so well-known to all who have to speak and sing before an
audience. Near him stood a man of about forty, with broad shoulders and
broad jaws, with a low forehead, narrow Tartar eyes, a short flat nose,
a square chin, and shining black hair coarse as bristles. The expression
of his face--a swarthy face, with a sort of leaden hue in it--and
especially of his pale lips, might almost have been called savage, if it
had not been so still and dreamy. He hardly stirred a muscle; he only
looked slowly about him like a bull under the yoke. He was dressed in a
sort of surtout, not over new, with smooth brass buttons; an old black
silk handkerchief was twisted round his immense neck. He was called the
Wild Master. Right opposite him, on a bench under the holy pictures, was
sitting Yashka's rival, the booth-keeper from Zhizdry; he was a short,
stoutly-built man about thirty, pock-marked, and curly-headed, with a
blunt, turn-up nose, lively brown eyes, and a scanty beard. He looked
keenly about him, and, sitting with his hands under him, he kept
carelessly swinging his legs and tapping with his feet, which were
encased in stylish top-boots with a coloured edging. He wore a new thin
coat of grey cloth, with a plush collar, in sharp contrast with the
crimson shirt below, buttoned close across the chest. In the opposite
corner, to the right of the door, a peasant sat at the table in a
narrow, shabby smock-frock, with a huge rent on the shoulder. The
sunlight fell in a narrow, yellowish streak through the dusty panes of
the two small windows, but it seemed as if it struggled in vain with the
habitual darkness of the room; all the objects in it were dimly, as it
were, patchily lighted up. On the other hand, it was almost cool in the
room, and the sense of stifling heat dropped off me like a weary load
directly I crossed the threshold.
My entrance, I could see, was at first somewhat disconcerting to Nikolai
Ivanitch's customers; but observing that he greeted me as a friend, they
were reassured, and took no more notice of me. I asked for some beer and
sat down in the corner, near the peasant in the ragged smock.
'Well, well,' piped the Gabbler, suddenly draining a glass of spirits at
one gulp, and accompanying his exclamation with the strange
gesticulations, without which he seemed unable to utter a single word;
'what are we waiting for? If we're going to begin, then begin. Hey,
'Begin, begin,' chimed in Nikolai Ivanitch approvingly.
'Let's begin, by all means,' observed the booth-keeper coolly, with a
self-confident smile; 'I'm ready.'
'And I'm ready,' Yakov pronounced in a voice thrilled with excitement.
'Well, begin, lads,' whined the Blinkard. But, in spite of the
unanimously expressed desire, neither began; the booth-keeper did not
even get up from the bench--they all seemed to be waiting for something.
'Begin!' said the Wild Master sharply and sullenly. Yashka started. The
booth-keeper pulled down his girdle and cleared his throat.
'But who's to begin?' he inquired in a slightly changed voice of the
Wild Master, who still stood motionless in the middle of the room, his
stalwart legs wide apart and his powerful arms thrust up to the elbow
into his breeches pockets.
'You, you, booth-keeper,' stammered the Gabbler; 'you, to be sure,
The Wild Master looked at him from under his brows. The Gabbler gave a
faint squeak, in confusion looked away at the ceiling, twitched his
shoulder, and said no more.
'Cast lots,' the Wild Master pronounced emphatically; 'and the pot on
Nikolai Ivanitch bent down, and with a gasp picked up the pot of beer
from the floor and set it on the table.
The Wild Master glanced at Yakov, and said 'Come!'
Yakov fumbled in his pockets, took out a halfpenny, and marked it with
his teeth. The booth-keeper pulled from under the skirts of his long
coat a new leather purse, deliberately untied the string, and shaking
out a quantity of small change into his hand, picked out a new
halfpenny. The Gabbler held out his dirty cap, with its broken peak
hanging loose; Yakov dropped his halfpenny in, and the booth-keeper his.
'You must pick out one,' said the Wild Master, turning to the Blinkard.
The Blinkard smiled complacently, took the cap in both hands, and began
For an instant a profound silence reigned; the halfpennies clinked
faintly, jingling against each other. I looked round attentively; every
face wore an expression of intense expectation; the Wild Master himself
showed signs of uneasiness; my neighbour, even, the peasant in the
tattered smock, craned his neck inquisitively. The Blinkard put his hand
into the cap and took out the booth-keeper's halfpenny; every one drew a
long breath. Yakov flushed, and the booth-keeper passed his hand over
'There, I said you'd begin,' cried the Gabbler; 'didn't I say so?'
'There, there, don't cluck,' remarked the Wild Master contemptuously.
'Begin,' he went on, with a nod to the booth-keeper.
'What song am I to sing?' asked the booth-keeper, beginning to be
'What you choose,' answered the Blinkard; 'sing what you think best.'
'What you choose, to be sure,' Nikolai Ivanitch chimed in, slowly
smoothing his hand on his breast, 'you're quite at liberty about that.
Sing what you like; only sing well; and we'll give a fair decision
'A fair decision, of course,' put in the Gabbler, licking the edge of
his empty glass.
'Let me clear my throat a bit, mates,' said the booth-keeper, fingering
the collar of his coat.
'Come, come, no nonsense--begin!' protested the Wild Master, and he
The booth-keeper thought a minute, shook his head, and stepped forward.
Yakov's eyes were riveted upon him.
But before I enter upon a description of the contest itself, I think it
will not be amiss to say a few words about each of the personages taking
part in my story. The lives of some of them were known to me already
when I met them in the Welcome Resort; I collected some facts about the
others later on.
Let us begin with the Gabbler. This man's real name was Evgraf
Ivanovitch; but no one in the whole neighbourhood knew him as anything
but the Gabbler, and he himself referred to himself by that nickname; so
well did it fit him. Indeed, nothing could have been more appropriate to
his insignificant, ever-restless features. He was a dissipated,
unmarried house-serf, whose own masters had long ago got rid of him, and
who, without any employment, without earning a halfpenny, found means to
get drunk every day at other people's expense. He had a great number of
acquaintances who treated him to drinks of spirits and tea, though they
could not have said why they did so themselves; for, far from being
entertaining in company, he bored every one with his meaningless
chatter, his insufferable familiarity, his spasmodic gestures and
incessant, unnatural laugh. He could neither sing nor dance; he had
never said a clever, or even a sensible thing in his life; he chattered
away, telling lies about everything--a regular Gabbler! And yet not a
single drinking party for thirty miles around took place without his
lank figure turning up among the guests; so that they were used to him
by now, and put up with his presence as a necessary evil. They all, it
is true, treated him with contempt; but the Wild Master was the only one
who knew how to keep his foolish sallies in check.
The Blinkard was not in the least like the Gabbler. His nickname, too,
suited him, though he was no more given to blinking than other people;
it is a well-known fact, that the Russian peasants have a talent for
finding good nicknames. In spite of my endeavours to get more detailed
information about this man's past, many passages in his life have
remained spots of darkness to me, and probably to many other people;
episodes, buried, as the bookmen say, in the darkness of oblivion. I
could only find out that he was once a coachman in the service of an old
childless lady; that he had run away with three horses he was in charge
of; had been lost for a whole year, and no doubt, convinced by
experience of the drawbacks and hardships of a wandering life, he had
gone back, a cripple, and flung himself at his mistress's feet. He
succeeded in a few years in smoothing over his offence by his exemplary
conduct, and, gradually getting higher in her favour, at last gained her
complete confidence, was made a bailiff, and on his mistress's death,
turned out--in what way was never known--to have received his freedom.
He got admitted into the class of tradesmen; rented patches of market
garden from the neighbours; grew rich, and now was living in ease and
comfort. He was a man of experience, who knew on which side his bread
was buttered; was more actuated by prudence than by either good or
ill-nature; had knocked about, understood men, and knew how to turn them
to his own advantage. He was cautious, and at the same time
enterprising, like a fox; though he was as fond of gossip as an old
woman, he never let out his own affairs, while he made everyone else
talk freely of theirs. He did not affect to be a simpleton, though, as
so many crafty men of his sort do; indeed it would have been difficult
for him to take any one in, in that way; I have never seen a sharper,
keener pair of eyes than his tiny cunning little 'peepers,' as they call
them in Orel. They were never simply looking about; they were always
looking one up and down and through and through. The Blinkard would
sometimes ponder for weeks together over some apparently simple
undertaking, and again he would suddenly decide on a desperately bold
line of action, which one would fancy would bring him to ruin.... But it
would be sure to turn out all right; everything would go smoothly. He
was lucky, and believed in his own luck, and believed in omens. He was
exceedingly superstitious in general. He was not liked, because he would
have nothing much to do with anyone, but he was respected. His whole
family consisted of one little son, whom he idolised, and who, brought
up by such a father, is likely to get on in the world. 'Little
Blinkard'll be his father over again,' is said of him already, in
undertones by the old men, as they sit on their mud walls gossiping on
summer evenings, and every one knows what that means; there is no need
to say more.
As to Yashka the Turk and the booth-keeper, there is no need to say much
about them. Yakov, called the Turk because he actually was descended
from a Turkish woman, a prisoner from the war, was by nature an artist
in every sense of the word, and by calling, a ladler in a paper factory
belonging to a merchant. As for the booth-keeper, his career, I must
own, I know nothing of; he struck me as being a smart townsman of the
tradesman class, ready to turn his hand to anything. But the Wild Master
calls for a more detailed account.
The first impression the sight of this man produced on you was a sense
of coarse, heavy, irresistible power. He was clumsily built, a
'shambler,' as they say about us, but there was an air of triumphant
vigour about him, and--strange to say--his bear-like figure was not
without a certain grace of its own, proceeding, perhaps, from his
absolutely placid confidence in his own strength. It was hard to decide
at first to what class this Hercules belonged: he did not look like a
house-serf, nor a tradesman, nor an impoverished clerk out of work, nor
a small ruined landowner, such as takes to being a huntsman or a
fighting man; he was, in fact, quite individual. No one knew where he
came from or what brought him into our district; it was said that he
came of free peasant-proprietor stock, and had once been in the
government service somewhere, but nothing positive was known about this;
and indeed there was no one from whom one could learn--certainly not
from him; he was the most silent and morose of men. So much so that no
one knew for certain what he lived on; he followed no trade, visited no
one, associated with scarcely anyone; yet he had money to spend; little
enough, it is true, still he had some. In his behaviour he was not
exactly retiring--retiring was not a word that could be applied to him:
he lived as though he noticed no one about him, and cared for no one.
The Wild Master (that was the nickname they had given him; his real name
was Perevlyesov) enjoyed an immense influence in the whole district; he
was obeyed with eager promptitude, though he had no kind of right to
give orders to anyone, and did not himself evince the slightest
pretension to authority over the people with whom he came into casual
contact He spoke--they obeyed: strength always has an influence of its
own. He scarcely drank at all, had nothing to do with women, and was
passionately fond of singing. There was much that was mysterious about
this man; it seemed as though vast forces sullenly reposed within him,
knowing, as it were, that once roused, once bursting free, they were
bound to crush him and everything they came in contact with; and I am
greatly mistaken if, in this man's life, there had not been some such
outbreak; if it was not owing to the lessons of experience, to a narrow
escape from ruin, that he now kept himself so tightly in hand. What
especially struck me in him was the combination of a sort of inborn
natural ferocity, with an equally inborn generosity--a combination I
have never met in any other man.
And so the booth-keeper stepped forward, and, half shutting his eyes,
began singing in high falsetto. He had a fairly sweet and pleasant
voice, though rather hoarse: he played with his voice like a woodlark,
twisting and turning it in incessant roulades and trills up and down the
scale, continually returning to the highest notes, which he held and
prolonged with special care. Then he would break off, and again suddenly
take up the first motive with a sort of go-ahead daring. His modulations
were at times rather bold, at times rather comical; they would have
given a connoisseur great satisfaction, and have made a German furiously
indignant. He was a Russian _tenore di grazia, tenor leger_. He
sang a song to a lively dance-tune, the words of which, all that I could
catch through the endless maze of variations, ejaculations and
repetitions, were as follows:
'A tiny patch of land, young lass,
I'll plough for thee,
And tiny crimson flowers, young lass,
I'll sow for thee.'
He sang; all listened to him with great attention. He seemed to feel
that he had to do with really musical people, and therefore was exerting
himself to do his best. And they really are musical in our part of the
country; the village of Sergievskoe on the Orel highroad is deservedly
noted throughout Russia for its harmonious chorus-singing. The
booth-keeper sang for a long while without evoking much enthusiasm in
his audience; he lacked the support of a chorus; but at last, after one
particularly bold flourish, which set even the Wild Master smiling, the
Gabbler could not refrain from a shout of delight. Everyone was roused.
The Gabbler and the Blinkard began joining in in an undertone, and
exclaiming: 'Bravely done!... Take it, you rogue!... Sing it out, you
serpent! Hold it! That shake again, you dog you!... May Herod confound
your soul!' and so on. Nikolai Ivanitch behind the bar was nodding his
head from side to side approvingly. The Gabbler at last was swinging his
legs, tapping with his feet and twitching his shoulder, while Yashka's
eyes fairly glowed like coal, and he trembled all over like a leaf, and
smiled nervously. The Wild Master alone did not change countenance, and
stood motionless as before; but his eyes, fastened on the booth-keeper,
looked somewhat softened, though the expression of his lips was still
scornful. Emboldened by the signs of general approbation, the
booth-keeper went off in a whirl of flourishes, and began to round off
such trills, to turn such shakes off his tongue, and to make such
furious play with his throat, that when at last, pale, exhausted, and
bathed in hot perspiration, he uttered the last dying note, his whole
body flung back, a general united shout greeted him in a violent
outburst. The Gabbler threw himself on his neck and began strangling him
in his long, bony arms; a flush came out on Nikolai Ivanitch's oily
face, and he seemed to have grown younger; Yashka shouted like mad:
'Capital, capital!'--even my neighbour, the peasant in the torn smock,
could not restrain himself, and with a blow of his fist on the table he
cried: 'Aha! well done, damn my soul, well done!' And he spat on one
side with an air of decision.
'Well, brother, you've given us a treat!' bawled the Gabbler, not
releasing the exhausted booth-keeper from his embraces; 'you've given us
a treat, there's no denying! You've won, brother, you've won! I
congratulate you--the quart's yours! Yashka's miles behind you... I
tell you: miles... take my word for it.' (And again he hugged the
booth-keeper to his breast.)
'There, let him alone, let him alone; there's no being rid of you'...
said the Blinkard with vexation; 'let him sit down on the bench; he's
tired, see... You're a ninny, brother, a perfect ninny! What are you
sticking to him like a wet leaf for...'
'Well, then, let him sit down, and I'll drink to his health,' said the
Gabbler, and he went up to the bar. 'At your expense, brother,' he
added, addressing the booth-keeper.
The latter nodded, sat down on the bench, pulled a piece of cloth out of
his cap, and began wiping his face, while the Gabbler, with greedy
haste, emptied his glass, and, with a grunt, assumed, after the manner
of confirmed drinkers, an expression of careworn melancholy.
'You sing beautifully, brother, beautifully,' Nikolai Ivanitch observed
caressingly. 'And now it's your turn, Yasha; mind, now, don't be afraid.
We shall see who's who; we shall see. The booth-keeper sings
beautifully, though; 'pon my soul, he does.'
'Very beautifully,' observed Nikolai Ivanitch's wife, and she looked
with a smile at Yakov.
'Beautifully, ha!' repeated my neighbour in an undertone.
'Ah, a wild man of the woods!' the Gabbler vociferated suddenly, and
going up to the peasant with the rent on his shoulder, he pointed at him
with his finger, while he pranced about and went off into an insulting
guffaw. 'Ha! ha! get along! wild man of the woods! Here's a ragamuffin
from Woodland village! What brought you here?' he bawled amidst
The poor peasant was abashed, and was just about to get up and make off
as fast as he could, when suddenly the Wild Master's iron voice was
'What does the insufferable brute mean?' he articulated, grinding his
'I wasn't doing nothing,' muttered the Gabbler. 'I didn't... I
'There, all right, shut up!' retorted the Wild Master. 'Yakov, begin!'
Yakov took himself by his throat:
'Well, really, brothers,... something.... Hm, I don't know, on my word,
'Come, that's enough; don't be timid. For shame!... why go back?... Sing
the best you can, by God's gift.'
And the Wild Master looked down expectant. Yakov was silent for a
minute; he glanced round, and covered his face with his hand. All had
their eyes simply fastened upon him, especially the booth-keeper, on
whose face a faint, involuntary uneasiness could be seen through his
habitual expression of self-confidence and the triumph of his success.
He leant back against the wall, and again put both hands under him, but
did not swing his legs as before. When at last Yakov uncovered his face
it was pale as a dead man's; his eyes gleamed faintly under their
drooping lashes. He gave a deep sigh, and began to sing.... The first
sound of his voice was faint and unequal, and seemed not to come from
his chest, but to be wafted from somewhere afar off, as though it had
floated by chance into the room. A strange effect was produced on all of
us by this trembling, resonant note; we glanced at one another, and
Nikolai Ivanitch's wife seemed to draw herself up. This first note was
followed by another, bolder and prolonged, but still obviously
quivering, like a harpstring when suddenly struck by a stray finger it
throbs in a last, swiftly-dying tremble; the second was followed by a
third, and, gradually gaining fire and breadth, the strains swelled into
a pathetic melody. 'Not one little path ran into the field,' he sang,
and sweet and mournful it was in our ears. I have seldom, I must
confess, heard a voice like it; it was slightly hoarse, and not
perfectly true; there was even something morbid about it at first; but
it had genuine depth of passion, and youth and sweetness and a sort of
fascinating, careless, pathetic melancholy. A spirit of truth and fire,
a Russian spirit, was sounding and breathing in that voice, and it
seemed to go straight to your heart, to go straight to all that was
Russian in it. The song swelled and flowed. Yakov was clearly carried
away by enthusiasm; he was not timid now; he surrendered himself wholly
to the rapture of his art; his voice no longer trembled; it quivered,
but with the scarce perceptible inward quiver of passion, which pierces
like an arrow to the very soul of the listeners; and he steadily gained
strength and firmness and breadth. I remember I once saw at sunset on a
flat sandy shore, when the tide was low and the sea's roar came weighty
and menacing from the distance, a great white sea-gull; it sat
motionless, its silky bosom facing the crimson glow of the setting sun,
and only now and then opening wide its great wings to greet the
well-known sea, to greet the sinking lurid sun: I recalled it, as I
heard Yakov. He sang, utterly forgetful of his rival and all of us; he
seemed supported, as a bold swimmer by the waves, by our silent,
passionate sympathy. He sang, and in every sound of his voice one seemed
to feel something dear and akin to us, something of breadth and space,
as though the familiar steppes were unfolding before our eyes and
stretching away into endless distance. I felt the tears gathering in my
bosom and rising to my eyes; suddenly I was struck by dull, smothered
sobs.... I looked round--the innkeeper's wife was weeping, her bosom
pressed close to the window. Yakov threw a quick glance at her, and he
sang more sweetly, more melodiously than ever; Nikolai Ivanitch looked
down; the Blinkard turned away; the Gabbler, quite touched, stood, his
gaping mouth stupidly open; the humble peasant was sobbing softly in the
corner, and shaking his head with a plaintive murmur; and on the iron
visage of the Wild Master, from under his overhanging brows there slowly
rolled a heavy tear; the booth-keeper raised his clenched fist to his
brow, and did not stir.... I don't know how the general emotion would
have ended, if Yakov had not suddenly come to a full stop on a high,
exceptionally shrill note--as though his voice had broken. No one called
out, or even stirred; every one seemed to be waiting to see whether he
was not going to sing more; but he opened his eyes as though wondering
at our silence, looked round at all of us with a face of inquiry, and
saw that the victory was his....
'Yasha,' said the Wild Master, laying his hand on his shoulder, and he
could say no more.
We all stood, as it were, petrified. The booth-keeper softly rose and
went up to Yakov.
'You... yours... you've won,' he articulated at last with an effort,
and rushed out of the room. His rapid, decided action, as it were, broke
the spell; we all suddenly fell into noisy, delighted talk. The Gabbler
bounded up and down, stammered and brandished his arms like mill-sails;
the Blinkard limped up to Yakov and began kissing him; Nikolai Ivanitch
got up and solemnly announced that he would add a second pot of beer
from himself. The Wild Master laughed a sort of kind, simple laugh,
which I should never have expected to see on his face; the humble
peasant as he wiped his eyes, cheeks, nose, and beard on his sleeves,
kept repeating in his corner: 'Ah, beautiful it was, by God! blast me
for the son of a dog, but it was fine!' while Nikolai Ivanitch's wife,
her face red with weeping, got up quickly and went away, Yakov was
enjoying his triumph like a child; his whole face was tranformed, his
eyes especially fairly glowed with happiness. They dragged him to the
bar; he beckoned the weeping peasant up to it, and sent the innkeeper's
little son to look after the booth-keeper, who was not found, however;
and the festivities began. 'You'll sing to us again; you're going to
sing to us till evening,' the Gabbler declared, flourishing his hands in
I took one more look at Yakov and went out. I did not want to stay--I
was afraid of spoiling the impression I had received. But the heat was
as insupportable as before. It seemed hanging in a thick, heavy layer
right over the earth; over the dark blue sky, tiny bright fires seemed
whisking through the finest, almost black dust. Everything was still;
and there was something hopeless and oppressive in this profound hush of
exhausted nature. I made my way to a hay-loft, and lay down on the
fresh-cut, but already almost dry grass. For a long while I could not go
to sleep; for a long while Yakov's irresistible voice was ringing in my
ears.... At last the heat and fatigue regained their sway, however, and
I fell into a dead sleep. When I waked up, everything was in darkness;
the hay scattered around smelt strong and was slightly damp; through the
slender rafters of the half-open roof pale stars were faintly twinkling.
I went out. The glow of sunset had long died away, and its last trace
showed in a faint light on the horizon; but above the freshness of the
night there was still a feeling of heat in the atmosphere, lately baked
through by the sun, and the breast still craved for a draught of cool
air. There was no wind, nor were there any clouds; the sky all round was
clear, and transparently dark, softly glimmering with innumerable, but
scarcely visible stars. There were lights twinkling about the village;
from the flaring tavern close by rose a confused, discordant din, amid
which I fancied I recognised the voice of Yakov. Violent laughter came
from there in an outburst at times. I went up to the little window and
pressed my face against the pane. I saw a cheerless, though varied and
animated scene; all were drunk--all from Yakov upwards. With breast
bared, he sat on a bench, and singing in a thick voice a street song to
a dance-tune, he lazily fingered and strummed on the strings of a
guitar. His moist hair hung in tufts over his fearfully pale face. In
the middle of the room, the Gabbler, completely 'screwed' and without
his coat, was hopping about in a dance before the peasant in the grey
smock; the peasant, on his side, was with difficulty stamping and
scraping with his feet, and grinning meaninglessly over his dishevelled
beard; he waved one hand from time to time, as much as to say, 'Here
goes!' Nothing could be more ludicrous than his face; however much he
twitched up his eyebrows, his heavy lids would hardly rise, but seemed
lying upon his scarcely visible, dim, and mawkish eyes. He was in that
amiable frame of mind of a perfectly intoxicated man, when every
passer-by, directly he looks him in the face, is sure to say, 'Bless
you, brother, bless you!' The Blinkard, as red as a lobster, and his
nostrils dilated wide, was laughing malignantly in a corner; only
Nikolai Ivanitch, as befits a good tavern-keeper, preserved his
composure unchanged. The room was thronged with many new faces; but the
Wild Master I did not see in it.
I turned away with rapid steps and began descending the hill on which
Kolotovka lies. At the foot of this hill stretches a wide plain; plunged
in the misty waves of the evening haze, it seemed more immense, and was,
as it were, merged in the darkening sky. I walked with long strides
along the road by the ravine, when all at once from somewhere far away
in the plain came a boy's clear voice: 'Antropka! Antropka-a-a!...' He
shouted in obstinate and tearful desperation, with long, long drawing
out of the last syllable.
He was silent for a few instants, and started shouting again. His voice
rang out clear in the still, lightly slumbering air. Thirty times at
least he had called the name, Antropka. When suddenly, from the farthest
end of the plain, as though from another world, there floated a scarcely
The boy's voice shouted back at once with gleeful exasperation:
'Come here, devil! woo-od imp!'
'What fo-or?' replied the other, after a long interval.
'Because dad wants to thrash you!' the first voice shouted back
The second voice did not call back again, and the boy fell to shouting
Antropka once more. His cries, fainter and less and less frequent, still
floated up to my ears, when it had grown completely dark, and I had
turned the corner of the wood which skirts my village and lies over
three miles from Kolotovka.... 'Antropka-a-a!' was still audible in the
air, filled with the shadows of night.
PIOTR PETROVITCH KARATAEV
One autumn five years ago, I chanced, when on the road from Moscow to
Tula, to spend almost a whole day at a posting station for want of
horses. I was on the way back from a shooting expedition, and had been
so incautious as to send my three horses on in front of me. The man in
charge of the station, a surly, elderly man, with hair hanging over his
brows to his very nose, with little sleepy eyes, answered all my
complaints and requests with disconnected grumbling, slammed the door
angrily, as though he were cursing his calling in life, and going out on
the steps abused the postilions who were sauntering in a leisurely way
through the mud with the weighty wooden yokes on their arms, or sat
yawning and scratching themselves on a bench, and paid no special
attention to the wrathful exclamations of their superior. I had already
sat myself down three times to tea, had several times tried in vain to
sleep, and had read all the inscriptions on the walls and windows; I was
overpowered by fearful boredom. In chill and helpless despair I was
staring at the upturned shafts of my carriage, when suddenly I heard the
tinkling of a bell, and a small trap, drawn by three jaded horses, drew
up at the steps. The new arrival leaped out of the trap, and shouting
'Horses! and look sharp!' he went into the room. While he was listening
with the strange wonder customary in such cases to the overseer's answer
that there were no horses, I had time to scan my new companion from top
to toe with all the greedy curiosity of a man bored to death. He
appeared to be nearly thirty. Small-pox had left indelible traces on his
face, which was dry and yellowish, with an unpleasant coppery tinge; his
long blue-black hair fell in ringlets on his collar behind, and was
twisted into jaunty curls in front; his small swollen eyes were quite
expressionless; a few hairs sprouted on his upper lip. He was dressed
like a dissipated country gentleman, given to frequenting horse-fairs,
in a rather greasy striped Caucasian jacket, a faded lilac silk-tie, a
waistcoat with copper buttons, and grey trousers shaped like huge
funnels, from under which the toes of unbrushed shoes could just be
discerned. He smelt strongly of tobacco and spirits; on his fat, red
hands, almost hidden in his sleeves, could be seen silver and Tula
rings. Such figures are met in Russia not by dozens, but by hundreds; an
acquaintance with them is not, to tell the truth, productive of any
particular pleasure; but in spite of the prejudice with which I looked
at the new-comer, I could not fail to notice the recklessly good-natured
and passionate expression of his face.
'This gentleman's been waiting more than an hour here too,' observed the
overseer indicating me.
More than an hour! The rascal was making fun of me.
'But perhaps he doesn't need them as I do,' answered the new comer.
'I know nothing about that,' said the overseer sulkily.
'Then is it really impossible? Are there positively no horses?'
'Impossible. There's not a single horse.'
'Well, tell them to bring me a samovar. I'll wait a little; there's
nothing else to be done.'
The new comer sat down on the bench, flung his cap on the table, and
passed his hand over his hair.
'Have you had tea already?' he inquired of me.
'But won't you have a little more for company.'
I consented. The stout red samovar made its appearance for the fourth
time on the table. I brought out a bottle of rum. I was not wrong in
taking my new acquaintance for a country gentleman of small property.
His name was Piotr Petrovitch Karataev.
We got into conversation. In less than half-an-hour after his arrival,
he was telling me his whole life with the most simple-hearted openness.
'I'm on my way to Moscow now,' he told me as he sipped his fourth glass;
'there's nothing for me to do now in the country.'
'Well, it's come to that. My property's in disorder; I've ruined my
peasants, I must confess; there have been bad years: bad harvests, and
all sorts of ill-luck, you know.... Though, indeed,' he added, looking
away dejectedly; 'how could I manage an estate!'
'But, no,' he interrupted me? 'there are people like me who make good
managers! You see,' he went on, screwing his head on one side and
sucking his pipe assiduously, 'looking at me, I dare say you think I'm
not much... but you, see, I must confess, I've had a very middling
education; I wasn't well off. I beg your pardon; I'm an open man, and if
you come to that....'
He did not complete his sentence, but broke off with a wave of the hand.
I began to assure him that he was mistaken, that I was highly delighted
to meet him, and so on, and then observed that I should have thought a
very thorough education was not indispensable for the good management of
'Agreed,' he responded; 'I agree with you. But still, a special sort of
disposition's essential! There are some may do anything they like, and
it's all right! but I.... Allow me to ask, are you from Petersburg or
'I'm from Petersburg.'
He blew a long coil of smoke from his nostrils.
'And I'm going in to Moscow to be an official.'
'What department do you mean to enter?'
'I don't know; that's as it happens. I'll own to you, I'm afraid of
official life; one's under responsibility at once. I've always lived in
the country; I'm used to it, you know... but now, there's no help for
it... it's through poverty! Oh, poverty, how I hate it!'
'But then you will be living in the capital.'
'In the capital.... Well, I don't know what there is that's pleasant in
the capital. We shall see; may be, it's pleasant too.... Though nothing,
I fancy, could be better than the country.'
'Then is it really impossible for you to live at your country place?'
He gave a sigh.
'Quite impossible. It's, so to say, not my own now.'
'Why, how so?'
'Well, a good fellow there--a neighbour--is in possession... a bill of
Poor Piotr Petrovitch passed his hand over his face, thought a minute,
and shook his head.
'Well?'... I must own, though,' he added after a brief silence, 'I
can't blame anybody; it's my own fault. I was fond of cutting a dash, I
am fond of cutting a dash, damn my soul!'
'You had a jolly life in the country?' I asked him.
'I had, sir,' he responded emphatically, looking me straight in the
face, 'twelve harriers--harriers, I can tell you, such as you don't very
often see.' (The last words he uttered in a drawl with great
significance.) 'A grey hare they'd double upon in no time. After the red
fox--they were devils, regular serpents. And I could boast of my
greyhounds too. It's all a thing of the past now, I've no reason to lie.
I used to go out shooting too. I had a dog called the Countess, a
wonderful setter, with a first-rate scent--she took everything.
Sometimes I'd go to a marsh and call "Seek." If she refused, you might
go with a dozen dogs, and you'd find nothing. But when she was after
anything, it was a sight to see her. And in the house so well-bred. If
you gave her bread with your left hand and said, "A Jew's tasted it,"
she wouldn't touch it; but give it with your right and say, "The young
lady's had some," and she'd take it and eat it at once. I had a pup of
hers--capital pup he was, and I meant to bring him with me to Moscow,
but a friend asked me for him, together with a gun; he said, "In Moscow
you'll have other things to think of." I gave him the pup and the gun;
and so, you know, it stayed there.'
'But you might go shooting in Moscow.'
'No, what would be the use? I didn't know when to pull myself up, so now
I must grin and bear it.
But there, kindly tell me rather about the living in Moscow--is it
'No, not very.'
'Not very.... And tell me, please, are there any gypsies in Moscow?'
'What sort of gypsies?'
'Why, such as hang about fairs?'
'Yes, there are in Moscow....'
'Well, that's good news. I like gypsies, damn my soul! I like 'em....'
And there was a gleam of reckless merriment in Piotr Petrovitch's eyes.
But suddenly he turned round on the bench, then seemed to ponder,
dropped his eyes, and held out his empty glass to me.
'Give me some of your rum,' he said.'
'But the tea's all finished.'
'Never mind, as it is, without tea... Ah--h!' Karataev laid his head in
his hands and leaned his elbows on the table. I looked at him without
speaking, and although I was expecting the sentimental exclamations,
possibly even the tears of which the inebriate are so lavish, yet when
he raised his head, I was, I must own, impressed by the profoundly
mournful expression of his face.
'What's wrong with you?'
'Nothing.... I was thinking of old times. An anecdote that... I would
tell it you, but I am ashamed to trouble you....'
'Yes,' he went on with a sigh:--'there are cases... like mine, for
instance. Well, if you like, I will tell you. Though really I don't
'Do tell me, dear Piotr Petrovitch.'
'Very well, though it's a... Well, do you see,' he began; 'but, upon my
word, I don't know.'
'Come, that's enough, dear Piotr Petrovitch.'
'All right. This, then, was what befel me, so to say. I used to live in
the country... All of a sudden, I took a fancy to a girl. Ah, what a
girl she was!... handsome, clever, and so good and sweet! Her name was
Matrona. But she wasn't a lady--that is, you understand, she was a serf,
simply a serf-girl. And not my girl; she belonged to someone else--that
was the trouble. Well, so I loved her--it's really an incident that one
can hardly... well, and she loved me, too. And so Matrona began begging
me to buy her off from her mistress; and, indeed, the thought had
crossed my mind too.... But her mistress was a rich, dreadful old body;
she lived about twelve miles from me. Well, so one fine day, as the
saying is, I ordered my team of three horses to be harnessed abreast to
the droshky--in the centre I'd a first-rate goer, an extraordinary
Asiatic horse, for that reason called Lampurdos--I dressed myself in my
best, and went off to Matrona's mistress. I arrived; it was a big house
with wings and a garden.... Matrona was waiting for me at the bend of
the road; she tried to say a word to me, but she could only kiss her
hand and turn away. Well, so I went into the hall and asked if the
mistress were at home?... And a tall footman says to me: "What name
shall I say?" I answered, "Say, brother, Squire Karataev has called on a
matter of business." The footman walked away; I waited by myself and
thought, "I wonder how it'll be? I daresay the old beast'll screw out a
fearful price, for all she's so rich. Five hundred roubles she'll ask, I
shouldn't be surprised." Well, at last the footman returned, saying, "If
you please, walk up." I followed him into the drawing-room. A little
yellowish old woman sat in an armchair blinking. "What do you want?" To
begin with, you know, I thought it necessary to say how glad I was to
make her acquaintance.... "You are making a mistake; I am not the
mistress here; I'm a relation of hers.... What do you want?" I remarked
upon that, "I had to speak to the mistress herself." "Marya Ilyinishna
is not receiving to-day; she is unwell.... What do you want?" There's
nothing for it, I thought to myself; so I explained my position to her.
The old lady heard me out. "Matrona! what Matrona?"
'"Matrona Fedorovna, Kulik's daughter."
'"Fedor Kulik's daughter.... But how did you come to know her?" "By
chance." "And is she aware of your intention?" "Yes." The old lady was
silent for a minute. Then, "Ah, I'll let her know it, the worthless
hussy!" she said. I was astounded, I must confess. "What ever for? upon
my word!... I'm ready to pay a good sum, if you will be so good as to
'The old hag positively hissed at me. "A surprising idea you've
concocted there; as though we needed your money!... I'll teach her, I'll
show her!... I'll beat the folly out of her!" The old lady choked with
spitefulness. "Wasn't she well off with us, pray?... Ah, she's a little
devil! God forgive my transgressions!" I fired up, I'll confess. "What
are you threatening the poor girl for? How is she to blame?" The old
lady crossed herself. "Ah, Lord have mercy on me, do you suppose I'd..."
"But she's not yours, you know!" "Well, Marya Ilyinishna knows best
about that; it's not your business, my good sir; but I'll show that chit
of a Matrona whose serf she is." I'll confess, I almost fell on the
damned old woman, but I thought of Matrona, and my hands dropped. I was
more frightened than I can tell you; I began entreating the old lady.
"Take what you like," I said. "But what use is she to you?" "I like her,
good ma'am; put yourself in my position.... Allow me to kiss your little
hand." And I positively kissed the wretch's hand! "Well," mumbled the
old witch, "I'll tell Marya Ilyinishna--it's for her to decide; you come
back in a couple of days." I went home in great uneasiness. I began to
suspect that I'd managed the thing badly; that I'd been wrong in
letting her notice my state of mind, but I thought of that too late. Two
days after, I went to see the mistress. I was shown into a boudoir.
There were heaps of flowers and splendid furniture; the lady herself was
sitting in a wonderful easy-chair, with her head lolling back on a
cushion; and the same relation was sitting there too, and some young
lady, with white eyebrows and a mouth all awry, in a green gown--a
companion, most likely. The old lady said through her nose, "Please be
seated." I sat down. She began questioning me as to how old I was, and
where I'd been in the service, and what I meant to do, and all that very
condescendingly and solemnly. I answered minutely. The old lady took a
handkerchief off the table, flourished it, fanning herself.... "Katerina
Karpovna informed me," says she, "of your scheme; she informed me of it;
but I make it my rule," says she, "not to allow my people to leave my
service. It is improper, and quite unsuitable in a well-ordered house;
it is not good order. I have already given my orders," says she. "There
will be no need for you to trouble yourself further," says she. "Oh, no
trouble, really.... But can it be, Matrona Fedorovna is so necessary to
you?" "No," says she, "she is not necessary." "Then why won't you part
with her to me?" "Because I don't choose to; I don't choose--and that's
all about it. I've already," says she, "given my orders: she is being
sent to a village in the steppes." I was thunderstruck. The old lady
said a couple of words in French to the young lady in green; she went
out. "I am," says she, "a woman of strict principles, and my health is
delicate; I can't stand being worried. You are still young, and I'm an
old woman, and entitled to give you advice. Wouldn't it be better for
you to settle down, get married; to look out a good match; wealthy
brides are few, but a poor girl, of the highest moral character, could
be found." I stared, do you know, at the old lady, and didn't understand
what she was driving at; I could hear she was talking about marriage,
but the village in the steppes was ringing in my ears all the while. Get
married!... what the devil!...'