Part 3 out of 8
Chichikov shrugged his shoulders. "Because I am not," he replied.
"You are no great hand at ANYTHING, I think."
"What does that matter? God has made me so."
"The truth is that you are a Thetuk, and nothing else. Once upon a
time I believed you to be a good fellow, but now I see that you don't
understand civility. One cannot speak to you as one would to an
intimate, for there is no frankness or sincerity about you. You are a
regular Sobakevitch--just such another as he."
"For what reason are you abusing me? Am I in any way at fault for
declining to play cards? Sell me those souls if you are the man to
hesitate over such rubbish."
"The foul fiend take you! I was about to have given them to you for
nothing, but now you shan't have them at all--not if you offer me
three kingdoms in exchange. Henceforth I will have nothing to do with
you, you cobbler, you dirty blacksmith! Porphyri, go and tell the
ostler to give the gentleman's horses no oats, but only hay."
This development Chichikov had hardly expected.
"And do you," added Nozdrev to his guest, "get out of my sight."
Yet in spite of this, host and guest took supper together--even though
on this occasion the table was adorned with no wines of fictitious
nomenclature, but only with a bottle which reared its solitary head
beside a jug of what is usually known as vin ordinaire. When supper
was over Nozdrev said to Chichikov as he conducted him to a side room
where a bed had been made up:
"This is where you are to sleep. I cannot very well wish you
Left to himself on Nozdrev's departure, Chichikov felt in a most
unenviable frame of mind. Full of inward vexation, he blamed himself
bitterly for having come to see this man and so wasted valuable time;
but even more did he blame himself for having told him of his
scheme--for having acted as carelessly as a child or a madman. Of a
surety the scheme was not one which ought to have been confided to a
man like Nozdrev, for he was a worthless fellow who might lie about
it, and append additions to it, and spread such stories as would give
rise to God knows what scandals. "This is indeed bad!" Chichikov said
to himself. "I have been an absolute fool." Consequently he spent an
uneasy night--this uneasiness being increased by the fact that a
number of small, but vigorous, insects so feasted upon him that he
could do nothing but scratch the spots and exclaim, "The devil take
you and Nozdrev alike!" Only when morning was approaching did he fall
asleep. On rising, he made it his first business (after donning
dressing-gown and slippers) to cross the courtyard to the stable, for
the purpose of ordering Selifan to harness the britchka. Just as he
was returning from his errand he encountered Nozdrev, clad in a
dressing-gown, and holding a pipe between his teeth.
Host and guest greeted one another in friendly fashion, and Nozdrev
inquired how Chichikov had slept.
"Fairly well," replied Chichikov, but with a touch of dryness in his
"The same with myself," said Nozdrev. "The truth is that such a lot of
nasty brutes kept crawling over me that even to speak of it gives me
the shudders. Likewise, as the effect of last night's doings, a whole
squadron of soldiers seemed to be camping on my chest, and giving me a
flogging. Ugh! And whom also do you think I saw in a dream? You would
never guess. Why, it was Staff-Captain Potsieluev and Lieutenant
"Yes," though Chichikov to himself, "and I wish that they too would
give you a public thrashing!"
"I felt so ill!" went on Nozdrev. "And just after I had fallen asleep
something DID come and sting me. Probably it was a party of hag
fleas. Now, dress yourself, and I will be with you presently. First of
all I must give that scoundrel of a bailiff a wigging."
Chichikov departed to his own room to wash and dress; which process
completed, he entered the dining-room to find the table laid with
tea-things and a bottle of rum. Clearly no broom had yet touched the
place, for there remained traces of the previous night's dinner and
supper in the shape of crumbs thrown over the floor and tobacco ash on
the tablecloth. The host himself, when he entered, was still clad in a
dressing-gown exposing a hairy chest; and as he sat holding his pipe
in his hand, and drinking tea from a cup, he would have made a model
for the sort of painter who prefers to portray gentlemen of the less
curled and scented order.
"What think you?" he asked of Chichikov after a short silence. "Are
you willing NOW to play me for those souls?"
"I have told you that I never play cards. If the souls are for sale, I
will buy them."
"I decline to sell them. Such would not be the course proper between
friends. But a game of banker would be quite another matter. Let us
deal the cards."
"I have told you that I decline to play."
"And you will not agree to an exchange?"
"Then look here. Suppose we play a game of chess. If you win, the
souls shall be yours. There are lot which I should like to see crossed
off the revision list. Hi, Porphyri! Bring me the chessboard."
"You are wasting your time. I will play neither chess nor cards."
"But chess is different from playing with a bank. In chess there can
be neither luck nor cheating, for everything depends upon skill. In
fact, I warn you that I cannot possibly play with you unless you allow
me a move or two in advance."
"The same with me," thought Chichikov. "Shall I, or shall I not, play
this fellow? I used not to be a bad chess-player, and it is a sport in
which he would find it more difficult to be up to his tricks."
"Very well," he added aloud. "I WILL play you at chess."
"And stake the souls for a hundred roubles?" asked Nozdrev.
"No. Why for a hundred? Would it not be sufficient to stake them for fifty?"
"No. What would be the use of fifty? Nevertheless, for the hundred
roubles I will throw in a moderately old puppy, or else a gold seal
"Very well," assented Chichikov.
"Then how many moves are you going to allow me?"
"Is THAT to be part of the bargain? Why, none, of course."
"At least allow me two."
"No, none. I myself am only a poor player."
"_I_ know you and your poor play," said Nozdrev, moving a chessman.
"In fact, it is a long time since last I had a chessman in my hand,"
replied Chichikov, also moving a piece.
"Ah! _I_ know you and your poor play," repeated Nozdrev, moving a
"I say again that it is a long time since last I had a chessman in my
hand." And Chichikov, in his turn, moved.
"Ah! _I_ know you and your poor play," repeated Nozdrev, for the third
time as he made a third move. At the same moment the cuff of one of
his sleeves happened to dislodge another chessman from its position.
"Again, I say," said Chichikov, "that 'tis a long time since last--But
hi! look here! Put that piece back in its place!"
"This one." And almost as Chichikov spoke he saw a third chessman
coming into view between the queens. God only knows whence that
chessman had materialised.
"No, no!" shouted Chichikov as he rose from the table. "It is
impossible to play with a man like you. People don't move three pieces
"How 'three pieces'? All that I have done is to make a mistake--to
move one of my pieces by accident. If you like, I will forfeit it to
"And whence has the third piece come?"
"What third piece?"
"The one now standing between the queens?"
"'Tis one of your own pieces. Surely you are forgetting?"
"No, no, my friend. I have counted every move, and can remember each
one. That piece has only just become added to the board. Put it back
in its place, I say."
"Its place? Which IS its place?" But Nozdrev had reddened a good
deal. "I perceive you to be a strategist at the game."
"No, no, good friend. YOU are the strategist--though an unsuccessful
one, as it happens."
"Then of what are you supposing me capable? Of cheating you?"
"I am not supposing you capable of anything. All that I say is that I
will not play with you any more."
"But you can't refuse to," said Nozdrev, growing heated. "You see, the
game has begun."
"Nevertheless, I have a right not to continue it, seeing that you are
not playing as an honest man should do."
"You are lying--you cannot truthfully say that."
"'Tis you who are lying."
"But I have NOT cheated. Consequently you cannot refuse to play, but
must continue the game to a finish."
"You cannot force me to play," retorted Chichikov coldly as, turning
to the chessboard, he swept the pieces into confusion.
Nozdrev approached Chichikov with a manner so threatening that the
other fell back a couple of paces.
"I WILL force you to play," said Nozdrev. "It is no use you making a
mess of the chessboard, for I can remember every move. We will replace
the chessmen exactly as they were."
"No, no, my friend. The game is over, and I play you no more."
"You say that you will not?"
"Yes. Surely you can see for yourself that such a thing is
"That cock won't fight. Say at once that you refuse to play with me."
And Nozdrev approached a step nearer.
"Very well; I DO say that," replied Chichikov, and at the same
moment raised his hands towards his face, for the dispute was growing
heated. Nor was the act of caution altogether unwarranted, for Nozdrev
also raised his fist, and it may be that one of her hero's plump,
pleasant-looking cheeks would have sustained an indelible insult had
not he (Chichikov) parried the blow and, seizing Nozdrev by his
whirling arms, held them fast.
"Porphyri! Pavlushka!" shouted Nozdrev as madly he strove to free himself.
On hearing the words, Chichikov, both because he wished to avoid
rendering the servants witnesses of the unedifying scene and because
he felt that it would be of no avail to hold Nozdrev any longer, let
go of the latter's arms; but at the same moment Porphyri and Pavlushka
entered the room--a pair of stout rascals with whom it would be unwise
"Do you, or do you not, intend to finish the game?" said Nozdrev.
"Give me a direct answer."
"No; it will not be possible to finish the game," replied Chichikov,
glancing out of the window. He could see his britchka standing ready
for him, and Selifan evidently awaiting orders to draw up to the
entrance steps. But from the room there was no escape, since in the
doorway was posted the couple of well-built serving-men.
"Then it is as I say? You refuse to finish the game?" repeated
Nozdrev, his face as red as fire.
"I would have finished it had you played like a man of honour. But, as
it is, I cannot."
"You cannot, eh, you villain? You find that you cannot as soon as you
find that you are not winning? Thrash him, you fellows!" And as he
spoke Nozdrev grasped the cherrywood shank of his pipe. Chichikov
turned as white as a sheet. He tried to say something, but his
quivering lips emitted no sound. "Thrash him!" again shouted Nozdrev
as he rushed forward in a state of heat and perspiration more proper
to a warrior who is attacking an impregnable fortress. "Thrash him!"
again he shouted in a voice like that of some half-demented lieutenant
whose desperate bravery has acquired such a reputation that orders
have had to be issued that his hands shall be held lest he attempt
deeds of over-presumptuous daring. Seized with the military spirit,
however, the lieutenant's head begins to whirl, and before his eye
there flits the image of Suvorov. He advances to the great
encounter, and impulsively cries, "Forward, my sons!"--cries it
without reflecting that he may be spoiling the plan of the general
attack, that millions of rifles may be protruding their muzzles
through the embrasures of the impregnable, towering walls of the
fortress, that his own impotent assault may be destined to be
dissipated like dust before the wind, and that already there may have
been launched on its whistling career the bullet which is to close for
ever his vociferous throat. However, if Nozdrev resembled the
headstrong, desperate lieutenant whom we have just pictured as
advancing upon a fortress, at least the fortress itself in no way
resembled the impregnable stronghold which I have described. As a
matter of fact, the fortress became seized with a panic which drove
its spirit into its boots. First of all, the chair with which
Chichikov (the fortress in question) sought to defend himself was
wrested from his grasp by the serfs, and then--blinking and neither
alive nor dead--he turned to parry the Circassian pipe-stem of his
host. In fact, God only knows what would have happened had not the
fates been pleased by a miracle to deliver Chichikov's elegant back
and shoulders from the onslaught. Suddenly, and as unexpectedly as
though the sound had come from the clouds, there made itself heard the
tinkling notes of a collar-bell, and then the rumble of wheels
approaching the entrance steps, and, lastly, the snorting and hard
breathing of a team of horses as a vehicle came to a standstill.
Involuntarily all present glanced through the window, and saw a man
clad in a semi-military greatcoat leap from a buggy. After making an
inquiry or two in the hall, he entered the dining-room just at the
juncture when Chichikov, almost swooning with terror, had found
himself placed in about as awkward a situation as could well befall a
 The great Russian general who, after winning fame in the Seven
Years' War, met with disaster when attempting to assist the
Austrians against the French in 1799.
"Kindly tell me which of you is Monsieur Nozdrev?" said the unknown
with a glance of perplexity both at the person named (who was still
standing with pipe-shank upraised) and at Chichikov (who was just
beginning to recover from his unpleasant predicament).
"Kindly tell ME whom I have the honour of addressing?" retorted
Nozdrev as he approached the official.
"I am the Superintendent of Rural Police."
"And what do you want?"
"I have come to fulfil a commission imposed upon me. That is to say,
I have come to place you under arrest until your case shall have
"Rubbish! What case, pray?"
"The case in which you involved yourself when, in a drunken condition,
and through the instrumentality of a walking-stick, you offered grave
offence to the person of Landowner Maksimov."
"You lie! To your face I tell you that never in my life have I set
eyes upon Landowner Maksimov."
"Good sir, allow me to represent to you that I am a Government officer.
Speeches like that you may address to your servants, but not to me."
At this point Chichikov, without waiting for Nozdrev's reply, seized
his cap, slipped behind the Superintendent's back, rushed out on to
the verandah, sprang into his britchka, and ordered Selifan to drive
like the wind.
Certainly Chichikov was a thorough coward, for, although the britchka
pursued its headlong course until Nozdrev's establishment had
disappeared behind hillocks and hedgerows, our hero continued to
glance nervously behind him, as though every moment expecting to see a
stern chase begin. His breath came with difficulty, and when he tried
his heart with his hands he could feel it fluttering like a quail
caught in a net.
"What a sweat the fellow has thrown me into!" he thought to himself,
while many a dire and forceful aspiration passed through his mind.
Indeed, the expressions to which he gave vent were most inelegant in
their nature. But what was to be done next? He was a Russian and
thoroughly aroused. The affair had been no joke. "But for the
Superintendent," he reflected, "I might never again have looked upon
God's daylight--I might have vanished like a bubble on a pool, and
left neither trace nor posterity nor property nor an honourable name
for my future offspring to inherit!" (it seemed that our hero was
particularly anxious with regard to his possible issue).
"What a scurvy barin!" mused Selifan as he drove along. "Never have I
seen such a barin. I should like to spit in his face. 'Tis better to
allow a man nothing to eat than to refuse to feed a horse properly. A
horse needs his oats--they are his proper fare. Even if you make a man
procure a meal at his own expense, don't deny a horse his oats, for he
ought always to have them."
An equally poor opinion of Nozdrev seemed to be cherished also by the
steeds, for not only were the bay and the Assessor clearly out of
spirits, but even the skewbald was wearing a dejected air. True, at
home the skewbald got none but the poorer sorts of oats to eat, and
Selifan never filled his trough without having first called him a
villain; but at least they WERE oats, and not hay--they were stuff
which could be chewed with a certain amount of relish. Also, there was
the fact that at intervals he could intrude his long nose into his
companions' troughs (especially when Selifan happened to be absent
from the stable) and ascertain what THEIR provender was like. But at
Nozdrev's there had been nothing but hay! That was not right. All
three horses felt greatly discontented.
But presently the malcontents had their reflections cut short in a
very rude and unexpected manner. That is to say, they were brought
back to practicalities by coming into violent collision with a
six-horsed vehicle, while upon their heads descended both a babel of
cries from the ladies inside and a storm of curses and abuse from the
coachman. "Ah, you damned fool!" he vociferated. "I shouted to you
loud enough! Draw out, you old raven, and keep to the right! Are you
drunk?" Selifan himself felt conscious that he had been careless, but
since a Russian does not care to admit a fault in the presence of
strangers, he retorted with dignity: "Why have you run into US? Did
you leave your eyes behind you at the last tavern that you stopped
at?" With that he started to back the britchka, in the hope that it
might get clear of the other's harness; but this would not do, for the
pair were too hopelessly intertwined. Meanwhile the skewbald snuffed
curiously at his new acquaintances as they stood planted on either
side of him; while the ladies in the vehicle regarded the scene with
an expression of terror. One of them was an old woman, and the other a
damsel of about sixteen. A mass of golden hair fell daintily from a
small head, and the oval of her comely face was as shapely as an egg,
and white with the transparent whiteness seen when the hands of a
housewife hold a new-laid egg to the light to let the sun's rays
filter through its shell. The same tint marked the maiden's ears where
they glowed in the sunshine, and, in short, what with the tears in her
wide-open, arresting eyes, she presented so attractive a picture that
our hero bestowed upon it more than a passing glance before he turned
his attention to the hubbub which was being raised among the horses
and the coachmen.
"Back out, you rook of Nizhni Novgorod!" the strangers' coachman
shouted. Selifan tightened his reins, and the other driver did the
same. The horses stepped back a little, and then came together
again--this time getting a leg or two over the traces. In fact, so
pleased did the skewbald seem with his new friends that he refused to
stir from the melee into which an unforeseen chance had plunged him.
Laying his muzzle lovingly upon the neck of one of his
recently-acquired acquaintances, he seemed to be whispering something
in that acquaintance's ear--and whispering pretty nonsense, too, to
judge from the way in which that confidant kept shaking his ears.
At length peasants from a village which happened to be near the scene
of the accident tackled the mess; and since a spectacle of that kind
is to the Russian muzhik what a newspaper or a club-meeting is to the
German, the vehicles soon became the centre of a crowd, and the
village denuded even of its old women and children. The traces were
disentangled, and a few slaps on the nose forced the skewbald to draw
back a little; after which the teams were straightened out and
separated. Nevertheless, either sheer obstinacy or vexation at being
parted from their new friends caused the strange team absolutely to
refuse to move a leg. Their driver laid the whip about them, but still
they stood as though rooted to the spot. At length the participatory
efforts of the peasants rose to an unprecedented degree of enthusiasm,
and they shouted in an intermittent chorus the advice, "Do you,
Andrusha, take the head of the trace horse on the right, while Uncle
Mitai mounts the shaft horse. Get up, Uncle Mitai." Upon that the
lean, long, and red-bearded Uncle Mitai mounted the shaft horse; in
which position he looked like a village steeple or the winder which is
used to raise water from wells. The coachman whipped up his steeds
afresh, but nothing came of it, and Uncle Mitai had proved useless.
"Hold on, hold on!" shouted the peasants again. "Do you, Uncle Mitai,
mount the trace horse, while Uncle Minai mounts the shaft horse."
Whereupon Uncle Minai--a peasant with a pair of broad shoulders, a
beard as black as charcoal, and a belly like the huge samovar in which
sbiten is brewed for all attending a local market--hastened to seat
himself upon the shaft horse, which almost sank to the ground beneath
his weight. "NOW they will go all right!" the muzhiks exclaimed.
"Lay it on hot, lay it on hot! Give that sorrel horse the whip, and
make him squirm like a koramora." Nevertheless, the affair in no
way progressed; wherefore, seeing that flogging was of no use, Uncles
Mitai and Minai BOTH mounted the sorrel, while Andrusha seated
himself upon the trace horse. Then the coachman himself lost patience,
and sent the two Uncles about their business--and not before it was
time, seeing that the horses were steaming in a way that made it clear
that, unless they were first winded, they would never reach the next
posthouse. So they were given a moment's rest. That done, they moved
off of their own accord!
 A kind of large gnat.
Throughout, Chichikov had been gazing at the young unknown with great
attention, and had even made one or two attempts to enter into
conversation with her: but without success. Indeed, when the ladies
departed, it was as in a dream that he saw the girl's comely presence,
the delicate features of her face, and the slender outline of her form
vanish from his sight; it was as in a dream that once more he saw only
the road, the britchka, the three horses, Selifan, and the bare, empty
fields. Everywhere in life--yes, even in the plainest, the dingiest
ranks of society, as much as in those which are uniformly bright and
presentable--a man may happen upon some phenomenon which is so
entirely different from those which have hitherto fallen to his lot.
Everywhere through the web of sorrow of which our lives are woven
there may suddenly break a clear, radiant thread of joy; even as
suddenly along the street of some poor, poverty-stricken village
which, ordinarily, sees nought but a farm waggon there may came
bowling a gorgeous coach with plated harness, picturesque horses, and
a glitter of glass, so that the peasants stand gaping, and do not
resume their caps until long after the strange equipage has become
lost to sight. Thus the golden-haired maiden makes a sudden,
unexpected appearance in our story, and as suddenly, as unexpectedly,
disappears. Indeed, had it not been that the person concerned was
Chichikov, and not some youth of twenty summers--a hussar or a student
or, in general, a man standing on the threshold of life--what thoughts
would not have sprung to birth, and stirred and spoken, within him;
for what a length of time would he not have stood entranced as he
stared into the distance and forgot alike his journey, the business
still to be done, the possibility of incurring loss through
lingering--himself, his vocation, the world, and everything else that
the world contains!
But in the present case the hero was a man of middle-age, and of
cautious and frigid temperament. True, he pondered over the incident,
but in more deliberate fashion than a younger man would have done.
That is to say, his reflections were not so irresponsible and
unsteady. "She was a comely damsel," he said to himself as he opened
his snuff-box and took a pinch. "But the important point is: Is she
also a NICE DAMSEL? One thing she has in her favour--and that is
that she appears only just to have left school, and not to have had
time to become womanly in the worser sense. At present, therefore, she
is like a child. Everything in her is simple, and she says just what
she thinks, and laughs merely when she feels inclined. Such a damsel
might be made into anything--or she might be turned into worthless
rubbish. The latter, I surmise, for trudging after her she will have a
fond mother and a bevy of aunts, and so forth--persons who, within a
year, will have filled her with womanishness to the point where her
own father wouldn't know her. And to that there will be added pride
and affectation, and she will begin to observe established rules, and
to rack her brains as to how, and how much, she ought to talk, and to
whom, and where, and so forth. Every moment will see her growing
timorous and confused lest she be saying too much. Finally, she will
develop into a confirmed prevaricator, and end by marrying the devil
knows whom!" Chichikov paused awhile. Then he went on: "Yet I should
like to know who she is, and who her father is, and whether he is a
rich landowner of good standing, or merely a respectable man who has
acquired a fortune in the service of the Government. Should he allow
her, on marriage, a dowry of, say, two hundred thousand roubles, she
will be a very nice catch indeed. She might even, so to speak, make a
man of good breeding happy."
Indeed, so attractively did the idea of the two hundred thousand
roubles begin to dance before his imagination that he felt a twinge of
self-reproach because, during the hubbub, he had not inquired of the
postillion or the coachman who the travellers might be. But soon the
sight of Sobakevitch's country house dissipated his thoughts, and
forced him to return to his stock subject of reflection.
Sobakevitch's country house and estate were of very fair size, and on
each side of the mansion were expanses of birch and pine forest in two
shades of green. The wooden edifice itself had dark-grey walls and a
red-gabled roof, for it was a mansion of the kind which Russia builds
for her military settlers and for German colonists. A noticeable
circumstance was the fact that the taste of the architect had differed
from that of the proprietor--the former having manifestly been a
pedant and desirous of symmetry, and the latter having wished only for
comfort. Consequently he (the proprietor) had dispensed with all
windows on one side of the mansion, and had caused to be inserted, in
their place, only a small aperture which, doubtless, was intended to
light an otherwise dark lumber-room. Likewise, the architect's best
efforts had failed to cause the pediment to stand in the centre of the
building, since the proprietor had had one of its four original
columns removed. Evidently durability had been considered throughout,
for the courtyard was enclosed by a strong and very high wooden fence,
and both the stables, the coach-house, and the culinary premises were
partially constructed of beams warranted to last for centuries. Nay,
even the wooden huts of the peasantry were wonderful in the solidity
of their construction, and not a clay wall or a carved pattern or
other device was to be seen. Everything fitted exactly into its right
place, and even the draw-well of the mansion was fashioned of the
oakwood usually thought suitable only for mills or ships. In short,
wherever Chichikov's eye turned he saw nothing that was not free from
shoddy make and well and skilfully arranged. As he approached the
entrance steps he caught sight of two faces peering from a window. One
of them was that of a woman in a mobcap with features as long and as
narrow as a cucumber, and the other that of a man with features as
broad and as short as the Moldavian pumpkins (known as gorlianki)
whereof balallaiki--the species of light, two-stringed instrument
which constitutes the pride and the joy of the gay young fellow of
twenty as he sits winking and smiling at the white-necked,
white-bosomed maidens who have gathered to listen to his low-pitched
tinkling--are fashioned. This scrutiny made, both faces withdrew, and
there came out on to the entrance steps a lacquey clad in a grey
jacket and a stiff blue collar. This functionary conducted Chichikov
into the hall, where he was met by the master of the house himself,
who requested his guest to enter, and then led him into the inner part
of the mansion.
A covert glance at Sobakevitch showed our hero that his host exactly
resembled a moderate-sized bear. To complete the resemblance,
Sobakevitch's long frockcoat and baggy trousers were of the precise
colour of a bear's hide, while, when shuffling across the floor, he
made a criss-cross motion of the legs, and had, in addition, a
constant habit of treading upon his companion's toes. As for his face,
it was of the warm, ardent tint of a piatok. Persons of this
kind--persons to whose designing nature has devoted not much thought,
and in the fashioning of whose frames she has used no instruments so
delicate as a file or a gimlet and so forth--are not uncommon. Such
persons she merely roughhews. One cut with a hatchet, and there
results a nose; another such cut with a hatchet, and there
materialises a pair of lips; two thrusts with a drill, and there
issues a pair of eyes. Lastly, scorning to plane down the roughness,
she sends out that person into the world, saying: "There is another
live creature." Sobakevitch was just such a ragged, curiously put
together figure--though the above model would seem to have been
followed more in his upper portion than in his lower. One result was
that he seldom turned his head to look at the person with whom he was
speaking, but, rather, directed his eyes towards, say, the stove
corner or the doorway. As host and guest crossed the dining-room
Chichikov directed a second glance at his companion. "He is a bear,
and nothing but a bear," he thought to himself. And, indeed, the
strange comparison was inevitable. Incidentally, Sobakevitch's
Christian name and patronymic were Michael Semenovitch. Of his habit
of treading upon other people's toes Chichikov had become fully aware;
wherefore he stepped cautiously, and, throughout, allowed his host to
take the lead. As a matter of fact, Sobakevitch himself seemed
conscious of his failing, for at intervals he would inquire: "I hope I
have not hurt you?" and Chichikov, with a word of thanks, would reply
that as yet he had sustained no injury.
 A copper coin worth five kopecks.
At length they reached the drawing-room, where Sobakevitch pointed to
an armchair, and invited his guest to be seated. Chichikov gazed with
interest at the walls and the pictures. In every such picture there
were portrayed either young men or Greek generals of the type of
Movrogordato (clad in a red uniform and breaches), Kanaris, and
others; and all these heroes were depicted with a solidity of thigh
and a wealth of moustache which made the beholder simply shudder with
awe. Among them there were placed also, according to some unknown
system, and for some unknown reason, firstly, Bagration--tall and
thin, and with a cluster of small flags and cannon beneath him, and
the whole set in the narrowest of frames--and, secondly, the Greek
heroine, Bobelina, whose legs looked larger than do the whole bodies
of the drawing-room dandies of the present day. Apparently the master
of the house was himself a man of health and strength, and therefore
liked to have his apartments adorned with none but folk of equal
vigour and robustness. Lastly, in the window, and suspected cheek by
jowl with Bobelina, there hung a cage whence at intervals there peered
forth a white-spotted blackbird. Like everything else in the
apartment, it bore a strong resemblance to Sobakevitch. When host and
guest had been conversing for two minutes or so the door opened, and
there entered the hostess--a tall lady in a cap adorned with ribands
of domestic colouring and manufacture. She entered deliberately, and
held her head as erect as a palm.
 A Russian general who fought against Napoleon, and was mortally
wounded at Borodino.
"This is my wife, Theodulia Ivanovna," said Sobakevitch.
Chichikov approached and took her hand. The fact that she raised it
nearly to the level of his lips apprised him of the circumstance that
it had just been rinsed in cucumber oil.
"My dear, allow me to introduce Paul Ivanovitch Chichikov," added
Sobakevitch. "He has the honour of being acquainted both with our
Governor and with our Postmaster."
Upon this Theodulia Ivanovna requested her guest to be seated, and
accompanied the invitation with the kind of bow usually employed only
by actresses who are playing the role of queens. Next, she took a seat
upon the sofa, drew around her her merino gown, and sat thereafter
without moving an eyelid or an eyebrow. As for Chichikov, he glanced
upwards, and once more caught sight of Kanaris with his fat thighs and
interminable moustache, and of Bobelina and the blackbird. For fully
five minutes all present preserved a complete silence--the only sound
audible being that of the blackbird's beak against the wooden floor of
the cage as the creature fished for grains of corn. Meanwhile
Chichikov again surveyed the room, and saw that everything in it was
massive and clumsy in the highest degree; as also that everything was
curiously in keeping with the master of the house. For example, in one
corner of the apartment there stood a hazelwood bureau with a bulging
body on four grotesque legs--the perfect image of a bear. Also, the
tables and the chairs were of the same ponderous, unrestful order, and
every single article in the room appeared to be saying either, "I,
too, am a Sobakevitch," or "I am exactly like Sobakevitch."
"I heard speak of you one day when I was visiting the President of the
Council," said Chichikov, on perceiving that no one else had a mind to
begin a conversation. "That was on Thursday last. We had a very
"Yes, on that occasion I was not there," replied Sobakevitch.
"What a nice man he is!"
"Who is?" inquired Sobakevitch, gazing into the corner by the stove.
"The President of the Local Council."
"Did he seem so to you? True, he is a mason, but he is also the
greatest fool that the world ever saw."
Chichikov started a little at this mordant criticism, but soon pulled
himself together again, and continued:
"Of course, every man has his weakness. Yet the President seems to be
an excellent fellow."
"And do you think the same of the Governor?"
"Yes. Why not?"
"Because there exists no greater rogue than he."
"What? The Governor a rogue?" ejaculated Chichikov, at a loss to
understand how the official in question could come to be numbered with
thieves. "Let me say that I should never have guessed it. Permit me
also to remark that his conduct would hardly seem to bear out your
opinion--he seems so gentle a man." And in proof of this Chichikov
cited the purses which the Governor knitted, and also expatiated on
the mildness of his features.
"He has the face of a robber," said Sobakevitch. "Were you to give him
a knife, and to turn him loose on a turnpike, he would cut your throat
for two kopecks. And the same with the Vice-Governor. The pair are
just Gog and Magog."
"Evidently he is not on good terms with them," thought Chichikov to
himself. "I had better pass to the Chief of Police, which whom he
DOES seem to be friendly." Accordingly he added aloud: "For my own
part, I should give the preference to the Head of the Gendarmery. What
a frank, outspoken nature he has! And what an element of simplicity
does his expression contain!"
"He is mean to the core," remarked Sobakevitch coldly. "He will sell
you and cheat you, and then dine at your table. Yes, I know them all,
and every one of them is a swindler, and the town a nest of rascals
engaged in robbing one another. Not a man of the lot is there but
would sell Christ. Yet stay: ONE decent fellow there is--the Public
Prosecutor; though even HE, if the truth be told, is little better
than a pig."
After these eulogia Chichikov saw that it would be useless to continue
running through the list of officials--more especially since suddenly
he had remembered that Sobakevitch was not at any time given to
commending his fellow man.
"Let us go to luncheon, my dear," put in Theodulia Ivanovna to her
"Yes; pray come to table," said Sobakevitch to his guest; whereupon
they consumed the customary glass of vodka (accompanied by sundry
snacks of salted cucumber and other dainties) with which Russians,
both in town and country, preface a meal. Then they filed into the
dining-room in the wake of the hostess, who sailed on ahead like a
goose swimming across a pond. The small dining-table was found to be
laid for four persons--the fourth place being occupied by a lady or a
young girl (it would have been difficult to say which exactly) who
might have been either a relative, the housekeeper, or a casual
visitor. Certain persons in the world exist, not as personalities in
themselves, but as spots or specks on the personalities of others.
Always they are to be seen sitting in the same place, and holding
their heads at exactly the same angle, so that one comes within an ace
of mistaking them for furniture, and thinks to oneself that never
since the day of their birth can they have spoken a single word.
"My dear," said Sobakevitch, "the cabbage soup is excellent." With
that he finished his portion, and helped himself to a generous measure
of niania--the dish which follows shtchi and consists of a sheep's
stomach stuffed with black porridge, brains, and other things. "What
niania this is!" he added to Chichikov. "Never would you get such
stuff in a town, where one is given the devil knows what."
 Literally, "nursemaid."
"Nevertheless the Governor keeps a fair table," said Chichikov.
"Yes, but do you know what all the stuff is MADE OF?" retorted
Sobakevitch. "If you DID know you would never touch it."
"Of course I am not in a position to say how it is prepared, but at
least the pork cutlets and the boiled fish seemed excellent."
"Ah, it might have been thought so; yet I know the way in which such
things are bought in the market-place. They are bought by some rascal
of a cook whom a Frenchman has taught how to skin a tomcat and then
serve it up as hare."
"Ugh! What horrible things you say!" put in Madame.
"Well, my dear, that is how things are done, and it is no fault of
mine that it is so. Moreover, everything that is left over--everything
that WE (pardon me for mentioning it) cast into the slop-pail--is
used by such folk for making soup."
"Always at table you begin talking like this!" objected his helpmeet.
"And why not?" said Sobakevitch. "I tell you straight that I would not
eat such nastiness, even had I made it myself. Sugar a frog as much as
you like, but never shall it pass MY lips. Nor would I swallow an
oyster, for I know only too well what an oyster may resemble. But have
some mutton, friend Chichikov. It is shoulder of mutton, and very
different stuff from the mutton which they cook in noble
kitchens--mutton which has been kicking about the market-place four
days or more. All that sort of cookery has been invented by French and
German doctors, and I should like to hang them for having done so.
They go and prescribe diets and a hunger cure as though what suits
their flaccid German systems will agree with a Russian stomach! Such
devices are no good at all." Sobakevitch shook his head wrathfully.
"Fellows like those are for ever talking of civilisation. As if THAT
sort of thing was civilisation! Phew!" (Perhaps the speaker's
concluding exclamation would have been even stronger had he not been
seated at table.) "For myself, I will have none of it. When I eat pork
at a meal, give me the WHOLE pig; when mutton, the WHOLE sheep;
when goose, the WHOLE of the bird. Two dishes are better than a
thousand, provided that one can eat of them as much as one wants."
And he proceeded to put precept into practice by taking half the
shoulder of mutton on to his plate, and then devouring it down to the
last morsel of gristle and bone.
"My word!" reflected Chichikov. "The fellow has a pretty good holding
"None of it for me," repeated Sobakevitch as he wiped his hands on his
napkin. "I don't intend to be like a fellow named Plushkin, who owns
eight hundred souls, yet dines worse than does my shepherd."
"Who is Plushkin?" asked Chichikov.
"A miser," replied Sobakevitch. "Such a miser as never you could
imagine. Even convicts in prison live better than he does. And he
starves his servants as well."
"Really?" ejaculated Chichikov, greatly interested. "Should you, then,
say that he has lost many peasants by death?"
"Certainly. They keep dying like flies."
"Then how far from here does he reside?"
"About five versts."
"Only five versts?" exclaimed Chichikov, feeling his heart beating
joyously. "Ought one, when leaving your gates, to turn to the right or
to the left?"
"I should be sorry to tell you the way to the house of such a cur,"
said Sobakevitch. "A man had far better go to hell than to
"Quite so," responded Chichikov. "My only reason for asking you is
that it interests me to become acquainted with any and every sort of
To the shoulder of mutton there succeeded, in turn, cutlets (each one
larger than a plate), a turkey of about the size of a calf, eggs,
rice, pastry, and every conceivable thing which could possibly be put
into a stomach. There the meal ended. When he rose from table
Chichikov felt as though a pood's weight were inside him. In the
drawing-room the company found dessert awaiting them in the shape of
pears, plums, and apples; but since neither host nor guest could
tackle these particular dainties the hostess removed them to another
room. Taking advantage of her absence, Chichikov turned to Sobakevitch
(who, prone in an armchair, seemed, after his ponderous meal, to be
capable of doing little beyond belching and grunting--each such grunt
or belch necessitating a subsequent signing of the cross over the
mouth), and intimated to him a desire to have a little private
conversation concerning a certain matter. At this moment the hostess
"Here is more dessert," she said. "Pray have a few radishes stewed in
"Later, later," replied Sobakevitch. "Do you go to your room, and Paul
Ivanovitch and I will take off our coats and have a nap."
Upon this the good lady expressed her readiness to send for feather
beds and cushions, but her husband expressed a preference for
slumbering in an armchair, and she therefore departed. When she had
gone Sobakevitch inclined his head in an attitude of willingness to
listen to Chichikov's business. Our hero began in a sort of detached
manner--touching lightly upon the subject of the Russian Empire, and
expatiating upon the immensity of the same, and saying that even the
Empire of Ancient Rome had been of considerably smaller dimensions.
Meanwhile Sobakevitch sat with his head drooping.
From that Chichikov went on to remark that, according to the statutes
of the said Russian Empire (which yielded to none in glory--so much so
that foreigners marvelled at it), peasants on the census lists who had
ended their earthly careers were nevertheless, on the rendering of new
lists, returned equally with the living, to the end that the courts
might be relieved of a multitude of trifling, useless emendations
which might complicate the already sufficiently complex mechanism of
the State. Nevertheless, said Chichikov, the general equity of this
measure did not obviate a certain amount of annoyance to landowners,
since it forced them to pay upon a non-living article the tax due upon
a living. Hence (our hero concluded) he (Chichikov) was prepared,
owing to the personal respect which he felt for Sobakevitch, to
relieve him, in part, of the irksome obligation referred to (in
passing, it may be said that Chichikov referred to his principal point
only guardedly, for he called the souls which he was seeking not
"dead," but "non-existent").
Meanwhile Sobakevitch listened with bent head; though something like a
trace of expression dawned in his face as he did so. Ordinarily his
body lacked a soul--or, if he did posses a soul, he seemed to keep it
elsewhere than where it ought to have been; so that, buried beneath
mountains (as it were) or enclosed within a massive shell, its
movements produced no sort of agitation on the surface.
"Well?" said Chichikov--though not without a certain tremor of
diffidence as to the possible response.
"You are after dead souls?" were Sobakevitch's perfectly simple words.
He spoke without the least surprise in his tone, and much as though
the conversation had been turning on grain.
"Yes," replied Chichikov, and then, as before, softened down the
expression "dead souls."
"They are to be found," said Sobakevitch. "Why should they not be?"
"Then of course you will be glad to get rid of any that you may chance
"Yes, I shall have no objection to SELLING them." At this point the
speaker raised his head a little, for it had struck him that surely
the would-be buyer must have some advantage in view.
"The devil!" thought Chichikov to himself. "Here is he selling the
goods before I have even had time to utter a word!"
"And what about the price?" he added aloud. "Of course, the articles
are not of a kind very easy to appraise."
"I should be sorry to ask too much," said Sobakevitch. "How would a
hundred roubles per head suit you?"
"What, a hundred roubles per head?" Chichikov stared open-mouthed at
his host--doubting whether he had heard aright, or whether his host's
slow-moving tongue might not have inadvertently substituted one word
"Yes. Is that too much for you?" said Sobakevitch. Then he added:
"What is your own price?"
"My own price? I think that we cannot properly have understood one
another--that you must have forgotten of what the goods consist. With
my hand on my heart do I submit that eight grivni per soul would be a
handsome, a VERY handsome, offer."
"What? Eight grivni?"
"In my opinion, a higher offer would be impossible."
"But I am not a seller of boots."
"No; yet you, for your part, will agree that these souls are not live
"I suppose you hope to find fools ready to sell you souls on the
census list for a couple of groats apiece?"
"Pardon me, but why do you use the term 'on the census list'? The
souls themselves have long since passed away, and have left behind
them only their names. Not to trouble you with any further discussion
of the subject, I can offer you a rouble and a half per head, but no
"You should be ashamed even to mention such a sum! Since you deal in
articles of this kind, quote me a genuine price."
"I cannot, Michael Semenovitch. Believe me, I cannot. What a man
cannot do, that he cannot do." The speaker ended by advancing another
half-rouble per head.
"But why hang back with your money?" said Sobakevitch. "Of a truth I
am not asking much of you. Any other rascal than myself would have
cheated you by selling you old rubbish instead of good, genuine souls,
whereas I should be ready to give you of my best, even were you buying
only nut-kernels. For instance, look at wheelwright Michiev. Never was
there such a one to build spring carts! And his handiwork was not like
your Moscow handiwork--good only for an hour. No, he did it all
himself, even down to the varnishing."
Chichikov opened his mouth to remark that, nevertheless, the said
Michiev had long since departed this world; but Sobakevitch's
eloquence had got too thoroughly into its stride to admit of any
"And look, too, at Probka Stepan, the carpenter," his host went on. "I
will wager my head that nowhere else would you find such a workman.
What a strong fellow he was! He had served in the Guards, and the Lord
only knows what they had given for him, seeing that he was over three
arshins in height."
Again Chichikov tried to remark that Probka was dead, but
Sobakevitch's tongue was borne on the torrent of its own verbiage, and
the only thing to be done was to listen.
"And Milushkin, the bricklayer! He could build a stove in any house
you liked! And Maksim Teliatnikov, the bootmaker! Anything that he
drove his awl into became a pair of boots--and boots for which you
would be thankful, although he WAS a bit foul of the mouth. And
Eremi Sorokoplechin, too! He was the best of the lot, and used to work
at his trade in Moscow, where he paid a tax of five hundred roubles.
Well, THERE'S an assortment of serfs for you!--a very different
assortment from what Plushkin would sell you!"
"But permit me," at length put in Chichikov, astounded at this flood
of eloquence to which there appeared to be no end. "Permit me, I say,
to inquire why you enumerate the talents of the deceased, seeing that
they are all of them dead, and that therefore there can be no sense in
doing so. 'A dead body is only good to prop a fence with,' says the
"Of course they are dead," replied Sobakevitch, but rather as though
the idea had only just occurred to him, and was giving him food for
thought. "But tell me, now: what is the use of listing them as still
alive? And what is the use of them themselves? They are flies, not
"Well," said Chichikov, "they exist, though only in idea."
"But no--NOT only in idea. I tell you that nowhere else would you
find such a fellow for working heavy tools as was Michiev. He had the
strength of a horse in his shoulders." And, with the words,
Sobakevitch turned, as though for corroboration, to the portrait of
Bagration, as is frequently done by one of the parties in a dispute
when he purports to appeal to an extraneous individual who is not only
unknown to him, but wholly unconnected with the subject in hand; with
the result that the individual is left in doubt whether to make a
reply, or whether to betake himself elsewhere.
"Nevertheless, I CANNOT give you more than two roubles per head,"
"Well, as I don't want you to swear that I have asked too much of you
and won't meet you halfway, suppose, for friendship's sake, that you
pay me seventy-five roubles in assignats?"
"Good heavens!" thought Chichikov to himself. "Does the man take me
for a fool?" Then he added aloud: "The situation seems to me a strange
one, for it is as though we were performing a stage comedy. No other
explanation would meet the case. Yet you appear to be a man of sense,
and possessed of some education. The matter is a very simple one. The
question is: what is a dead soul worth, and is it of any use to any
"It is of use to YOU, or you would not be buying such articles."
Chichikov bit his lip, and stood at a loss for a retort. He tried to
saying something about "family and domestic circumstances," but
Sobakevitch cut him short with:
"I don't want to know your private affairs, for I never poke my nose
into such things. You need the souls, and I am ready to sell them.
Should you not buy them, I think you will repent it."
"Two roubles is my price," repeated Chichikov.
"Come, come! As you have named that sum, I can understand your not
liking to go back upon it; but quote me a bona fide figure."
"The devil fly away with him!" mused Chichikov. "However, I will add
another half-rouble." And he did so.
"Indeed?" said Sobakevitch. "Well, my last word upon it is--fifty
roubles in assignats. That will mean a sheer loss to me, for nowhere
else in the world could you buy better souls than mine."
"The old skinflint!" muttered Chichikov. Then he added aloud, with
irritation in his tone: "See here. This is a serious matter. Any one
but you would be thankful to get rid of the souls. Only a fool would
stick to them, and continue to pay the tax."
"Yes, but remember (and I say it wholly in a friendly way) that
transactions of this kind are not generally allowed, and that any one
would say that a man who engages in them must have some rather
doubtful advantage in view."
"Have it your own away," said Chichikov, with assumed indifference.
"As a matter of fact, I am not purchasing for profit, as you suppose,
but to humour a certain whim of mine. Two and a half roubles is the
most that I can offer."
"Bless your heart!" retorted the host. "At least give me thirty
roubles in assignats, and take the lot."
"No, for I see that you are unwilling to sell. I must say good-day to
"Hold on, hold on!" exclaimed Sobakevitch, retaining his guest's hand,
and at the same moment treading heavily upon his toes--so heavily,
indeed, that Chichikov gasped and danced with the pain.
"I BEG your pardon!" said Sobakevitch hastily. "Evidently I have
hurt you. Pray sit down again."
"No," retorted Chichikov. "I am merely wasting my time, and must be
"Oh, sit down just for a moment. I have something more agreeable to
say." And, drawing closer to his guest, Sobakevitch whispered in his
ear, as though communicating to him a secret: "How about twenty-five
"No, no, no!" exclaimed Chichikov. "I won't give you even a QUARTER
of that. I won't advance another kopeck."
For a while Sobakevitch remained silent, and Chichikov did the same.
This lasted for a couple of minutes, and, meanwhile, the
aquiline-nosed Bagration gazed from the wall as though much interested
in the bargaining.
"What is your outside price?" at length said Sobakevitch.
"Two and a half roubles."
"Then you seem to rate a human soul at about the same value as a
boiled turnip. At least give me THREE roubles."
"No, I cannot."
"Pardon me, but you are an impossible man to deal with. However, even
though it will mean a dead loss to me, and you have not shown a very
nice spirit about it, I cannot well refuse to please a friend. I
suppose a purchase deed had better be made out in order to have
everything in order?"
"Then for that purpose let us repair to the town."
The affair ended in their deciding to do this on the morrow, and to
arrange for the signing of a deed of purchase. Next, Chichikov
requested a list of the peasants; to which Sobakevitch readily agreed.
Indeed, he went to his writing-desk then and there, and started to
indite a list which gave not only the peasants' names, but also their
Meanwhile Chichikov, having nothing else to do, stood looking at the
spacious form of his host; and as he gazed at his back as broad as
that of a cart horse, and at the legs as massive as the iron standards
which adorn a street, he could not help inwardly ejaculating:
"Truly God has endowed you with much! Though not adjusted with nicety,
at least you are strongly built. I wonder whether you were born a bear
or whether you have come to it through your rustic life, with its
tilling of crops and its trading with peasants? Yet no; I believe
that, even if you had received a fashionable education, and had mixed
with society, and had lived in St. Petersburg, you would still have
been just the kulak that you are. The only difference is that
circumstances, as they stand, permit of your polishing off a stuffed
shoulder of mutton at a meal; whereas in St. Petersburg you would have
been unable to do so. Also, as circumstances stand, you have under you
a number of peasants, whom you treat well for the reason that they are
your property; whereas, otherwise, you would have had under you
tchinovniks: whom you would have bullied because they were NOT
your property. Also, you would have robbed the Treasury, since a kulak
always remains a money-grubber."
 Village factor or usurer.
 Subordinate government officials.
"The list is ready," said Sobakevitch, turning round.
"Indeed? Then please let me look at it." Chichikov ran his eye over
the document, and could not but marvel at its neatness and accuracy.
Not only were there set forth in it the trade, the age, and the
pedigree of every serf, but on the margin of the sheet were jotted
remarks concerning each serf's conduct and sobriety. Truly it was a
pleasure to look at it.
"And do you mind handing me the earnest money?" said Sobakevitch?
"Yes, I do. Why need that be done? You can receive the money in a lump
sum as soon as we visit the town."
"But it is always the custom, you know," asserted Sobakevitch.
"Then I cannot follow it, for I have no money with me. However, here
are ten roubles."
"Ten roubles, indeed? You might as well hand me fifty while you are
Once more Chichikov started to deny that he had any money upon him,
but Sobakevitch insisted so strongly that this was not so that at
length the guest pulled out another fifteen roubles, and added them to
the ten already produced.
"Kindly give me a receipt for the money," he added.
"A receipt? Why should I give you a receipt?"
"Because it is better to do so, in order to guard against mistakes."
"Very well; but first hand me over the money."
"The money? I have it here. Do you write out the receipt, and then the
money shall be yours."
"Pardon me, but how am I to write out the receipt before I have seen
Chichikov placed the notes in Sobakevitch's hand; whereupon the host
moved nearer to the table, and added to the list of serfs a note that
he had received for the peasants, therewith sold, the sum of
twenty-five roubles, as earnest money. This done, he counted the notes
"This is a very OLD note," he remarked, holding one up to the light.
"Also, it is a trifle torn. However, in a friendly transaction one
must not be too particular."
"What a kulak!" thought Chichikov to himself. "And what a brute
"Then you do not want any WOMEN souls?" queried Sobakevitch.
"I thank you, no."
"I could let you have some cheap--say, as between friends, at a rouble
"No, I should have no use for them."
"Then, that being so, there is no more to be said. There is no
accounting for tastes. 'One man loves the priest, and another the
priest's wife,' says the proverb."
Chichikov rose to take his leave. "Once more I would request of you,"
he said, "that the bargain be left as it is."
"Of course, of course. What is done between friends holds good because
of their mutual friendship. Good-bye, and thank you for your visit. In
advance I would beg that, whenever you should have an hour or two to
spare, you will come and lunch with us again. Perhaps we might be able
to do one another further service?"
"Not if I know it!" reflected Chichikov as he mounted his britchka.
"Not I, seeing that I have had two and a half roubles per soul
squeezed out of me by a brute of a kulak!"
Altogether he felt dissatisfied with Sobakevitch's behaviour. In spite
of the man being a friend of the Governor and the Chief of Police, he
had acted like an outsider in taking money for what was worthless
rubbish. As the britchka left the courtyard Chichikov glanced back and
saw Sobakevitch still standing on the verandah--apparently for the
purpose of watching to see which way the guest's carriage would turn.
"The old villain, to be still standing there!" muttered Chichikov
through his teeth; after which he ordered Selifan to proceed so that
the vehicle's progress should be invisible from the mansion--the truth
being that he had a mind next to visit Plushkin (whose serfs, to quote
Sobakevitch, had a habit of dying like flies), but not to let his late
host learn of his intention. Accordingly, on reaching the further end
of the village, he hailed the first peasant whom he saw--a man who was
in the act of hoisting a ponderous beam on to his shoulder before
setting off with it, ant-like, to his hut.
"Hi!" shouted Chichikov. "How can I reach landowner Plushkin's place
without first going past the mansion here?"
The peasant seemed nonplussed by the question.
"Don't you know?" queried Chichikov.
"No, barin," replied the peasant.
"What? You don't know skinflint Plushkin who feeds his people so
"Of course I do!" exclaimed the fellow, and added thereto an
uncomplimentary expression of a species not ordinarily employed in
polite society. We may guess that it was a pretty apt expression,
since long after the man had become lost to view Chichikov was still
laughing in his britchka. And, indeed, the language of the Russian
populace is always forcible in its phraseology.
Chichikov's amusement at the peasant's outburst prevented him from
noticing that he had reached the centre of a large and populous
village; but, presently, a violent jolt aroused him to the fact that
he was driving over wooden pavements of a kind compared with which the
cobblestones of the town had been as nothing. Like the keys of a
piano, the planks kept rising and falling, and unguarded passage over
them entailed either a bump on the back of the neck or a bruise on the
forehead or a bite on the tip of one's tongue. At the same time
Chichikov noticed a look of decay about the buildings of the village.
The beams of the huts had grown dark with age, many of their roofs
were riddled with holes, others had but a tile of the roof remaining,
and yet others were reduced to the rib-like framework of the same. It
would seem as though the inhabitants themselves had removed the laths
and traverses, on the very natural plea that the huts were no
protection against the rain, and therefore, since the latter entered
in bucketfuls, there was no particular object to be gained by sitting
in such huts when all the time there was the tavern and the highroad
and other places to resort to.
Suddenly a woman appeared from an outbuilding--apparently the
housekeeper of the mansion, but so roughly and dirtily dressed as
almost to seem indistinguishable from a man. Chichikov inquired for
the master of the place.
"He is not at home," she replied, almost before her interlocutor had
had time to finish. Then she added: "What do you want with him?"
"I have some business to do," said Chichikov.
"Then pray walk into the house," the woman advised. Then she turned
upon him a back that was smeared with flour and had a long slit in the
lower portion of its covering. Entering a large, dark hall which
reeked like a tomb, he passed into an equally dark parlour that was
lighted only by such rays as contrived to filter through a crack under
the door. When Chichikov opened the door in question, the spectacle of
the untidiness within struck him almost with amazement. It would seem
that the floor was never washed, and that the room was used as a
receptacle for every conceivable kind of furniture. On a table stood a
ragged chair, with, beside it, a clock minus a pendulum and covered
all over with cobwebs. Against a wall leant a cupboard, full of old
silver, glassware, and china. On a writing table, inlaid with
mother-of-pearl which, in places, had broken away and left behind it a
number of yellow grooves (stuffed with putty), lay a pile of finely
written manuscript, an overturned marble press (turning green), an
ancient book in a leather cover with red edges, a lemon dried and
shrunken to the dimensions of a hazelnut, the broken arm of a chair, a
tumbler containing the dregs of some liquid and three flies (the whole
covered over with a sheet of notepaper), a pile of rags, two
ink-encrusted pens, and a yellow toothpick with which the master of
the house had picked his teeth (apparently) at least before the coming
of the French to Moscow. As for the walls, they were hung with a
medley of pictures. Among the latter was a long engraving of a battle
scene, wherein soldiers in three-cornered hats were brandishing huge
drums and slender lances. It lacked a glass, and was set in a frame
ornamented with bronze fretwork and bronze corner rings. Beside it
hung a huge, grimy oil painting representative of some flowers and
fruit, half a water melon, a boar's head, and the pendent form of a
dead wild duck. Attached to the ceiling there was a chandelier in a
holland covering--the covering so dusty as closely to resemble a huge
cocoon enclosing a caterpillar. Lastly, in one corner of the room lay
a pile of articles which had evidently been adjudged unworthy of a
place on the table. Yet what the pile consisted of it would have been
difficult to say, seeing that the dust on the same was so thick that
any hand which touched it would have at once resembled a glove.
Prominently protruding from the pile was the shaft of a wooden spade
and the antiquated sole of a shoe. Never would one have supposed that
a living creature had tenanted the room, were it not that the presence
of such a creature was betrayed by the spectacle of an old nightcap
resting on the table.
Whilst Chichikov was gazing at this extraordinary mess, a side door
opened and there entered the housekeeper who had met him near the
outbuildings. But now Chichikov perceived this person to be a man
rather than a woman, since a female housekeeper would have had no
beard to shave, whereas the chin of the newcomer, with the lower
portion of his cheeks, strongly resembled the curry-comb which is used
for grooming horses. Chichikov assumed a questioning air, and waited
to hear what the housekeeper might have to say. The housekeeper did
the same. At length, surprised at the misunderstanding, Chichikov
decided to ask the first question.
"Is the master at home?" he inquired.
"Yes," replied the person addressed.
"Then were is he?" continued Chichikov.
"Are you blind, my good sir?" retorted the other. "_I_ am the master."
Involuntarily our hero started and stared. During his travels it had
befallen him to meet various types of men--some of them, it may be,
types which you and I have never encountered; but even to Chichikov
this particular species was new. In the old man's face there was
nothing very special--it was much like the wizened face of many
another dotard, save that the chin was so greatly projected that
whenever he spoke he was forced to wipe it with a handkerchief to
avoid dribbling, and that his small eyes were not yet grown dull, but
twinkled under their overhanging brows like the eyes of mice when,
with attentive ears and sensitive whiskers, they snuff the air and
peer forth from their holes to see whether a cat or a boy may not be
in the vicinity. No, the most noticeable feature about the man was his
clothes. In no way could it have been guessed of what his coat was
made, for both its sleeves and its skirts were so ragged and filthy as
to defy description, while instead of two posterior tails, there
dangled four of those appendages, with, projecting from them, a torn
newspaper. Also, around his neck there was wrapped something which
might have been a stocking, a garter, or a stomacher, but was
certainly not a tie. In short, had Chichikov chanced to encounter him
at a church door, he would have bestowed upon him a copper or two
(for, to do our hero justice, he had a sympathetic heart and never
refrained from presenting a beggar with alms), but in the present case
there was standing before him, not a mendicant, but a landowner--and a
landowner possessed of fully a thousand serfs, the superior of all his
neighbours in wealth of flour and grain, and the owner of storehouses,
and so forth, that were crammed with homespun cloth and linen, tanned
and undressed sheepskins, dried fish, and every conceivable species of
produce. Nevertheless, such a phenomenon is rare in Russia, where the
tendency is rather to prodigality than to parsimony.
For several minutes Plushkin stood mute, while Chichikov remained so
dazed with the appearance of the host and everything else in the room,
that he too, could not begin a conversation, but stood wondering how
best to find words in which to explain the object of his visit. For a
while he thought of expressing himself to the effect that, having
heard so much of his host's benevolence and other rare qualities of
spirit, he had considered it his duty to come and pay a tribute of
respect; but presently even HE came to the conclusion that this
would be overdoing the thing, and, after another glance round the
room, decided that the phrase "benevolence and other rare qualities of
spirit" might to advantage give place to "economy and genius for
method." Accordingly, the speech mentally composed, he said aloud
that, having heard of Plushkin's talents for thrifty and systematic
management, he had considered himself bound to make the acquaintance
of his host, and to present him with his personal compliments (I need
hardly say that Chichikov could easily have alleged a better reason,
had any better one happened, at the moment, to have come into his
With toothless gums Plushkin murmured something in reply, but nothing
is known as to its precise terms beyond that it included a statement
that the devil was at liberty to fly away with Chichikov's sentiments.
However, the laws of Russian hospitality do not permit even of a miser
infringing their rules; wherefore Plushkin added to the foregoing a
more civil invitation to be seated.
"It is long since I last received a visitor," he went on. "Also, I
feel bound to say that I can see little good in their coming. Once
introduce the abominable custom of folk paying calls, and forthwith
there will ensue such ruin to the management of estates that
landowners will be forced to feed their horses on hay. Not for a long,
long time have I eaten a meal away from home--although my own kitchen
is a poor one, and has its chimney in such a state that, were it to
become overheated, it would instantly catch fire."
"What a brute!" thought Chichikov. "I am lucky to have got through so
much pastry and stuffed shoulder of mutton at Sobakevitch's!"
"Also," went on Plushkin, "I am ashamed to say that hardly a wisp of
fodder does the place contain. But how can I get fodder? My lands are
small, and the peasantry lazy fellows who hate work and think of
nothing but the tavern. In the end, therefore, I shall be forced to go
and spend my old age in roaming about the world."
"But I have been told that you possess over a thousand serfs?" said
"Who told you that? No matter who it was, you would have been
justified in giving him the lie. He must have been a jester who wanted
to make a fool of you. A thousand souls, indeed! Why, just reckon the
taxes on them, and see what there would be left! For these three years
that accursed fever has been killing off my serfs wholesale."
"Wholesale, you say?" echoed Chichikov, greatly interested.
"Yes, wholesale," replied the old man.
"Then might I ask you the exact number?"
"But it is so."
"Then might I also ask whether it is from the date of the last census
revision that you are reckoning these souls?"
"Yes, damn it! And since that date I have been bled for taxes upon a
hundred and twenty souls in all."
"Indeed? Upon a hundred and twenty souls in all!" And Chichikov's
surprise and elation were such that, this said, he remained sitting
"Yes, good sir," replied Plushkin. "I am too old to tell you lies, for
I have passed my seventieth year."
Somehow he seemed to have taken offence at Chichikov's almost joyous
exclamation; wherefore the guest hastened to heave a profound sigh,
and to observe that he sympathised to the full with his host's
"But sympathy does not put anything into one's pocket," retorted
Plushkin. "For instance, I have a kinsman who is constantly plaguing
me. He is a captain in the army, damn him, and all day he does nothing
but call me 'dear uncle,' and kiss my hand, and express sympathy until
I am forced to stop my ears. You see, he has squandered all his money
upon his brother-officers, as well as made a fool of himself with an
actress; so now he spends his time in telling me that he has a
Chichikov hastened to explain that HIS sympathy had nothing in
common with the captain's, since he dealt, not in empty words alone,
but in actual deeds; in proof of which he was ready then and there
(for the purpose of cutting the matter short, and of dispensing with
circumlocution) to transfer to himself the obligation of paying the
taxes due upon such serfs as Plushkin's as had, in the unfortunate
manner just described, departed this world. The proposal seemed to
astonish Plushkin, for he sat staring open-eyed. At length he
"My dear sir, have you seen military service?"
"No," replied the other warily, "but I have been a member of the
"Oh! Of the CIVIL Service?" And Plushkin sat moving his lips as
though he were chewing something. "Well, what of your proposal?" he
added presently. "Are you prepared to lose by it?"
"Yes, certainly, if thereby I can please you."
"My dear sir! My good benefactor!" In his delight Plushkin lost sight
of the fact that his nose was caked with snuff of the consistency of
thick coffee, and that his coat had parted in front and was disclosing
some very unseemly underclothing. "What comfort you have brought to an
old man! Yes, as God is my witness!"
For the moment he could say no more. Yet barely a minute had elapsed
before this instantaneously aroused emotion had, as instantaneously,
disappeared from his wooden features. Once more they assumed a
careworn expression, and he even wiped his face with his handkerchief,
then rolled it into a ball, and rubbed it to and fro against his upper
"If it will not annoy you again to state the proposal," he went on,
"what you undertake to do is to pay the annual tax upon these souls,
and to remit the money either to me or to the Treasury?"
"Yes, that is how it shall be done. We will draw up a deed of purchase
as though the souls were still alive and you had sold them to myself."
"Quite so--a deed of purchase," echoed Plushkin, once more relapsing
into thought and the chewing motion of the lips. "But a deed of such a
kind will entail certain expenses, and lawyers are so devoid of
conscience! In fact, so extortionate is their avarice that they will
charge one half a rouble, and then a sack of flour, and then a whole
waggon-load of meal. I wonder that no one has yet called attention to
Upon that Chichikov intimated that, out of respect for his host, he
himself would bear the cost of the transfer of souls. This led
Plushkin to conclude that his guest must be the kind of unconscionable
fool who, while pretending to have been a member of the Civil Service,
has in reality served in the army and run after actresses; wherefore
the old man no longer disguised his delight, but called down blessings
alike upon Chichikov's head and upon those of his children (he had
never even inquired whether Chichikov possessed a family). Next, he
shuffled to the window, and, tapping one of its panes, shouted the
name of "Proshka." Immediately some one ran quickly into the hall,
and, after much stamping of feet, burst into the room. This was
Proshka--a thirteen-year-old youngster who was shod with boots of such
dimensions as almost to engulf his legs as he walked. The reason why
he had entered thus shod was that Plushkin only kept one pair of boots
for the whole of his domestic staff. This universal pair was stationed
in the hall of the mansion, so that any servant who was summoned to
the house might don the said boots after wading barefooted through the
mud of the courtyard, and enter the parlour dry-shod--subsequently
leaving the boots where he had found them, and departing in his former
barefooted condition. Indeed, had any one, on a slushy winter's
morning, glanced from a window into the said courtyard, he would have
seen Plushkin's servitors performing saltatory feats worthy of the
most vigorous of stage-dancers.
"Look at that boy's face!" said Plushkin to Chichikov as he pointed to
Proshka. "It is stupid enough, yet, lay anything aside, and in a trice
he will have stolen it. Well, my lad, what do you want?"
He paused a moment or two, but Proshka made no reply.
"Come, come!" went on the old man. "Set out the samovar, and then give
Mavra the key of the store-room--here it is--and tell her to get out
some loaf sugar for tea. Here! Wait another moment, fool! Is the devil
in your legs that they itch so to be off? Listen to what more I have
to tell you. Tell Mavra that the sugar on the outside of the loaf has
gone bad, so that she must scrape it off with a knife, and NOT throw
away the scrapings, but give them to the poultry. Also, see that you
yourself don't go into the storeroom, or I will give you a birching
that you won't care for. Your appetite is good enough already, but a
better one won't hurt you. Don't even TRY to go into the storeroom,
for I shall be watching you from this window."
"You see," the old man added to Chichikov, "one can never trust these
fellows." Presently, when Proshka and the boots had departed, he fell
to gazing at his guest with an equally distrustful air, since certain
features in Chichikov's benevolence now struck him as a little open to
question, and he had begin to think to himself: "After all, the devil
only knows who he is--whether a braggart, like most of these
spendthrifts, or a fellow who is lying merely in order to get some tea
out of me." Finally, his circumspection, combined with a desire to
test his guest, led him to remark that it might be well to complete
the transaction IMMEDIATELY, since he had not overmuch confidence in
humanity, seeing that a man might be alive to-day and dead to-morrow.
To this Chichikov assented readily enough--merely adding that he
should like first of all to be furnished with a list of the dead
souls. This reassured Plushkin as to his guest's intention of doing
business, so he got out his keys, approached a cupboard, and, having
pulled back the door, rummaged among the cups and glasses with which
it was filled. At length he said:
"I cannot find it now, but I used to possess a splendid bottle of
liquor. Probably the servants have drunk it all, for they are such
thieves. Oh no: perhaps this is it!"
Looking up, Chichikov saw that Plushkin had extracted a decanter
coated with dust.
"My late wife made the stuff," went on the old man, "but that rascal
of a housekeeper went and threw away a lot of it, and never even
replaced the stopper. Consequently bugs and other nasty creatures got
into the decanter, but I cleaned it out, and now beg to offer you a
The idea of a drink from such a receptacle was too much for Chichikov,
so he excused himself on the ground that he had just had luncheon.
"You have just had luncheon?" re-echoed Plushkin. "Now, THAT shows
how invariably one can tell a man of good society, wheresoever one may
be. A man of that kind never eats anything--he always says that he has
had enough. Very different that from the ways of a rogue, whom one can
never satisfy, however much one may give him. For instance, that
captain of mine is constantly begging me to let him have a
meal--though he is about as much my nephew as I am his grandfather. As
it happens, there is never a bite of anything in the house, so he has
to go away empty. But about the list of those good-for-nothing
souls--I happen to possess such a list, since I have drawn one up in
readiness for the next revision."
With that Plushkin donned his spectacles, and once more started to
rummage in the cupboard, and to smother his guest with dust as he
untied successive packages of papers--so much so that his victim burst
out sneezing. Finally he extracted a much-scribbled document in which
the names of the deceased peasants lay as close-packed as a cloud of
midges, for there were a hundred and twenty of them in all. Chichikov
grinned with joy at the sight of the multitude. Stuffing the list into
his pocket, he remarked that, to complete the transaction, it would be
necessary to return to the town.
"To the town?" repeated Plushkin. "But why? Moreover, how could I
leave the house, seeing that every one of my servants is either a
thief or a rogue? Day by day they pilfer things, until soon I shall
have not a single coat to hang on my back."
"Then you possess acquaintances in the town?"
"Acquaintances? No. Every acquaintance whom I ever possessed has
either left me or is dead. But stop a moment. I DO know the
President of the Council. Even in my old age he has once or twice come
to visit me, for he and I used to be schoolfellows, and to go climbing
walls together. Yes, him I do know. Shall I write him a letter?"
"By all means."
"Yes, him I know well, for we were friends together at school."
Over Plushkin's wooden features there had gleamed a ray of warmth--a
ray which expressed, if not feeling, at all events feeling's pale
reflection. Just such a phenomenon may be witnessed when, for a brief
moment, a drowning man makes a last re-appearance on the surface of a
river, and there rises from the crowd lining the banks a cry of hope
that even yet the exhausted hands may clutch the rope which has been
thrown him--may clutch it before the surface of the unstable element
shall have resumed for ever its calm, dread vacuity. But the hope is
short-lived, and the hands disappear. Even so did Plushkin's face,
after its momentary manifestation of feeling, become meaner and more
insensible than ever.
"There used to be a sheet of clean writing paper lying on the table,"
he went on. "But where it is now I cannot think. That comes of my
servants being such rascals."
Whit that he fell to looking also under the table, as well as to
hurrying about with cries of "Mavra, Mavra!" At length the call was
answered by a woman with a plateful of the sugar of which mention has
been made; whereupon there ensued the following conversation.
"What have you done with my piece of writing paper, you pilferer?"
"I swear that I have seen no paper except the bit with which you
covered the glass."
"Your very face tells me that you have made off with it."
"Why should I make off with it? 'Twould be of no use to me, for I can
neither read nor write."
"You lie! You have taken it away for the sexton to scribble upon."
"Well, if the sexton wanted paper he could get some for himself.
Neither he nor I have set eyes upon your piece."
"Ah! Wait a bit, for on the Judgment Day you will be roasted by devils
on iron spits. Just see if you are not!"
"But why should I be roasted when I have never even TOUCHED the
paper? You might accuse me of any other fault than theft."
"Nay, devils shall roast you, sure enough. They will say to you, 'Bad
woman, we are doing this because you robbed your master,' and then
stoke up the fire still hotter."
"Nevertheless _I_ shall continue to say, 'You are roasting me for
nothing, for I never stole anything at all.' Why, THERE it is, lying
on the table! You have been accusing me for no reason whatever!"
And, sure enough, the sheet of paper was lying before Plushkin's very
eyes. For a moment or two he chewed silently. Then he went on:
"Well, and what are you making such a noise about? If one says a
single word to you, you answer back with ten. Go and fetch me a candle
to seal a letter with. And mind you bring a TALLOW candle, for it
will not cost so much as the other sort. And bring me a match too."
Mavra departed, and Plushkin, seating himself, and taking up a pen,
sat turning the sheet of paper over and over, as though in doubt
whether to tear from it yet another morsel. At length he came to the
conclusion that it was impossible to do so, and therefore, dipping the
pen into the mixture of mouldy fluid and dead flies which the ink
bottle contained, started to indite the letter in characters as bold
as the notes of a music score, while momentarily checking the speed of
his hand, lest it should meander too much over the paper, and crawling
from line to line as though he regretted that there was so little
vacant space left on the sheet.
"And do you happen to know any one to whom a few runaway serfs would
be of use?" he asked as subsequently he folded the letter.
"What? You have some runaways as well?" exclaimed Chichikov, again
"Certainly I have. My son-in-law has laid the necessary information
against them, but says that their tracks have grown cold. However, he
is only a military man--that is to say, good at clinking a pair of
spurs, but of no use for laying a plea before a court."
"And how many runaways have you?"
"Alas, yes. Never does a year pass without a certain number of them
making off. Yet so gluttonous and idle are my serfs that they are
simply bursting with food, whereas I scarcely get enough to eat. I
will take any price for them that you may care to offer. Tell your
friends about it, and, should they find even a score of the runaways,
it will repay them handsomely, seeing that a living serf on the census
list is at present worth five hundred roubles."
"Perhaps so, but I am not going to let any one but myself have a
finger in this," thought Chichikov to himself; after which he
explained to Plushkin that a friend of the kind mentioned would be
impossible to discover, since the legal expenses of the enterprise
would lead to the said friend having to cut the very tail from his
coat before he would get clear of the lawyers.
"Nevertheless," added Chichikov, "seeing that you are so hard pressed
for money, and that I am so interested in the matter, I feel moved to
advance you--well, to advance you such a trifle as would scarcely be
"But how much is it?" asked Plushkin eagerly, and with his hands
trembling like quicksilver.
"Twenty-five kopecks per soul."
"What? In ready money?"
"Yes--in money down."
"Nevertheless, consider my poverty, dear friend, and make it FORTY
kopecks per soul."
"Venerable sir, would that I could pay you not merely forty kopecks,
but five hundred roubles. I should be only too delighted if that were
possible, since I perceive that you, an aged and respected gentleman,
are suffering for your own goodness of heart."
"By God, that is true, that is true." Plushkin hung his head, and
wagged it feebly from side to side. "Yes, all that I have done I have
done purely out of kindness."
"See how instantaneously I have divined your nature! By now it will
have become clear to you why it is impossible for me to pay you five
hundred roubles per runaway soul: for by now you will have gathered
the fact that I am not sufficiently rich. Nevertheless, I am ready to
add another five kopecks, and so to make it that each runaway serf
shall cost me, in all, thirty kopecks."
"As you please, dear sir. Yet stretch another point, and throw in
another two kopecks."
"Pardon me, but I cannot. How many runaway serfs did you say that you
"Seventy-eight souls at thirty kopecks each will amount to--to--" only
for a moment did our hero halt, since he was strong in his arithmetic,
"--will amount to twenty-four roubles, ninety-six kopecks."
 Nevertheless Chichikov would appear to have erred, since most
people would make the sum amount to twenty-three roubles, forty
kopecks. If so, Chichikov cheated himself of one rouble, fifty-six
With that he requested Plushkin to make out the receipt, and then
handed him the money. Plushkin took it in both hands, bore it to a
bureau with as much caution as though he were carrying a liquid which
might at any moment splash him in the face, and, arrived at the
bureau, and glancing round once more, carefully packed the cash in one
of his money bags, where, doubtless, it was destined to lie buried
until, to the intense joy of his daughters and his son-in-law (and,
perhaps, of the captain who claimed kinship with him), he should
himself receive burial at the hands of Fathers Carp and Polycarp, the
two priests attached to his village. Lastly, the money concealed,
Plushkin re-seated himself in the armchair, and seemed at a loss for
further material for conversation.
"Are you thinking of starting?" at length he inquired, on seeing
Chichikov making a trifling movement, though the movement was only to
extract from his pocket a handkerchief. Nevertheless the question
reminded Chichikov that there was no further excuse for lingering.
"Yes, I must be going," he said as he took his hat.
"Then what about the tea?"
"Thank you, I will have some on my next visit."
"What? Even though I have just ordered the samovar to be got ready?
Well, well! I myself do not greatly care for tea, for I think it an
expensive beverage. Moreover, the price of sugar has risen terribly."
"Proshka!" he then shouted. "The samovar will not be needed. Return
the sugar to Mavra, and tell her to put it back again. But no. Bring
the sugar here, and _I_ will put it back."
"Good-bye, dear sir," finally he added to Chichikov. "May the Lord
bless you! Hand that letter to the President of the Council, and let
him read it. Yes, he is an old friend of mine. We knew one another as
With that this strange phenomenon, this withered old man, escorted his
guest to the gates of the courtyard, and, after the guest had
departed, ordered the gates to be closed, made the round of the
outbuildings for the purpose of ascertaining whether the numerous
watchmen were at their posts, peered into the kitchen (where, under
the pretence of seeing whether his servants were being properly fed,
he made a light meal of cabbage soup and gruel), rated the said
servants soundly for their thievishness and general bad behaviour, and
then returned to his room. Meditating in solitude, he fell to thinking
how best he could contrive to recompense his guest for the latter's
measureless benevolence. "I will present him," he thought to himself,
"with a watch. It is a good silver article--not one of those cheap
metal affairs; and though it has suffered some damage, he can easily
get that put right. A young man always needs to give a watch to his
"No," he added after further thought. "I will leave him the watch in
my will, as a keepsake."
Meanwhile our hero was bowling along in high spirit. Such an
unexpected acquisition both of dead souls and of runaway serfs had
come as a windfall. Even before reaching Plushkin's village he had had
a presentiment that he would do successful business there, but not
business of such pre-eminent profitableness as had actually resulted.
As he proceeded he whistled, hummed with hand placed trumpetwise to
his mouth, and ended by bursting into a burst of melody so striking
that Selifan, after listening for a while, nodded his head and
exclaimed, "My word, but the master CAN sing!"
By the time they reached the town darkness had fallen, and changed the
character of the scene. The britchka bounded over the cobblestones,
and at length turned into the hostelry's courtyard, where the
travellers were met by Petrushka. With one hand holding back the tails
of his coat (which he never liked to see fly apart), the valet
assisted his master to alight. The waiter ran out with candle in hand
and napkin on shoulder. Whether or not Petrushka was glad to see the
barin return it is impossible to say, but at all events he exchanged a
wink with Selifan, and his ordinarily morose exterior seemed
momentarily to brighten.
"Then you have been travelling far, sir?" said the waiter, as he lit
the way upstarts.
"Yes," said Chichikov. "What has happened here in the meanwhile?"
"Nothing, sir," replied the waiter, bowing, "except that last night
there arrived a military lieutenant. He has got room number sixteen."
"Yes. He came from Riazan, driving three grey horses."
On entering his room, Chichikov clapped his hand to his nose, and
asked his valet why he had never had the windows opened.
"But I did have them opened," replied Petrushka. Nevertheless this was
a lie, as Chichikov well knew, though he was too tired to contest the
point. After ordering and consuming a light supper of sucking pig, he
undressed, plunged beneath the bedclothes, and sank into the profound
slumber which comes only to such fortunate folk as are troubled
neither with mosquitoes nor fleas nor excessive activity of brain.
When Chichikov awoke he stretched himself and realised that he had
slept well. For a moment or two he lay on his back, and then suddenly
clapped his hands at the recollection that he was now owner of nearly
four hundred souls. At once he leapt out of bed without so much as
glancing at his face in the mirror, though, as a rule, he had much
solicitude for his features, and especially for his chin, of which he
would make the most when in company with friends, and more
particularly should any one happen to enter while he was engaged in
the process of shaving. "Look how round my chin is!" was his usual
formula. On the present occasion, however, he looked neither at chin
nor at any other feature, but at once donned his flower-embroidered
slippers of morroco leather (the kind of slippers in which, thanks to
the Russian love for a dressing-gowned existence, the town of Torzhok
does such a huge trade), and, clad only in a meagre shirt, so far
forgot his elderliness and dignity as to cut a couple of capers after
the fashion of a Scottish highlander--alighting neatly, each time, on
the flat of his heels. Only when he had done that did he proceed to
business. Planting himself before his dispatch-box, he rubbed his
hands with a satisfaction worthy of an incorruptible rural magistrate
when adjourning for luncheon; after which he extracted from the
receptacle a bundle of papers. These he had decided not to deposit
with a lawyer, for the reason that he would hasten matters, as well as
save expense, by himself framing and fair-copying the necessary deeds
of indenture; and since he was thoroughly acquainted with the
necessary terminology, he proceeded to inscribe in large characters
the date, and then in smaller ones, his name and rank. By two o'clock
the whole was finished, and as he looked at the sheets of names
representing bygone peasants who had ploughed, worked at handicrafts,
cheated their masters, fetched, carried, and got drunk (though SOME
of them may have behaved well), there came over him a strange,
unaccountable sensation. To his eye each list of names seemed to
possess a character of its own; and even individual peasants therein
seemed to have taken on certain qualities peculiar to themselves. For
instance, to the majority of Madame Korobotchka's serfs there were
appended nicknames and other additions; Plushkin's list was
distinguished by a conciseness of exposition which had led to certain
of the items being represented merely by Christian name, patronymic,
and a couple of dots; and Sobakevitch's list was remarkable for its
amplitude and circumstantiality, in that not a single peasant had such
of his peculiar characteristics omitted as that the deceased had been
"excellent at joinery," or "sober and ready to pay attention to his
work." Also, in Sobakevitch's list there was recorded who had been the
father and the mother of each of the deceased, and how those parents
had behaved themselves. Only against the name of a certain Thedotov
was there inscribed: "Father unknown, Mother the maidservant
Kapitolina, Morals and Honesty good." These details communicated to
the document a certain air of freshness, they seemed to connote that
the peasants in question had lived but yesterday. As Chichikov scanned
the list he felt softened in spirit, and said with a sigh:
"My friends, what a concourse of you is here! How did you all pass
your lives, my brethren? And how did you all come to depart hence?"
As he spoke his eyes halted at one name in particular--that of the
same Peter Saveliev Neuvazhai Korito who had once been the property of
the window Korobotchka. Once more he could not help exclaiming:
"What a series of titles! They occupy a whole line! Peter Saveliev, I
wonder whether you were an artisan or a plain muzhik. Also, I wonder
how you came to meet your end; whether in a tavern, or whether through
going to sleep in the middle of the road and being run over by a train
of waggons. Again, I see the name, 'Probka Stepan, carpenter, very
sober.' That must be the hero of whom the Guards would have been so
glad to get hold. How well I can imagine him tramping the country with
an axe in his belt and his boots on his shoulder, and living on a few
groats'-worth of bread and dried fish per day, and taking home a
couple of half-rouble pieces in his purse, and sewing the notes into
his breeches, or stuffing them into his boots! In what manner came you
by your end, Probka Stepan? Did you, for good wages, mount a scaffold
around the cupola of the village church, and, climbing thence to the
cross above, miss your footing on a beam, and fall headlong with none
at hand but Uncle Michai--the good uncle who, scratching the back of
his neck, and muttering, 'Ah, Vania, for once you have been too
clever!' straightway lashed himself to a rope, and took your place?
'Maksim Teliatnikov, shoemaker.' A shoemaker, indeed? 'As drunk as a
shoemaker,' says the proverb. _I_ know what you were like, my friend.
If you wish, I will tell you your whole history. You were apprenticed
to a German, who fed you and your fellows at a common table, thrashed
you with a strap, kept you indoors whenever you had made a mistake,
and spoke of you in uncomplimentary terms to his wife and friends. At
length, when your apprenticeship was over, you said to yourself, 'I am
going to set up on my own account, and not just to scrape together a
kopeck here and a kopeck there, as the Germans do, but to grow rich
quick.' Hence you took a shop at a high rent, bespoke a few orders,
and set to work to buy up some rotten leather out of which you could
make, on each pair of boots, a double profit. But those boots split
within a fortnight, and brought down upon your head dire showers of
maledictions; with the result that gradually your shop grew empty of
customers, and you fell to roaming the streets and exclaiming, 'The
world is a very poor place indeed! A Russian cannot make a living for
German competition.' Well, well! 'Elizabeta Vorobei!' But that is a
WOMAN'S name! How comes SHE to be on the list? That villain
Sobakevitch must have sneaked her in without my knowing it."
"'Grigori Goiezhai-ne-Doiedesh,'" he went on. "What sort of a man were
YOU, I wonder? Were you a carrier who, having set up a team of three
horses and a tilt waggon, left your home, your native hovel, for ever,
and departed to cart merchandise to market? Was it on the highway that
you surrendered your soul to God, or did your friends first marry you
to some fat, red-faced soldier's daughter; after which your harness
and team of rough, but sturdy, horses caught a highwayman's fancy, and
you, lying on your pallet, thought things over until, willy-nilly, you
felt that you must get up and make for the tavern, thereafter
blundering into an icehole? Ah, our peasant of Russia! Never do you
welcome death when it comes!"
"And you, my friends?" continued Chichikov, turning to the sheet
whereon were inscribed the names of Plushkin's absconded serfs.
"Although you are still alive, what is the good of you? You are
practically dead. Whither, I wonder, have your fugitive feet carried
you? Did you fare hardly at Plushkin's, or was it that your natural