Part 4 out of 6
"Why is it impossible, Petrovitch?" he said, almost in the pleading
voice of a child; "all that ails it is, that it is worn on the
shoulders. You must have some pieces--"
"Yes, patches could be found, patches are easily found," said
Petrovitch, "but there's nothing to sew them to. The thing is
completely rotten; if you put a needle to it--see, it will give way."
"Let it give way, and you can put on another patch at once."
"But there is nothing to put the patches on to; there's no use in
strengthening it; it is too far gone. It's lucky that it's cloth; for,
if the wind were to blow, it would fly away."
"Well, strengthen it again. How will this, in fact--"
"No," said Petrovitch decisively, "there is nothing to be done with
it. It's a thoroughly bad job. You'd better, when the cold winter
weather comes on, make yourself some gaiters out of it, because
stockings are not warm. The Germans invented them in order to make
more money." Petrovitch loved, on all occasions, to have a fling at
the Germans. "But it is plain you must have a new cloak."
At the word "new," all grew dark before Akakiy Akakievitch's eyes, and
everything in the room began to whirl round. The only thing he saw
clearly was the general with the paper face on the lid of Petrovitch's
snuff-box. "A new one?" said he, as if still in a dream: "why, I have
no money for that."
"Yes, a new one," said Petrovitch, with barbarous composure.
"Well, if it came to a new one, how would it--?"
"You mean how much would it cost?"
"Well, you would have to lay out a hundred and fifty or more," said
Petrovitch, and pursed up his lips significantly. He liked to produce
powerful effects, liked to stun utterly and suddenly, and then to
glance sideways to see what face the stunned person would put on the
"A hundred and fifty rubles for a cloak!" shrieked poor Akakiy
Akakievitch, perhaps for the first time in his life, for his voice had
always been distinguished for softness.
"Yes, sir," said Petrovitch, "for any kind of cloak. If you have a
marten fur on the collar, or a silk-lined hood, it will mount up to
"Petrovitch, please," said Akakiy Akakievitch in a beseeching tone,
not hearing, and not trying to hear, Petrovitch's words, and
disregarding all his "effects," "some repairs, in order that it may
wear yet a little longer."
"No, it would only be a waste of time and money," said Petrovitch; and
Akakiy Akakievitch went away after these words, utterly discouraged.
But Petrovitch stood for some time after his departure, with
significantly compressed lips, and without betaking himself to his
work, satisfied that he would not be dropped, and an artistic tailor
Akakiy Akakievitch went out into the street as if in a dream. "Such an
affair!" he said to himself: "I did not think it had come to--" and
then after a pause, he added, "Well, so it is! see what it has come to
at last! and I never imagined that it was so!" Then followed a long
silence, after which he exclaimed, "Well, so it is! see what
already--nothing unexpected that--it would be nothing--what a strange
circumstance!" So saying, instead of going home, he went in exactly
the opposite direction without himself suspecting it. On the way, a
chimney-sweep bumped up against him, and blackened his shoulder, and a
whole hatful of rubbish landed on him from the top of a house which
was building. He did not notice it; and only when he ran against a
watchman, who, having planted his halberd beside him, was shaking some
snuff from his box into his horny hand, did he recover himself a
little, and that because the watchman said, "Why are you poking
yourself into a man's very face? Haven't you the pavement?" This
caused him to look about him, and turn towards home.
There only, he finally began to collect his thoughts, and to survey
his position in its clear and actual light, and to argue with himself,
sensibly and frankly, as with a reasonable friend with whom one can
discuss private and personal matters. "No," said Akakiy Akakievitch,
"it is impossible to reason with Petrovitch now; he is that--evidently
his wife has been beating him. I'd better go to him on Sunday morning;
after Saturday night he will be a little cross-eyed and sleepy, for he
will want to get drunk, and his wife won't give him any money; and at
such a time, a ten-kopek piece in his hand will--he will become more
fit to reason with, and then the cloak, and that--" Thus argued Akakiy
Akakievitch with himself, regained his courage, and waited until the
first Sunday, when, seeing from afar that Petrovitch's wife had left
the house, he went straight to him.
Petrovitch's eye was, indeed, very much askew after Saturday: his head
drooped, and he was very sleepy; but for all that, as soon as he knew
what it was a question of, it seemed as though Satan jogged his
memory. "Impossible," said he: "please to order a new one." Thereupon
Akakiy Akakievitch handed over the ten-kopek piece. "Thank you, sir; I
will drink your good health," said Petrovitch: "but as for the cloak,
don't trouble yourself about it; it is good for nothing. I will make
you a capital new one, so let us settle about it now."
Akakiy Akakievitch was still for mending it; but Petrovitch would not
hear of it, and said, "I shall certainly have to make you a new one,
and you may depend upon it that I shall do my best. It may even be, as
the fashion goes, that the collar can be fastened by silver hooks
under a flap."
Then Akakiy Akakievitch saw that it was impossible to get along
without a new cloak, and his spirit sank utterly. How, in fact, was it
to be done? Where was the money to come from? He might, to be sure,
depend, in part, upon his present at Christmas; but that money had
long been allotted beforehand. He must have some new trousers, and pay
a debt of long standing to the shoemaker for putting new tops to his
old boots, and he must order three shirts from the seamstress, and a
couple of pieces of linen. In short, all his money must be spent; and
even if the director should be so kind as to order him to receive
forty-five rubles instead of forty, or even fifty, it would be a mere
nothing, a mere drop in the ocean towards the funds necessary for a
cloak: although he knew that Petrovitch was often wrong-headed enough
to blurt out some outrageous price, so that even his own wife could
not refrain from exclaiming, "Have you lost your senses, you fool?" At
one time he would not work at any price, and now it was quite likely
that he had named a higher sum than the cloak would cost.
But although he knew that Petrovitch would undertake to make a cloak
for eighty rubles, still, where was he to get the eighty rubles from?
He might possibly manage half, yes, half might be procured, but where
was the other half to come from? But the reader must first be told
where the first half came from. Akakiy Akakievitch had a habit of
putting, for every ruble he spent, a groschen into a small box,
fastened with a lock and key, and with a slit in the top for the
reception of money. At the end of every half-year he counted over the
heap of coppers, and changed it for silver. This he had done for a
long time, and in the course of years, the sum had mounted up to over
forty rubles. Thus he had one half on hand; but where was he to find
the other half? where was he to get another forty rubles from? Akakiy
Akakievitch thought and thought, and decided that it would be
necessary to curtail his ordinary expenses, for the space of one year
at least, to dispense with tea in the evening; to burn no candles,
and, if there was anything which he must do, to go into his landlady's
room, and work by her light. When he went into the street, he must
walk as lightly as he could, and as cautiously, upon the stones,
almost upon tiptoe, in order not to wear his heels down in too short a
time; he must give the laundress as little to wash as possible; and,
in order not to wear out his clothes, he must take them off, as soon
as he got home, and wear only his cotton dressing-gown, which had been
long and carefully saved.
To tell the truth, it was a little hard for him at first to accustom
himself to these deprivations; but he got used to them at length,
after a fashion, and all went smoothly. He even got used to being
hungry in the evening, but he made up for it by treating himself, so
to say, in spirit, by bearing ever in mind the idea of his future
cloak. From that time forth his existence seemed to become, in some
way, fuller, as if he were married, or as if some other man lived in
him, as if, in fact, he were not alone, and some pleasant friend had
consented to travel along life's path with him, the friend being no
other than the cloak, with thick wadding and a strong lining incapable
of wearing out. He became more lively, and even his character grew
firmer, like that of a man who has made up his mind, and set himself a
goal. From his face and gait, doubt and indecision, all hesitating and
wavering traits disappeared of themselves. Fire gleamed in his eyes,
and occasionally the boldest and most daring ideas flitted through his
mind; why not, for instance, have marten fur on the collar? The
thought of this almost made him absent-minded. Once, in copying a
letter, he nearly made a mistake, so that he exclaimed almost aloud,
"Ugh!" and crossed himself. Once, in the course of every month, he had
a conference with Petrovitch on the subject of the cloak, where it
would be better to buy the cloth, and the colour, and the price. He
always returned home satisfied, though troubled, reflecting that the
time would come at last when it could all be bought, and then the
The affair progressed more briskly than he had expected. Far beyond
all his hopes, the director awarded neither forty nor forty-five
rubles for Akakiy Akakievitch's share, but sixty. Whether he suspected
that Akakiy Akakievitch needed a cloak, or whether it was merely
chance, at all events, twenty extra rubles were by this means
provided. This circumstance hastened matters. Two or three months more
of hunger and Akakiy Akakievitch had accumulated about eighty rubles.
His heart, generally so quiet, began to throb. On the first possible
day, he went shopping in company with Petrovitch. They bought some
very good cloth, and at a reasonable rate too, for they had been
considering the matter for six months, and rarely let a month pass
without their visiting the shops to inquire prices. Petrovitch himself
said that no better cloth could be had. For lining, they selected a
cotton stuff, but so firm and thick that Petrovitch declared it to be
better than silk, and even prettier and more glossy. They did not buy
the marten fur, because it was, in fact, dear, but in its stead, they
picked out the very best of cat-skin which could be found in the shop,
and which might, indeed, be taken for marten at a distance.
Petrovitch worked at the cloak two whole weeks, for there was a great
deal of quilting: otherwise it would have been finished sooner. He
charged twelve rubles for the job, it could not possibly have been
done for less. It was all sewed with silk, in small, double seams; and
Petrovitch went over each seam afterwards with his own teeth, stamping
in various patterns.
It was--it is difficult to say precisely on what day, but probably the
most glorious one in Akakiy Akakievitch's life, when Petrovitch at
length brought home the cloak. He brought it in the morning, before
the hour when it was necessary to start for the department. Never did
a cloak arrive so exactly in the nick of time; for the severe cold had
set in, and it seemed to threaten to increase. Petrovitch brought the
cloak himself as befits a good tailor. On his countenance was a
significant expression, such as Akakiy Akakievitch had never beheld
there. He seemed fully sensible that he had done no small deed, and
crossed a gulf separating tailors who only put in linings, and execute
repairs, from those who make new things. He took the cloak out of the
pocket handkerchief in which he had brought it. The handkerchief was
fresh from the laundress, and he put it in his pocket for use. Taking
out the cloak, he gazed proudly at it, held it up with both hands, and
flung it skilfully over the shoulders of Akakiy Akakievitch. Then he
pulled it and fitted it down behind with his hand, and he draped it
around Akakiy Akakievitch without buttoning it. Akakiy Akakievitch,
like an experienced man, wished to try the sleeves. Petrovitch helped
him on with them, and it turned out that the sleeves were satisfactory
also. In short, the cloak appeared to be perfect, and most seasonable.
Petrovitch did not neglect to observe that it was only because he
lived in a narrow street, and had no signboard, and had known Akakiy
Akakievitch so long, that he had made it so cheaply; but that if he
had been in business on the Nevsky Prospect, he would have charged
seventy-five rubles for the making alone. Akakiy Akakievitch did not
care to argue this point with Petrovitch. He paid him, thanked him,
and set out at once in his new cloak for the department. Petrovitch
followed him, and, pausing in the street, gazed long at the cloak in
the distance, after which he went to one side expressly to run through
a crooked alley, and emerge again into the street beyond to gaze once
more upon the cloak from another point, namely, directly in front.
Meantime Akakiy Akakievitch went on in holiday mood. He was conscious
every second of the time that he had a new cloak on his shoulders; and
several times he laughed with internal satisfaction. In fact, there
were two advantages, one was its warmth, the other its beauty. He saw
nothing of the road, but suddenly found himself at the department. He
took off his cloak in the ante-room, looked it over carefully, and
confided it to the especial care of the attendant. It is impossible to
say precisely how it was that every one in the department knew at once
that Akakiy Akakievitch had a new cloak, and that the "cape" no longer
existed. All rushed at the same moment into the ante-room to inspect
it. They congratulated him and said pleasant things to him, so that he
began at first to smile and then to grow ashamed. When all surrounded
him, and said that the new cloak must be "christened," and that he
must give a whole evening at least to this, Akakiy Akakievitch lost
his head completely, and did not know where he stood, what to answer,
or how to get out of it. He stood blushing all over for several
minutes, and was on the point of assuring them with great simplicity
that it was not a new cloak, that it was so and so, that it was in
fact the old "cape."
At length one of the officials, a sub-chief probably, in order to show
that he was not at all proud, and on good terms with his inferiors,
said, "So be it, only I will give the party instead of Akakiy
Akakievitch; I invite you all to tea with me to-night; it happens
quite a propos, as it is my name-day." The officials naturally at once
offered the sub-chief their congratulations and accepted the
invitations with pleasure. Akakiy Akakievitch would have declined, but
all declared that it was discourteous, that it was simply a sin and a
shame, and that he could not possibly refuse. Besides, the notion
became pleasant to him when he recollected that he should thereby have
a chance of wearing his new cloak in the evening also.
That whole day was truly a most triumphant festival day for Akakiy
Akakievitch. He returned home in the most happy frame of mind, took
off his cloak, and hung it carefully on the wall, admiring afresh the
cloth and the lining. Then he brought out his old, worn-out cloak, for
comparison. He looked at it and laughed, so vast was the difference.
And long after dinner he laughed again when the condition of the
"cape" recurred to his mind. He dined cheerfully, and after dinner
wrote nothing, but took his ease for a while on the bed, until it got
dark. Then he dressed himself leisurely, put on his cloak, and stepped
out into the street. Where the host lived, unfortunately we cannot
say: our memory begins to fail us badly; and the houses and streets in
St. Petersburg have become so mixed up in our head that it is very
difficult to get anything out of it again in proper form. This much is
certain, that the official lived in the best part of the city; and
therefore it must have been anything but near to Akakiy Akakievitch's
residence. Akakiy Akakievitch was first obliged to traverse a kind of
wilderness of deserted, dimly-lighted streets; but in proportion as he
approached the official's quarter of the city, the streets became more
lively, more populous, and more brilliantly illuminated. Pedestrians
began to appear; handsomely dressed ladies were more frequently
encountered; the men had otter skin collars to their coats; peasant
waggoners, with their grate-like sledges stuck over with brass-headed
nails, became rarer; whilst on the other hand, more and more drivers
in red velvet caps, lacquered sledges and bear-skin coats began to
appear, and carriages with rich hammer-cloths flew swiftly through the
streets, their wheels scrunching the snow. Akakiy Akakievitch gazed
upon all this as upon a novel sight. He had not been in the streets
during the evening for years. He halted out of curiosity before a
shop-window to look at a picture representing a handsome woman, who
had thrown off her shoe, thereby baring her whole foot in a very
pretty way; whilst behind her the head of a man with whiskers and a
handsome moustache peeped through the doorway of another room. Akakiy
Akakievitch shook his head and laughed, and then went on his way. Why
did he laugh? Either because he had met with a thing utterly unknown,
but for which every one cherishes, nevertheless, some sort of feeling;
or else he thought, like many officials, as follows: "Well, those
French! What is to be said? If they do go in anything of that sort,
why--" But possibly he did not think at all.
Akakiy Akakievitch at length reached the house in which the sub-chief
lodged. The sub-chief lived in fine style: the staircase was lit by a
lamp; his apartment being on the second floor. On entering the
vestibule, Akakiy Akakievitch beheld a whole row of goloshes on the
floor. Among them, in the centre of the room, stood a samovar or
tea-urn, humming and emitting clouds of steam. On the walls hung all
sorts of coats and cloaks, among which there were even some with
beaver collars or velvet facings. Beyond, the buzz of conversation was
audible, and became clear and loud when the servant came out with a
trayful of empty glasses, cream-jugs, and sugar-bowls. It was evident
that the officials had arrived long before, and had already finished
their first glass of tea.
Akakiy Akakievitch, having hung up his own cloak, entered the inner
room. Before him all at once appeared lights, officials, pipes, and
card-tables; and he was bewildered by the sound of rapid conversation
rising from all the tables, and the noise of moving chairs. He halted
very awkwardly in the middle of the room, wondering what he ought to
do. But they had seen him. They received him with a shout, and all
thronged at once into the ante-room, and there took another look at
his cloak. Akakiy Akakievitch, although somewhat confused, was
frank-hearted, and could not refrain from rejoicing when he saw how
they praised his cloak. Then, of course, they all dropped him and his
cloak, and returned, as was proper, to the tables set out for whist.
All this, the noise, the talk, and the throng of people was rather
overwhelming to Akakiy Akakievitch. He simply did not know where he
stood, or where to put his hands, his feet, and his whole body.
Finally he sat down by the players, looked at the cards, gazed at the
face of one and another, and after a while began to gape, and to feel
that it was wearisome, the more so as the hour was already long past
when he usually went to bed. He wanted to take leave of the host; but
they would not let him go, saying that he must not fail to drink a
glass of champagne in honour of his new garment. In the course of an
hour, supper, consisting of vegetable salad, cold veal, pastry,
confectioner's pies, and champagne, was served. They made Akakiy
Akakievitch drink two glasses of champagne, after which he felt things
Still, he could not forget that it was twelve o'clock, and that he
should have been at home long ago. In order that the host might not
think of some excuse for detaining him, he stole out of the room
quickly, sought out, in the ante-room, his cloak, which, to his
sorrow, he found lying on the floor, brushed it, picked off every
speck upon it, put it on his shoulders, and descended the stairs to
In the street all was still bright. Some petty shops, those permanent
clubs of servants and all sorts of folk, were open. Others were shut,
but, nevertheless, showed a streak of light the whole length of the
door-crack, indicating that they were not yet free of company, and
that probably some domestics, male and female, were finishing their
stories and conversations whilst leaving their masters in complete
ignorance as to their whereabouts. Akakiy Akakievitch went on in a
happy frame of mind: he even started to run, without knowing why,
after some lady, who flew past like a flash of lightning. But he
stopped short, and went on very quietly as before, wondering why he
had quickened his pace. Soon there spread before him those deserted
streets, which are not cheerful in the daytime, to say nothing of the
evening. Now they were even more dim and lonely: the lanterns began to
grow rarer, oil, evidently, had been less liberally supplied. Then
came wooden houses and fences: not a soul anywhere; only the snow
sparkled in the streets, and mournfully veiled the low-roofed cabins
with their closed shutters. He approached the spot where the street
crossed a vast square with houses barely visible on its farther side,
a square which seemed a fearful desert.
Afar, a tiny spark glimmered from some watchman's box, which seemed to
stand on the edge of the world. Akakiy Akakievitch's cheerfulness
diminished at this point in a marked degree. He entered the square,
not without an involuntary sensation of fear, as though his heart
warned him of some evil. He glanced back and on both sides, it was
like a sea about him. "No, it is better not to look," he thought, and
went on, closing his eyes. When he opened them, to see whether he was
near the end of the square, he suddenly beheld, standing just before
his very nose, some bearded individuals of precisely what sort he
could not make out. All grew dark before his eyes, and his heart
"But, of course, the cloak is mine!" said one of them in a loud voice,
seizing hold of his collar. Akakiy Akakievitch was about to shout
"watch," when the second man thrust a fist, about the size of a man's
head, into his mouth, muttering, "Now scream!"
Akakiy Akakievitch felt them strip off his cloak and give him a push
with a knee: he fell headlong upon the snow, and felt no more. In a
few minutes he recovered consciousness and rose to his feet; but no
one was there. He felt that it was cold in the square, and that his
cloak was gone; he began to shout, but his voice did not appear to
reach to the outskirts of the square. In despair, but without ceasing
to shout, he started at a run across the square, straight towards the
watchbox, beside which stood the watchman, leaning on his halberd, and
apparently curious to know what kind of a customer was running towards
him and shouting. Akakiy Akakievitch ran up to him, and began in a
sobbing voice to shout that he was asleep, and attended to nothing,
and did not see when a man was robbed. The watchman replied that he
had seen two men stop him in the middle of the square, but supposed
that they were friends of his; and that, instead of scolding vainly,
he had better go to the police on the morrow, so that they might make
a search for whoever had stolen the cloak.
Akakiy Akakievitch ran home in complete disorder; his hair, which grew
very thinly upon his temples and the back of his head, wholly
disordered; his body, arms, and legs covered with snow. The old woman,
who was mistress of his lodgings, on hearing a terrible knocking,
sprang hastily from her bed, and, with only one shoe on, ran to open
the door, pressing the sleeve of her chemise to her bosom out of
modesty; but when she had opened it, she fell back on beholding Akakiy
Akakievitch in such a state. When he told her about the affair, she
clasped her hands, and said that he must go straight to the district
chief of police, for his subordinate would turn up his nose, promise
well, and drop the matter there. The very best thing to do, therefore,
would be to go to the district chief, whom she knew, because Finnish
Anna, her former cook, was now nurse at his house. She often saw him
passing the house; and he was at church every Sunday, praying, but at
the same time gazing cheerfully at everybody; so that he must be a
good man, judging from all appearances. Having listened to this
opinion, Akakiy Akakievitch betook himself sadly to his room; and how
he spent the night there any one who can put himself in another's
place may readily imagine.
Early in the morning, he presented himself at the district chief's;
but was told that this official was asleep. He went again at ten and
was again informed that he was asleep; at eleven, and they said: "The
superintendent is not at home;" at dinner time, and the clerks in the
ante-room would not admit him on any terms, and insisted upon knowing
his business. So that at last, for once in his life, Akakiy
Akakievitch felt an inclination to show some spirit, and said curtly
that he must see the chief in person; that they ought not to presume
to refuse him entrance; that he came from the department of justice,
and that when he complained of them, they would see.
The clerks dared make no reply to this, and one of them went to call
the chief, who listened to the strange story of the theft of the coat.
Instead of directing his attention to the principal points of the
matter, he began to question Akakiy Akakievitch: Why was he going home
so late? Was he in the habit of doing so, or had he been to some
disorderly house? So that Akakiy Akakievitch got thoroughly confused,
and left him without knowing whether the affair of his cloak was in
proper train or not.
All that day, for the first time in his life, he never went near the
department. The next day he made his appearance, very pale, and in his
old cape, which had become even more shabby. The news of the robbery
of the cloak touched many; although there were some officials present
who never lost an opportunity, even such a one as the present, of
ridiculing Akakiy Akakievitch. They decided to make a collection for
him on the spot, but the officials had already spent a great deal in
subscribing for the director's portrait, and for some book, at the
suggestion of the head of that division, who was a friend of the
author; and so the sum was trifling.
One of them, moved by pity, resolved to help Akakiy Akakievitch with
some good advice at least, and told him that he ought not to go to the
police, for although it might happen that a police-officer, wishing to
win the approval of his superiors, might hunt up the cloak by some
means, still his cloak would remain in the possession of the police if
he did not offer legal proof that it belonged to him. The best thing
for him, therefore, would be to apply to a certain prominent
personage; since this prominent personage, by entering into relations
with the proper persons, could greatly expedite the matter.
As there was nothing else to be done, Akakiy Akakievitch decided to go
to the prominent personage. What was the exact official position of
the prominent personage remains unknown to this day. The reader must
know that the prominent personage had but recently become a prominent
personage, having up to that time been only an insignificant person.
Moreover, his present position was not considered prominent in
comparison with others still more so. But there is always a circle of
people to whom what is insignificant in the eyes of others, is
important enough. Moreover, he strove to increase his importance by
sundry devices; for instance, he managed to have the inferior
officials meet him on the staircase when he entered upon his service;
no one was to presume to come directly to him, but the strictest
etiquette must be observed; the collegiate recorder must make a report
to the government secretary, the government secretary to the titular
councillor, or whatever other man was proper, and all business must
come before him in this manner. In Holy Russia all is thus
contaminated with the love of imitation; every man imitates and copies
his superior. They even say that a certain titular councillor, when
promoted to the head of some small separate room, immediately
partitioned off a private room for himself, called it the audience
chamber, and posted at the door a lackey with red collar and braid,
who grasped the handle of the door and opened to all comers; though
the audience chamber could hardly hold an ordinary writing-table.
The manners and customs of the prominent personage were grand and
imposing, but rather exaggerated. The main foundation of his system
was strictness. "Strictness, strictness, and always strictness!" he
generally said; and at the last word he looked significantly into the
face of the person to whom he spoke. But there was no necessity for
this, for the half-score of subordinates who formed the entire force
of the office were properly afraid; on catching sight of him afar off
they left their work and waited, drawn up in line, until he had passed
through the room. His ordinary converse with his inferiors smacked of
sternness, and consisted chiefly of three phrases: "How dare you?" "Do
you know whom you are speaking to?" "Do you realise who stands before
Otherwise he was a very kind-hearted man, good to his comrades, and
ready to oblige; but the rank of general threw him completely off his
balance. On receiving any one of that rank, he became confused, lost
his way, as it were, and never knew what to do. If he chanced to be
amongst his equals he was still a very nice kind of man, a very good
fellow in many respects, and not stupid; but the very moment that he
found himself in the society of people but one rank lower than himself
he became silent; and his situation aroused sympathy, the more so as
he felt himself that he might have been making an incomparably better
use of his time. In his eyes there was sometimes visible a desire to
join some interesting conversation or group; but he was kept back by
the thought, "Would it not be a very great condescension on his part?
Would it not be familiar? and would he not thereby lose his
importance?" And in consequence of such reflections he always remained
in the same dumb state, uttering from time to time a few monosyllabic
sounds, and thereby earning the name of the most wearisome of men.
To this prominent personage Akakiy Akakievitch presented himself, and
this at the most unfavourable time for himself though opportune for
the prominent personage. The prominent personage was in his cabinet
conversing gaily with an old acquaintance and companion of his
childhood whom he had not seen for several years and who had just
arrived when it was announced to him that a person named Bashmatchkin
had come. He asked abruptly, "Who is he?"--"Some official," he was
informed. "Ah, he can wait! this is no time for him to call," said the
It must be remarked here that the important man lied outrageously: he
had said all he had to say to his friend long before; and the
conversation had been interspersed for some time with very long
pauses, during which they merely slapped each other on the leg, and
said, "You think so, Ivan Abramovitch!" "Just so, Stepan Varlamitch!"
Nevertheless, he ordered that the official should be kept waiting, in
order to show his friend, a man who had not been in the service for a
long time, but had lived at home in the country, how long officials
had to wait in his ante-room.
At length, having talked himself completely out, and more than that,
having had his fill of pauses, and smoked a cigar in a very
comfortable arm-chair with reclining back, he suddenly seemed to
recollect, and said to the secretary, who stood by the door with
papers of reports, "So it seems that there is a tchinovnik waiting to
see me. Tell him that he may come in." On perceiving Akakiy
Akakievitch's modest mien and his worn undress uniform, he turned
abruptly to him and said, "What do you want?" in a curt hard voice,
which he had practised in his room in private, and before the
looking-glass, for a whole week before being raised to his present
Akakiy Akakievitch, who was already imbued with a due amount of fear,
became somewhat confused: and as well as his tongue would permit,
explained, with a rather more frequent addition than usual of the word
"that," that his cloak was quite new, and had been stolen in the most
inhuman manner; that he had applied to him in order that he might, in
some way, by his intermediation--that he might enter into
correspondence with the chief of police, and find the cloak.
For some inexplicable reason this conduct seemed familiar to the
prominent personage. "What, my dear sir!" he said abruptly, "are you
not acquainted with etiquette? Where have you come from? Don't you
know how such matters are managed? You should first have entered a
complaint about this at the court below: it would have gone to the
head of the department, then to the chief of the division, then it
would have been handed over to the secretary, and the secretary would
have given it to me."
"But, your excellency," said Akakiy Akakievitch, trying to collect his
small handful of wits, and conscious at the same time that he was
perspiring terribly, "I, your excellency, presumed to trouble you
because secretaries--are an untrustworthy race."
"What, what, what!" said the important personage. "Where did you get
such courage? Where did you get such ideas? What impudence towards
their chiefs and superiors has spread among the young generation!" The
prominent personage apparently had not observed that Akakiy
Akakievitch was already in the neighbourhood of fifty. If he could be
called a young man, it must have been in comparison with some one who
was twenty. "Do you know to whom you speak? Do you realise who stands
before you? Do you realise it? do you realise it? I ask you!" Then he
stamped his foot and raised his voice to such a pitch that it would
have frightened even a different man from Akakiy Akakievitch.
Akakiy Akakievitch's senses failed him; he staggered, trembled in
every limb, and, if the porters had not run to support him, would have
fallen to the floor. They carried him out insensible. But the
prominent personage, gratified that the effect should have surpassed
his expectations, and quite intoxicated with the thought that his word
could even deprive a man of his senses, glanced sideways at his friend
in order to see how he looked upon this, and perceived, not without
satisfaction, that his friend was in a most uneasy frame of mind, and
even beginning, on his part, to feel a trifle frightened.
Akakiy Akakievitch could not remember how he descended the stairs and
got into the street. He felt neither his hands nor feet. Never in his
life had he been so rated by any high official, let alone a strange
one. He went staggering on through the snow-storm, which was blowing
in the streets, with his mouth wide open; the wind, in St. Petersburg
fashion, darted upon him from all quarters, and down every
cross-street. In a twinkling it had blown a quinsy into his throat,
and he reached home unable to utter a word. His throat was swollen,
and he lay down on his bed. So powerful is sometimes a good scolding!
The next day a violent fever showed itself. Thanks to the generous
assistance of the St. Petersburg climate, the malady progressed more
rapidly than could have been expected: and when the doctor arrived, he
found, on feeling the sick man's pulse, that there was nothing to be
done, except to prescribe a fomentation, so that the patient might not
be left entirely without the beneficent aid of medicine; but at the
same time, he predicted his end in thirty-six hours. After this he
turned to the landlady, and said, "And as for you, don't waste your
time on him: order his pine coffin now, for an oak one will be too
expensive for him." Did Akakiy Akakievitch hear these fatal words? and
if he heard them, did they produce any overwhelming effect upon him?
Did he lament the bitterness of his life?--We know not, for he
continued in a delirious condition. Visions incessantly appeared to
him, each stranger than the other. Now he saw Petrovitch, and ordered
him to make a cloak, with some traps for robbers, who seemed to him to
be always under the bed; and cried every moment to the landlady to
pull one of them from under his coverlet. Then he inquired why his old
mantle hung before him when he had a new cloak. Next he fancied that
he was standing before the prominent person, listening to a thorough
setting-down, and saying, "Forgive me, your excellency!" but at last
he began to curse, uttering the most horrible words, so that his aged
landlady crossed herself, never in her life having heard anything of
the kind from him, the more so as those words followed directly after
the words "your excellency." Later on he talked utter nonsense, of
which nothing could be made: all that was evident being, that his
incoherent words and thoughts hovered ever about one thing, his cloak.
At length poor Akakiy Akakievitch breathed his last. They sealed up
neither his room nor his effects, because, in the first place, there
were no heirs, and, in the second, there was very little to inherit
beyond a bundle of goose-quills, a quire of white official paper,
three pairs of socks, two or three buttons which had burst off his
trousers, and the mantle already known to the reader. To whom all this
fell, God knows. I confess that the person who told me this tale took
no interest in the matter. They carried Akakiy Akakievitch out and
And St. Petersburg was left without Akakiy Akakievitch, as though he
had never lived there. A being disappeared who was protected by none,
dear to none, interesting to none, and who never even attracted to
himself the attention of those students of human nature who omit no
opportunity of thrusting a pin through a common fly, and examining it
under the microscope. A being who bore meekly the jibes of the
department, and went to his grave without having done one unusual
deed, but to whom, nevertheless, at the close of his life appeared a
bright visitant in the form of a cloak, which momentarily cheered his
poor life, and upon whom, thereafter, an intolerable misfortune
descended, just as it descends upon the mighty of this world!
Several days after his death, the porter was sent from the department
to his lodgings, with an order for him to present himself there
immediately; the chief commanding it. But the porter had to return
unsuccessful, with the answer that he could not come; and to the
question, "Why?" replied, "Well, because he is dead! he was buried
four days ago." In this manner did they hear of Akakiy Akakievitch's
death at the department, and the next day a new official sat in his
place, with a handwriting by no means so upright, but more inclined
But who could have imagined that this was not really the end of Akakiy
Akakievitch, that he was destined to raise a commotion after death, as
if in compensation for his utterly insignificant life? But so it
happened, and our poor story unexpectedly gains a fantastic ending.
A rumour suddenly spread through St. Petersburg that a dead man had
taken to appearing on the Kalinkin Bridge and its vicinity at night in
the form of a tchinovnik seeking a stolen cloak, and that, under the
pretext of its being the stolen cloak, he dragged, without regard to
rank or calling, every one's cloak from his shoulders, be it cat-skin,
beaver, fox, bear, sable; in a word, every sort of fur and skin which
men adopted for their covering. One of the department officials saw
the dead man with his own eyes and immediately recognised in him
Akakiy Akakievitch. This, however, inspired him with such terror that
he ran off with all his might, and therefore did not scan the dead man
closely, but only saw how the latter threatened him from afar with his
finger. Constant complaints poured in from all quarters that the backs
and shoulders, not only of titular but even of court councillors, were
exposed to the danger of a cold on account of the frequent dragging
off of their cloaks.
Arrangements were made by the police to catch the corpse, alive or
dead, at any cost, and punish him as an example to others in the most
severe manner. In this they nearly succeeded; for a watchman, on guard
in Kirushkin Alley, caught the corpse by the collar on the very scene
of his evil deeds, when attempting to pull off the frieze coat of a
retired musician. Having seized him by the collar, he summoned, with a
shout, two of his comrades, whom he enjoined to hold him fast while he
himself felt for a moment in his boot, in order to draw out his
snuff-box and refresh his frozen nose. But the snuff was of a sort
which even a corpse could not endure. The watchman having closed his
right nostril with his finger, had no sooner succeeded in holding half
a handful up to the left than the corpse sneezed so violently that he
completely filled the eyes of all three. While they raised their hands
to wipe them, the dead man vanished completely, so that they
positively did not know whether they had actually had him in their
grip at all. Thereafter the watchmen conceived such a terror of dead
men that they were afraid even to seize the living, and only screamed
from a distance, "Hey, there! go your way!" So the dead tchinovnik
began to appear even beyond the Kalinkin Bridge, causing no little
terror to all timid people.
But we have totally neglected that certain prominent personage who may
really be considered as the cause of the fantastic turn taken by this
true history. First of all, justice compels us to say that after the
departure of poor, annihilated Akakiy Akakievitch he felt something
like remorse. Suffering was unpleasant to him, for his heart was
accessible to many good impulses, in spite of the fact that his rank
often prevented his showing his true self. As soon as his friend had
left his cabinet, he began to think about poor Akakiy Akakievitch. And
from that day forth, poor Akakiy Akakievitch, who could not bear up
under an official reprimand, recurred to his mind almost every day.
The thought troubled him to such an extent that a week later he even
resolved to send an official to him, to learn whether he really could
assist him; and when it was reported to him that Akakiy Akakievitch
had died suddenly of fever, he was startled, hearkened to the
reproaches of his conscience, and was out of sorts for the whole day.
Wishing to divert his mind in some way, and drive away the
disagreeable impression, he set out that evening for one of his
friends' houses, where he found quite a large party assembled. What
was better, nearly every one was of the same rank as himself, so that
he need not feel in the least constrained. This had a marvellous
effect upon his mental state. He grew expansive, made himself
agreeable in conversation, in short, he passed a delightful evening.
After supper he drank a couple of glasses of champagne--not a bad
recipe for cheerfulness, as every one knows. The champagne inclined
him to various adventures; and he determined not to return home, but
to go and see a certain well-known lady of German extraction, Karolina
Ivanovna, a lady, it appears, with whom he was on a very friendly
It must be mentioned that the prominent personage was no longer a
young man, but a good husband and respected father of a family. Two
sons, one of whom was already in the service, and a good-looking,
sixteen-year-old daughter, with a rather retrousse but pretty little
nose, came every morning to kiss his hand and say, "Bonjour, papa."
His wife, a still fresh and good-looking woman, first gave him her
hand to kiss, and then, reversing the procedure, kissed his. But the
prominent personage, though perfectly satisfied in his domestic
relations, considered it stylish to have a friend in another quarter
of the city. This friend was scarcely prettier or younger than his
wife; but there are such puzzles in the world, and it is not our place
to judge them. So the important personage descended the stairs,
stepped into his sledge, said to the coachman, "To Karolina
Ivanovna's," and, wrapping himself luxuriously in his warm cloak,
found himself in that delightful frame of mind than which a Russian
can conceive no better, namely, when you think of nothing yourself,
yet when the thoughts creep into your mind of their own accord, each
more agreeable than the other, giving you no trouble either to drive
them away or seek them. Fully satisfied, he recalled all the gay
features of the evening just passed, and all the mots which had made
the little circle laugh. Many of them he repeated in a low voice, and
found them quite as funny as before; so it is not surprising that he
should laugh heartily at them. Occasionally, however, he was
interrupted by gusts of wind, which, coming suddenly, God knows whence
or why, cut his face, drove masses of snow into it, filled out his
cloak-collar like a sail, or suddenly blew it over his head with
supernatural force, and thus caused him constant trouble to
Suddenly the important personage felt some one clutch him firmly by
the collar. Turning round, he perceived a man of short stature, in an
old, worn uniform, and recognised, not without terror, Akakiy
Akakievitch. The official's face was white as snow, and looked just
like a corpse's. But the horror of the important personage transcended
all bounds when he saw the dead man's mouth open, and, with a terrible
odour of the grave, gave vent to the following remarks: "Ah, here you
are at last! I have you, that--by the collar! I need your cloak; you
took no trouble about mine, but reprimanded me; so now give up your
The pallid prominent personage almost died of fright. Brave as he was
in the office and in the presence of inferiors generally, and
although, at the sight of his manly form and appearance, every one
said, "Ugh! how much character he had!" at this crisis, he, like many
possessed of an heroic exterior, experienced such terror, that, not
without cause, he began to fear an attack of illness. He flung his
cloak hastily from his shoulders and shouted to his coachman in an
unnatural voice, "Home at full speed!" The coachman, hearing the tone
which is generally employed at critical moments and even accompanied
by something much more tangible, drew his head down between his
shoulders in case of an emergency, flourished his whip, and flew on
like an arrow. In a little more than six minutes the prominent
personage was at the entrance of his own house. Pale, thoroughly
scared, and cloakless, he went home instead of to Karolina Ivanovna's,
reached his room somehow or other, and passed the night in the direst
distress; so that the next morning over their tea his daughter said,
"You are very pale to-day, papa." But papa remained silent, and said
not a word to any one of what had happened to him, where he had been,
or where he had intended to go.
This occurrence made a deep impression upon him. He even began to say:
"How dare you? do you realise who stands before you?" less frequently
to the under-officials, and if he did utter the words, it was only
after having first learned the bearings of the matter. But the most
noteworthy point was, that from that day forward the apparition of the
dead tchinovnik ceased to be seen. Evidently the prominent personage's
cloak just fitted his shoulders; at all events, no more instances of
his dragging cloaks from people's shoulders were heard of. But many
active and apprehensive persons could by no means reassure themselves,
and asserted that the dead tchinovnik still showed himself in distant
parts of the city.
In fact, one watchman in Kolomna saw with his own eyes the apparition
come from behind a house. But being rather weak of body, he dared not
arrest him, but followed him in the dark, until, at length, the
apparition looked round, paused, and inquired, "What do you want?" at
the same time showing a fist such as is never seen on living men. The
watchman said, "It's of no consequence," and turned back instantly.
But the apparition was much too tall, wore huge moustaches, and,
directing its steps apparently towards the Obukhoff bridge,
disappeared in the darkness of the night.
HOW THE TWO IVANS QUARRELLED
IVAN IVANOVITCH AND IVAN NIKIFOROVITCH
A fine pelisse has Ivan Ivanovitch! splendid! And what lambskin! deuce
take it, what lambskin! blue-black with silver lights. I'll forfeit, I
know not what, if you find any one else owning such a one. Look at it,
for heaven's sake, especially when he stands talking with any one!
look at him side-ways: what a pleasure it is! To describe it is
impossible: velvet! silver! fire! Nikolai the Wonder-worker, saint of
God! why have I not such a pelisse? He had it made before Agafya
Fedosyevna went to Kief. You know Agafya Fedosyevna who bit the
assessor's ear off?
Ivan Ivanovitch is a very handsome man. What a house he has in
Mirgorod! Around it on every side is a balcony on oaken pillars, and
on the balcony are benches. Ivan Ivanovitch, when the weather gets too
warm, throws off his pelisse and his remaining upper garments, and
sits, in his shirt sleeves, on the balcony to observe what is going on
in the courtyard and the street. What apples and pears he has under
his very windows! You have but to open the window and the branches
force themselves through into the room. All this is in front of the
house; but you should see what he has in the garden. What is there not
there? Plums, cherries, every sort of vegetable, sunflowers,
cucumbers, melons, peas, a threshing-floor, and even a forge.
A very fine man, Ivan Ivanovitch! He is very fond of melons: they are
his favourite food. As soon as he has dined, and come out on his
balcony, in his shirt sleeves, he orders Gapka to bring two melons,
and immediately cuts them himself, collects the seeds in a paper, and
begins to eat. Then he orders Gapka to fetch the ink-bottle, and, with
his own hand, writes this inscription on the paper of seeds: "These
melons were eaten on such and such a date." If there was a guest
present, then it reads, "Such and such a person assisted."
The late judge of Mirgorod always gazed at Ivan Ivanovitch's house
with pleasure. The little house is very pretty. It pleases me because
sheds and other little additions are built on to it on all sides; so
that, looking at it from a distance, only roofs are visible, rising
one above another, and greatly resembling a plate full of pancakes,
or, better still, fungi growing on the trunk of a tree. Moreover, the
roof is all overgrown with weeds: a willow, an oak, and two
apple-trees lean their spreading branches against it. Through the
trees peep little windows with carved and white-washed shutters, which
project even into the street.
A very fine man, Ivan Ivanovitch! The commissioner of Poltava knows
him too. Dorosh Tarasovitch Pukhivotchka, when he leaves Khorola,
always goes to his house. And when Father Peter, the Protopope who
lives at Koliberdas, invites a few guests, he always says that he
knows of no one who so well fulfils all his Christian duties and
understands so well how to live as Ivan Ivanovitch.
How time flies! More than ten years have already passed since he
became a widower. He never had any children. Gapka has children and
they run about the court-yard. Ivan Ivanovitch always gives each of
them a cake, or a slice of melon, or a pear.
Gapka carries the keys of the storerooms and cellars; but the key of
the large chest which stands in his bedroom, and that of the centre
storeroom, Ivan Ivanovitch keeps himself; Gapka is a healthy girl,
with ruddy cheeks and calves, and goes about in coarse cloth garments.
And what a pious man is Ivan Ivanovitch! Every Sunday he dons his
pelisse and goes to church. On entering, he bows on all sides,
generally stations himself in the choir, and sings a very good bass.
When the service is over, Ivan Ivanovitch cannot refrain from passing
the poor people in review. He probably would not have cared to
undertake this tiresome work if his natural goodness had not urged him
to it. "Good-day, beggar!" he generally said, selecting the most
crippled old woman, in the most patched and threadbare garments.
"Whence come you, my poor woman?"
"I come from the farm, sir. 'Tis two days since I have eaten or drunk:
my own children drove me out."
"Poor soul! why did you come hither?"
"To beg alms, sir, to see whether some one will not give me at least
enough for bread."
"Hm! so you want bread?" Ivan Ivanovitch generally inquired.
"How should it be otherwise? I am as hungry as a dog."
"Hm!" replied Ivan Ivanovitch usually, "and perhaps you would like
"Yes; everything which your kindness will give; I will be content with
"Hm! Is butter better than bread?"
"How is a hungry person to choose? Anything you please, all is good."
Thereupon the old woman generally extended her hand.
"Well, go with God's blessing," said Ivan Ivanovitch. "Why do you
stand there? I'm not beating you." And turning to a second and a third
with the same questions, he finally returns home, or goes to drink a
little glass of vodka with his neighbour, Ivan Nikiforovitch, or the
judge, or the chief of police.
Ivan Ivanovitch is very fond of receiving presents. They please him
A very fine man too is Ivan Nikiforovitch. They are such friends as
the world never saw. Anton Prokofievitch Pupopuz, who goes about to
this hour in his cinnamon-coloured surtout with blue sleeves and dines
every Sunday with the judge, was in the habit of saying that the Devil
himself had bound Ivan Ivanovitch and Ivan Nikiforovitch together with
a rope: where one went, the other followed.
Ivan Nikiforovitch has never married. Although it was reported that he
was married it was completely false. I know Ivan Nikiforovitch very
well, and am able to state that he never even had any intention of
marrying. Where do all these scandals originate? In the same way it
was rumoured that Ivan Nikiforovitch was born with a tail! But this
invention is so clumsy and at the same time so horrible and indecent
that I do not even consider it necessary to refute it for the benefit
of civilised readers, to whom it is doubtless known that only witches,
and very few even of these, have tails. Witches, moreover, belong more
to the feminine than to the masculine gender.
In spite of their great friendship, these rare friends are not always
agreed between themselves. Their characters can best be judged by
comparing them. Ivan Ivanovitch has the usual gift of speaking in an
extremely pleasant manner. Heavens! How he does speak! The feeling can
best be described by comparing it to that which you experience when
some one combs your head or draws his finger softly across your heel.
You listen and listen until you drop your head. Pleasant, exceedingly
pleasant! like the sleep after a bath. Ivan Nikiforovitch, on the
contrary, is more reticent; but if he once takes up his parable, look
out for yourself! He can talk your head off.
Ivan Ivanovitch is tall and thin: Ivan Nikiforovitch is rather shorter
in stature, but he makes it up in thickness. Ivan Ivanovitch's head is
like a radish, tail down; Ivan Nikiforovitch's like a radish with the
tail up. Ivan Ivanovitch lolls on the balcony in his shirt sleeves
after dinner only: in the evening he dons his pelisse and goes out
somewhere, either to the village shop, where he supplies flour, or
into the fields to catch quail. Ivan Nikiforovitch lies all day at his
porch: if the day is not too hot he generally turns his back to the
sun and will not go anywhere. If it happens to occur to him in the
morning he walks through the yard, inspects the domestic affairs, and
retires again to his room. In early days he used to call on Ivan
Ivanovitch. Ivan Ivanovitch is a very refined man, and never utters an
impolite word. Ivan Nikiforovitch is not always on his guard. On such
occasions Ivan Ivanovitch usually rises from his seat, and says,
"Enough, enough, Ivan Nikiforovitch! It's better to go out at once
than to utter such godless words."
Ivan Ivanovitch gets into a terrible rage if a fly falls into his
beet-soup. Then he is fairly beside himself; he flings away his plate
and the housekeeper catches it. Ivan Nikiforovitch is very fond of
bathing; and when he gets up to the neck in water, orders a table and
a samovar, or tea urn, to be placed on the water, for he is very fond
of drinking tea in that cool position. Ivan Ivanovitch shaves twice a
week; Ivan Nikiforovitch once. Ivan Ivanovitch is extremely curious.
God preserve you if you begin to tell him anything and do not finish
it! If he is displeased with anything he lets it be seen at once. It
is very hard to tell from Ivan Nikiforovitch's countenance whether he
is pleased or angry; even if he is rejoiced at anything, he will not
show it. Ivan Ivanovitch is of a rather timid character: Ivan
Nikiforovitch, on the contrary, has, as the saying is, such full folds
in his trousers that if you were to inflate them you might put the
courtyard, with its storehouses and buildings, inside them.
Ivan Ivanovitch has large, expressive eyes, of a snuff colour, and a
mouth shaped something like the letter V; Ivan Nikiforovitch has
small, yellowish eyes, quite concealed between heavy brows and fat
cheeks; and his nose is the shape of a ripe plum. If Ivanovitch treats
you to snuff, he always licks the cover of his box first with his
tongue, then taps on it with his finger and says, as he raises it, if
you are an acquaintance, "Dare I beg you, sir, to give me the
pleasure?" if a stranger, "Dare I beg you, sir, though I have not the
honour of knowing your rank, name, and family, to do me the favour?"
but Ivan Nikiforovitch puts his box straight into your hand and merely
adds, "Do me the favour." Neither Ivan Ivanovitch nor Ivan
Nikiforovitch loves fleas; and therefore, neither Ivan Ivanovitch nor
Ivan Nikiforovitch will, on no account, admit a Jew with his wares,
without purchasing of him remedies against these insects, after having
first rated him well for belonging to the Hebrew faith.
But in spite of numerous dissimilarities, Ivan Ivanovitch and Ivan
Nikiforovitch are both very fine fellows.
FROM WHICH MAY BE SEEN WHENCE AROSE THE DISCUSSION BETWEEN
IVAN IVANOVITCH AND IVAN NIKIFOROVITCH
One morning--it was in July--Ivan Ivanovitch was lying on his balcony.
The day was warm; the air was dry, and came in gusts. Ivan Ivanovitch
had been to town, to the mower's, and at the farm, and had succeeded
in asking all the muzhiks and women whom he met all manner of
questions. He was fearfully tired and had laid down to rest. As he lay
there, he looked at the storehouse, the courtyard, the sheds, the
chickens running about, and thought to himself, "Heavens! What a
well-to-do man I am! What is there that I have not? Birds, buildings,
granaries, everything I take a fancy to; genuine distilled vodka;
pears and plums in the orchard; poppies, cabbages, peas in the garden;
what is there that I have not? I should like to know what there is
that I have not?"
As he put this question to himself, Ivan Ivanovitch reflected; and
meantime his eyes, in their search after fresh objects, crossed the
fence into Ivan Nikiforovitch's yard and involuntarily took note of a
curious sight. A fat woman was bringing out clothes, which had been
packed away, and spreading them out on the line to air. Presently an
old uniform with worn trimmings was swinging its sleeves in the air
and embracing a brocade gown; from behind it peeped a court-coat, with
buttons stamped with coats-of-arms, and moth-eaten collar; and white
kersymere pantaloons with spots, which had once upon a time clothed
Ivan Nikiforovitch's legs, and might now possibly fit his fingers.
Behind them were speedily hung some more in the shape of the letter
pi. Then came a blue Cossack jacket, which Ivan Nikiforovitch had had
made twenty years before, when he was preparing to enter the militia,
and allowed his moustache to grow. And one after another appeared a
sword, projecting into the air like a spit, and the skirts of a
grass-green caftan-like garment, with copper buttons the size of a
five-kopek piece, unfolded themselves. From among the folds peeped a
vest bound with gold, with a wide opening in front. The vest was soon
concealed by an old petticoat belonging to his dead grandmother, with
pockets which would have held a water-melon.
All these things piled together formed a very interesting spectacle
for Ivan Ivanovitch; while the sun's rays, falling upon a blue or
green sleeve, a red binding, or a scrap of gold brocade, or playing in
the point of a sword, formed an unusual sight, similar to the
representations of the Nativity given at farmhouses by wandering
bands; particularly that part where the throng of people, pressing
close together, gaze at King Herod in his golden crown or at Anthony
leading his goat.
Presently the old woman crawled, grunting, from the storeroom,
dragging after her an old-fashioned saddle with broken stirrups, worn
leather holsters, and saddle-cloth, once red, with gilt embroidery and
"Here's a stupid woman," thought Ivan Ivanovitch. "She'll be dragging
Ivan Nikiforovitch out and airing him next."
Ivan Ivanovitch was not so far wrong in his surmise. Five minutes
later, Ivan Nikiforovitch's nankeen trousers appeared, and took nearly
half the yard to themselves. After that she fetched out a hat and a
gun. "What's the meaning of this?" thought Ivan Ivanovitch. "I never
knew Ivan Nikiforovitch had a gun. What does he want with it? Whether
he shoots, or not, he keeps a gun! Of what use is it to him? But it's
a splendid thing. I have long wanted just such a one. I should like
that gun very much: I like to amuse myself with a gun. Hello, there,
woman, woman!" shouted Ivan Ivanovitch, beckoning to her.
The old woman approached the fence.
"What's that you have there, my good woman?"
"A gun, as you see."
"What sort of a gun?"
"Who knows what sort of a gun? If it were mine, perhaps I should know
what it is made of; but it is my master's, therefore I know nothing of
Ivan Ivanovitch rose, and began to examine the gun on all sides, and
forgot to reprove the old woman for hanging it and the sword out to
"It must be iron," went on the old woman.
"Hm, iron! why iron?" said Ivan Ivanovitch. "Has your master had it
"Yes; long, perhaps."
"It's a nice gun!" continued Ivan Ivanovitch. "I will ask him for it.
What can he want with it? I'll make an exchange with him for it. Is
your master at home, my good woman?"
"What is he doing? lying down?"
"Yes, lying down."
"Very well, I will come to him."
Ivan Ivanovitch dressed himself, took his well-seasoned stick for the
benefit of the dogs, for, in Mirgorod, there are more dogs than people
to be met in the street, and went out.
Although Ivan Nikiforovitch's house was next door to Ivan
Ivanovitch's, so that you could have got from one to the other by
climbing the fence, yet Ivan Ivanovitch went by way of the street.
From the street it was necessary to turn into an alley which was so
narrow that if two one-horse carts chanced to meet they could not get
out, and were forced to remain there until the drivers, seizing the
hind-wheels, dragged them back in opposite directions into the street,
whilst pedestrians drew aside like flowers growing by the fence on
either hand. Ivan Ivanovitch's waggon-shed adjoined this alley on one
side; and on the other were Ivan Nikiforovitch's granary, gate, and
Ivan Ivanovitch went up to the gate and rattled the latch. Within
arose the barking of dogs; but the motley-haired pack ran back,
wagging their tails when they saw the well-known face. Ivan Ivanovitch
traversed the courtyard, in which were collected Indian doves, fed by
Ivan Nikiforovitch's own hand, melon-rinds, vegetables, broken wheels,
barrel-hoops, and a small boy wallowing with dirty blouse--a picture
such as painters love. The shadows of the fluttering clothes covered
nearly the whole of the yard and lent it a degree of coolness. The
woman greeted him with a bend of her head and stood, gaping, in one
spot. The front of the house was adorned with a small porch, with its
roof supported on two oak pillars--a welcome protection from the sun,
which at that season in Little Russia loves not to jest, and bathes
the pedestrian from head to foot in perspiration. It may be judged how
powerful Ivan Ivanovitch's desire to obtain the coveted article was
when he made up his mind, at such an hour, to depart from his usual
custom, which was to walk abroad only in the evening.
The room which Ivan Ivanovitch entered was quite dark, for the
shutters were closed; and the ray of sunlight passing through a hole
made in one of them took on the colours of the rainbow, and, striking
the opposite wall, sketched upon it a parti-coloured picture of the
outlines of roofs, trees, and the clothes suspended in the yard, only
upside down. This gave the room a peculiar half-light.
"God assist you!" said Ivan Ivanovitch.
"Ah! how do you do, Ivan Ivanovitch?" replied a voice from the corner
of the room. Then only did Ivan Ivanovitch perceive Ivan Nikiforovitch
lying upon a rug which was spread on the floor. "Excuse me for
appearing before you in a state of nature."
"Not at all. You have been asleep, Ivan Nikiforovitch?"
"I have been asleep. Have you been asleep, Ivan Ivanovitch?"
"And now you have risen?"
"Now I have risen. Christ be with you, Ivan Nikiforovitch! How can you
sleep until this time? I have just come from the farm. There's very
fine barley on the road, charming! and the hay is tall and soft and
"Gorpina!" shouted Ivan Nikiforovitch, "fetch Ivan Ivanovitch some
vodka, and some pastry and sour cream!"
"Fine weather we're having to-day."
"Don't praise it, Ivan Ivanovitch! Devil take it! You can't get away
from the heat."
"Now, why need you mention the devil! Ah, Ivan Nikiforovitch! you will
recall my words when it's too late. You will suffer in the next world
for such godless words."
"How have I offended you, Ivan Ivanovitch? I have not attacked your
father nor your mother. I don't know how I have insulted you."
"Enough, enough, Ivan Nikiforovitch!"
"By Heavens, Ivan Ivanovitch, I did not insult you!"
"It's strange that the quails haven't come yet to the whistle."
"Think what you please, but I have not insulted you in any way."
"I don't know why they don't come," said Ivan Ivanovitch, as if he did
not hear Ivan Nikiforovitch; "it is more than time for them already;
but they seem to need more time for some reason."
"You say that the barley is good?"
"Splendid barley, splendid!"
A silence ensued.
"So you are having your clothes aired, Ivan Nikiforovitch?" said Ivan
Ivanovitch at length.
"Yes; those cursed women have ruined some beautiful clothes; almost
new they were too. Now I'm having them aired; the cloth is fine and
good. They only need turning to make them fit to wear again."
"One thing among them pleased me extremely, Ivan Nikiforovitch."
"What was that?"
"Tell me, please, what use do you make of the gun that has been put to
air with the clothes?" Here Ivan Ivanovitch offered his snuff. "May I
ask you to do me the favour?"
"By no means! take it yourself; I will use my own." Thereupon Ivan
Nikiforovitch felt about him, and got hold of his snuff-box. "That
stupid woman! So she hung the gun out to air. That Jew at Sorotchintzi
makes good snuff. I don't know what he puts in it, but it is so very
fragrant. It is a little like tansy. Here, take a little and chew it;
isn't it like tansy?"
"Ivan Nikiforovitch, I want to talk about that gun; what are you going
to do with it? You don't need it."
"Why don't I need it? I might want to go shooting."
"God be with you, Ivan Nikiforovitch! When will you go shooting? At
the millennium, perhaps? So far as I know, or any one can recollect,
you never killed even a duck; yes, and you are not built to go
shooting. You have a dignified bearing and figure; how are you to drag
yourself about the marshes, especially when your garment, which it is
not polite to mention in conversation by name, is being aired at this
very moment? No; you require rest, repose." Ivan Ivanovitch as has
been hinted at above, employed uncommonly picturesque language when it
was necessary to persuade any one. How he talked! Heavens, how he
could talk! "Yes, and you require polite actions. See here, give it to
"The idea! The gun is valuable; you can't find such guns anywhere
nowadays. I bought it of a Turk when I joined the militia; and now, to
give it away all of a sudden! Impossible! It is an indispensable
"Indispensable for what?"
"For what? What if robbers should attack the house? . . .
Indispensable indeed! Glory to God! I know that a gun stands in my
"A fine gun that! Why, Ivan Nikiforovitch, the lock is ruined."
"What do you mean by ruined? It can be set right; all that needs to be
done is to rub it with hemp-oil, so that it may not rust."
"I see in your words, Ivan Nikiforovitch, anything but a friendly
disposition towards me. You will do nothing for me in token of
"How can you say, Ivan Ivanovitch, that I show you no friendship? You
ought to be ashamed of yourself. Your oxen pasture on my steppes and I
have never interfered with them. When you go to Poltava, you always
ask for my waggon, and what then? Have I ever refused? Your children
climb over the fence into my yard and play with my dogs--I never say
anything; let them play, so long as they touch nothing; let them
"If you won't give it to me, then let us make some exchange."
"What will you give me for it?" Thereupon Ivan Nikiforovitch raised
himself on his elbow, and looked at Ivan Ivanovitch.
"I will give you my dark-brown sow, the one I have fed in the sty. A
magnificent sow. You'll see, she'll bring you a litter of pigs next
"I do not see, Ivan Ivanovitch, how you can talk so. What could I do
with your sow? Make a funeral dinner for the devil?"
"Again! You can't get along without the devil! It's a sin! by Heaven,
it's a sin, Ivan Nikiforovitch!"
"What do you mean, Ivan Ivanovitch, by offering the deuce knows what
kind of a sow for my gun?"
"Why is she 'the deuce knows what,' Ivan Nikiforovitch?"
"Why? You can judge for yourself perfectly well; here's the gun, a
known thing; but the deuce knows what that sow is like! If it had not
been you who said it, Ivan Ivanovitch, I might have put an insulting
construction on it."
"What defect have you observed in the sow?"
"For what do you take me--for a sow?"
"Sit down, sit down! I won't-- No matter about your gun; let it rot
and rust where it stands in the corner of the storeroom. I don't want
to say anything more about it!"
After this a pause ensued.
"They say," began Ivan Ivanovitch, "that three kings have declared war
against our Tzar."
"Yes, Peter Feodorovitch told me so. What sort of war is this, and why
"I cannot say exactly, Ivan Nikiforovitch, what the cause is. I
suppose the kings want us to adopt the Turkish faith."
"Fools! They would have it," said Ivan Nikiforovitch, raising his
"So, you see, our Tzar has declared war on them in consequence. 'No,'
says he, 'do you adopt the faith of Christ!'"
"Oh, our people will beat them, Ivan Ivanovitch!"
"They will. So you won't exchange the gun, Ivan Nikiforovitch?"
"It's a strange thing to me, Ivan Ivanovitch, that you, who seem to be
a man distinguished for sense, should talk such nonsense. What a fool
I should be!"
"Sit down, sit down. God be with it! let it burst! I won't mention it
At this moment lunch was brought in.
Ivan Ivanovitch drank a glass and ate a pie with sour cream. "Listen,
Ivan Nikiforovitch: I will give you, besides the sow, two sacks of
oats. You did not sow any oats. You'll have to buy some this year in
"By Heaven, Ivan Ivanovitch, I must tell you you are very foolish! Who
ever heard of swapping a gun for two sacks of oats? Never fear, you
don't offer your coat."
"But you forget, Ivan Nikiforovitch, that I am to give you the sow
"What! two sacks of oats and a sow for a gun?"
"Why, is it too little?"
"For a gun?"
"Of course, for a gun."
"Two sacks for a gun?"
"Two sacks, not empty, but filled with oats; and you've forgotten the
"Kiss your sow; and if you don't like that, then go to the Evil One!"
"Oh, get angry now, do! See here; they'll stick your tongue full of
red-hot needles in the other world for such godless words. After a
conversation with you, one has to wash one's face and hands and
fumigate one's self."
"Excuse me, Ivan Ivanovitch; my gun is a choice thing, a most curious
thing; and besides, it is a very agreeable decoration in a room."
"You go on like a fool about that gun of yours, Ivan Nikiforovitch,"
said Ivan Ivanovitch with vexation; for he was beginning to be really
"And you, Ivan Ivanovitch, are a regular goose!"
If Ivan Nikiforovitch had not uttered that word they would not have
quarrelled, but would have parted friends as usual; but now things
took quite another turn. Ivan Ivanovitch flew into a rage.
"What was that you said, Ivan Nikiforovitch?" he said, raising his
"I said you were like a goose, Ivan Ivanovitch!"
"How dare you, sir, forgetful of decency and the respect due to a
man's rank and family, insult him with such a disgraceful name!"
"What is there disgraceful about it? And why are you flourishing your
hands so, Ivan Ivanovitch?"
"How dared you, I repeat, in disregard of all decency, call me a
"I spit on your head, Ivan Ivanovitch! What are you screeching about?"
Ivan Ivanovitch could no longer control himself. His lips quivered;
his mouth lost its usual V shape, and became like the letter O; he
glared so that he was terrible to look at. This very rarely happened
with Ivan Ivanovitch: it was necessary that he should be extremely
angry at first.
"Then, I declare to you," exclaimed Ivan Ivanovitch, "that I will no
longer know you!"
"A great pity! By Heaven, I shall never weep on that account!"
retorted Ivan Nikiforovitch. He lied, by Heaven, he lied! for it was
very annoying to him.
"I will never put my foot inside your house gain!"
"Oho, ho!" said Ivan Nikiforovitch, vexed, yet not knowing himself
what to do, and rising to his feet, contrary to his custom. "Hey,
there, woman, boy!" Thereupon there appeared at the door the same fat
woman and the small boy, now enveloped in a long and wide coat. "Take
Ivan Ivanovitch by the arms and lead him to the door!"
"What! a nobleman?" shouted Ivan Ivanovitch with a feeling of vexation
and dignity. "Just do it if you dare! Come on! I'll annihilate you and
your stupid master. The crows won't be able to find your bones." Ivan
Ivanovitch spoke with uncommon force when his spirit was up.
The group presented a striking picture: Ivan Nikiforovitch standing in
the middle of the room; the woman with her mouth wide open and a
senseless, terrified look on her face, and Ivan Ivanovitch with
uplifted hand, as the Roman tribunes are depicted. This was a
magnificent spectacle: and yet there was but one spectator; the boy in
the ample coat, who stood quite quietly and picked his nose with his
Finally Ivan Ivanovitch took his hat. "You have behaved well, Ivan
Nikiforovitch, extremely well! I shall remember it."
"Go, Ivan Ivanovitch, go! and see that you don't come in my way: if
you do, I'll beat your ugly face to a jelly, Ivan Ivanovitch!"
"Take that, Ivan Nikiforovitch!" retorted Ivan Ivanovitch, making an
insulting gesture and banged the door, which squeaked and flew open
again behind him.
Ivan Nikiforovitch appeared at it and wanted to add something more;
but Ivan Ivanovitch did not glance back and hastened from the yard.
WHAT TOOK PLACE AFTER IVAN IVANOVITCH'S QUARREL WITH
And thus two respectable men, the pride and honour of Mirgorod, had
quarrelled, and about what? About a bit of nonsense--a goose. They
would not see each other, broke off all connection, though hitherto
they had been known as the most inseparable friends. Every day Ivan
Ivanovitch and Ivan Nikiforovitch had sent to inquire about each
other's health, and often conversed together from their balconies and
said such charming things as did the heart good to listen to. On
Sundays, Ivan Ivanovitch, in his lambskin pelisse, and Ivan
Nikiforovitch, in his cinnamon-coloured nankeen spencer, used to set
out for church almost arm in arm; and if Ivan Ivanovitch, who had
remarkably sharp eyes, was the first to catch sight of a puddle or any
dirt in the street, which sometimes happened in Mirgorod, he always
said to Ivan Nikiforovitch, "Look out! don't put your foot there, it's
dirty." Ivan Nikiforovitch, on his side, exhibited the same touching
tokens of friendship; and whenever he chanced to be standing, always
held out his hand to Ivan Ivanovitch with his snuff-box, saying: "Do
me the favour!" And what fine managers both were!-- And these two
friends!-- When I heard of it, it struck me like a flash of lightning.
For a long time I would not believe it. Ivan Ivanovitch quarrelling
with Ivan Nikiforovitch! Such worthy people! What is to be depended
upon, then, in this world?
When Ivan Ivanovitch reached home, he remained for some time in a
state of strong excitement. He usually went, first of all, to the
stable to see whether his mare was eating her hay; for he had a bay
mare with a white star on her forehead, and a very pretty little mare
she was too; then to feed the turkeys and the little pigs with his own
hand, and then to his room, where he either made wooden dishes, for he
could make various vessels of wood very tastefully, quite as well as
any turner, or read a book printed by Liubia, Garia, and Popoff (Ivan
Ivanovitch could never remember the name, because the serving-maid had
long before torn off the top part of the title-page while amusing the
children), or rested on the balcony. But now he did not betake himself
to any of his ordinary occupations. Instead, on encountering Gapka, he
at once began to scold her for loitering about without any occupation,
though she was carrying groats to the kitchen; flung a stick at a cock
which came upon the balcony for his customary treat; and when the
dirty little boy, in his little torn blouse, ran up to him and
shouted: "Papa, papa! give me a honey-cake," he threatened him and
stamped at him so fiercely that the frightened child fled, God knows
But at last he bethought himself, and began to busy himself about his
every-day duties. He dined late, and it was almost night when he lay
down to rest on the balcony. A good beet-soup with pigeons, which
Gapka had cooked for him, quite drove from his mind the occurrences of
the morning. Again Ivan Ivanovitch began to gaze at his belongings
with satisfaction. At length his eye rested on the neighbouring yard;
and he said to himself, "I have not been to Ivan Nikiforovitch's
to-day: I'll go there now." So saying, Ivan Ivanovitch took his stick
and his hat, and directed his steps to the street; but scarcely had he
passed through the gate than he recollected the quarrel, spit, and
turned back. Almost the same thing happened at Ivan Nikiforovitch's
house. Ivan Ivanovitch saw the woman put her foot on the fence, with
the intention of climbing over into his yard, when suddenly Ivan
Nikiforovitch's voice was heard crying: "Come back! it won't do!" But
Ivan Ivanovitch found it very tiresome. It is quite possible that
these worthy men would have made their peace next day if a certain
occurrence in Ivan Nikiforovitch's house had not destroyed all hopes
and poured oil upon the fire of enmity which was ready to die out.
On the evening of that very day, Agafya Fedosyevna arrived at Ivan
Nikiforovitch's. Agafya Fedosyevna was not Ivan Nikiforovitch's
relative, nor his sister-in-law, nor even his fellow-godparent. There
seemed to be no reason why she should come to him, and he was not
particularly glad of her company; still, she came, and lived on him
for weeks at a time, and even longer. Then she took possession of the
keys and took the management of the whole house into her own hands.
This was extremely displeasing to Ivan Nikiforovitch; but he, to his
amazement, obeyed her like a child; and although he occasionally
attempted to dispute, yet Agafya Fedosyevna always got the better of
I must confess that I do not understand why things are so arranged,
that women should seize us by the nose as deftly as they do the handle
of a teapot. Either their hands are so constructed or else our noses
are good for nothing else. And notwithstanding the fact that Ivan
Nikiforovitch's nose somewhat resembled a plum, she grasped that nose
and led him about after her like a dog. He even, in her presence,
involuntarily altered his ordinary manner of life.
Agafya Fedosyevna wore a cap on her head, and a coffee-coloured cloak
with yellow flowers and had three warts on her nose. Her figure was
like a cask, and it would have been as hard to tell where to look for
her waist as for her to see her nose without a mirror. Her feet were
small and shaped like two cushions. She talked scandal, ate boiled
beet-soup in the morning, and swore extremely; and amidst all these
various occupations her countenance never for one instant changed its
expression, which phenomenon, as a rule, women alone are capable of
As soon as she arrived, everything went wrong.
"Ivan Nikiforovitch, don't you make peace with him, nor ask his
forgiveness; he wants to ruin you; that's the kind of man he is! you
don't know him yet!" That cursed woman whispered and whispered, and
managed so that Ivan Nikiforovitch would not even hear Ivan Ivanovitch
Everything assumed another aspect. If his neighbour's dog ran into the
yard, it was beaten within an inch of its life; the children, who
climbed over the fence, were sent back with howls, their little shirts
stripped up, and marks of a switch behind. Even the old woman, when
Ivan Ivanovitch ventured to ask her about something, did something so
insulting that Ivan Ivanovitch, being an extremely delicate man, only
spit, and muttered, "What a nasty woman! even worse than her master!"
Finally, as a climax to all the insults, his hated neighbour built a
goose-shed right against his fence at the spot where they usually
climbed over, as if with the express intention of redoubling the
insult. This shed, so hateful to Ivan Ivanovitch, was constructed with
diabolical swiftness--in one day.
This aroused wrath and a desire for revenge in Ivan Ivanovitch. He
showed no signs of bitterness, in spite of the fact that the shed
encroached on his land; but his heart beat so violently that it was
extremely difficult for him to preserve his calm appearance.
He passed the day in this manner. Night came-- Oh, if I were a
painter, how magnificently I would depict the night's charms! I would
describe how all Mirgorod sleeps; how steadily the myriads of stars
gaze down upon it; how the apparent quiet is filled far and near with
the barking of dogs; how the love-sick sacristan steals past them, and
scales the fence with knightly fearlessness; how the white walls of
the houses, bathed in the moonlight, grow whiter still, the
overhanging trees darker; how the shadows of the trees fall blacker,
the flowers and the silent grass become more fragrant, and the
crickets, unharmonious cavaliers of the night, strike up their
rattling song in friendly fashion on all sides. I would describe how,
in one of the little, low-roofed, clay houses, the black-browed
village maid, tossing on her lonely couch, dreams with heaving bosom
of some hussar's spurs and moustache, and how the moonlight smiles
upon her cheeks. I would describe how the black shadows of the bats
flit along the white road before they alight upon the white chimneys
of the cottages.
But it would hardly be within my power to depict Ivan Ivanovitch as he
crept out that night, saw in hand; or the various emotions written on
his countenance! Quietly, most quietly, he crawled along and climbed
upon the goose-shed. Ivan Nikiforovitch's dogs knew nothing, as yet,
of the quarrel between them; and so they permitted him, as an old
friend, to enter the shed, which rested upon four oaken posts.
Creeping up to the nearest post he applied his saw and began to cut.
The noise produced by the saw caused him to glance about him every
moment, but the recollection of the insult restored his courage. The
first post was sawed through. Ivan Ivanovitch began upon the next. His
eyes burned and he saw nothing for terror.
All at once he uttered an exclamation and became petrified with fear.
A ghost appeared to him; but he speedily recovered himself on
perceiving that it was a goose, thrusting its neck out at him. Ivan
Ivanovitch spit with vexation and proceeded with his work. The second
post was sawed through; the building trembled. His heart beat so
violently when he began on the third, that he had to stop several
times. The post was more than half sawed through when the frail
building quivered violently.
Ivan Ivanovitch had barely time to spring back when it came down with
a crash. Seizing his saw, he ran home in the greatest terror and flung
himself upon his bed, without having sufficient courage to peep from
the window at the consequences of his terrible deed. It seemed to him
as though Ivan Nikiforovitch's entire household--the old woman, Ivan
Nikiforovitch, the boy in the endless coat, all with sticks, and led
by Agafya Fedosyevna--were coming to tear down and destroy his house.
Ivan Ivanovitch passed the whole of the following day in a perfect
fever. It seemed to him that his detested neighbour would set fire to
his house at least in revenge for this; and so he gave orders to Gapka
to keep a constant lookout, everywhere, and see whether dry straw
were laid against it anywhere. Finally, in order to forestall Ivan
Nikiforovitch, he determined to enter a complaint against him before
the district judge of Mirgorod. In what it consisted can be learned
from the following chapter.
WHAT TOOK PLACE BEFORE THE DISTRICT JUDGE OF MIRGOROD
A wonderful town is Mirgorod! How many buildings are there with straw,
rush, and even wooden roofs! On the right is a street, on the left a
street, and fine fences everywhere. Over them twine hop-vines, upon
them hang pots; from behind them the sunflowers show their sun-like
heads, poppies blush, fat pumpkins peep; all is luxury itself! The
fence is invariably garnished with articles which render it still more
picturesque: woman's widespread undergarments of checked woollen
stuff, shirts, or trousers. There is no such thing as theft or
rascality in Mirgorod, so everybody hangs upon his fence whatever
strikes his fancy. If you go on to the square, you will surely stop
and admire the view: such a wonderful pool is there! The finest you
ever saw. It occupies nearly the whole of the square. A truly
magnificent pool! The houses and cottages, which at a distance might
be mistaken for hayricks, stand around it, lost in admiration of its
But I agree with those who think that there is no better house than
that of the district judge. Whether it is of oak or birch is nothing
to the point; but it has, my dear sirs, eight windows! eight windows
in a row, looking directly on the square and upon that watery expanse
which I have just mentioned, and which the chief of police calls a
lake. It alone is painted the colour of granite. All the other houses
in Mirgorod are merely whitewashed. Its roof is of wood, and would
have been even painted red, had not the government clerks eaten the
oil which had been prepared for that purpose, as it happened during a
fast; and so the roof remained unpainted. Towards the square projects
a porch, which the chickens frequently visit, because that porch is
nearly always strewn with grain or something edible, not
intentionally, but through the carelessness of visitors.
The house is divided into two parts: one of which is the court-room;
the other the jail. In the half which contains the court-room are two
neat, whitewashed rooms, the front one for clients, the other having a
table adorned with ink-spots, and with a looking-glass upon it, and
four oak chairs with tall backs; whilst along the wall stand
iron-bound chests, in which are preserved bundles of papers relating
to district law-suits. Upon one of the chests stood at that time a
pair of boots, polished with wax.
The court had been open since morning. The judge, a rather stout man,
though thinner than Ivan Nikiforovitch, with a good-natured face, a
greasy dressing-gown, a pipe, and a cup of tea, was conversing with
the clerk of the court.
The judge's lips were directly under his nose, so that he could snuff
his upper lip as much as he liked. It served him instead of a
snuff-box, for the snuff intended for his nose almost always lodged
upon it. So the judge was talking with the assistant. A barefooted
girl stood holding a tray with cups at once side of them. At the end
of the table, the secretary was reading the decision in some case, but
in such a mournful and monotonous voice that the condemned man himself
would have fallen asleep while listening to it. The judge, no doubt,
would have been the first to do so had he not entered into an
engrossing conversation while it was going on.
"I expressly tried to find out," said the judge, sipping his already
cold tea from the cup, "how they manage to sing so well. I had a
splendid thrush two years ago. Well, all of a sudden he was completely
done for, and began to sing, God knows what! He got worse and worse
and worse and worse as time went on; he began to rattle and get
hoarse--just good for nothing! And this is how it happened: a little
lump, not so big as a pea, had come under his throat. It was only
necessary to prick that little swelling with a needle--Zachar
Prokofievitch taught me that; and, if you like, I'll just tell you how
it was. I went to him--"
"Shall I read another, Demyan Demyanovitch?" broke in the secretary,
who had not been reading for several minutes.
"Have you finished already? Only think how quickly! And I did not hear
a word of it! Where is it? Give it me and I'll sign it. What else have
"The case of Cossack Bokitok for stealing a cow."
"Very good; read it!-- Yes, so I went to him--I can even tell you in
detail how he entertained me. There was vodka, and dried sturgeon,
excellent! Yes, not our sturgeon," there the judge smacked his tongue
and smiled, upon which his nose took a sniff at its usual snuff-box,
"such as our Mirgorod shops sell us. I ate no herrings, for, as you
know, they give me heart-burn; but I tasted the caviare--very fine
caviare, too! There's no doubt it, excellent! Then I drank some
peach-brandy, real gentian. There was saffron-brandy also; but, as you
know, I never take that. You see, it was all very good. In the first
place, to whet your appetite, as they say, and then to satisfy it--
Ah! speak of an angel," exclaimed the judge, all at once, catching
sight of Ivan Ivanovitch as he entered.
"God be with us! I wish you a good-morning," said Ivan Ivanovitch,
bowing all round with his usual politeness. How well he understood the
art of fascinating everybody in his manner! I never beheld such
refinement. He knew his own worth quite well, and therefore looked for
universal respect as his due. The judge himself handed Ivan Ivanovitch
a chair; and his nose inhaled all the snuff resting on his upper lip,
which, with him, was always a sign of great pleasure.
"What will you take, Ivan Ivanovitch?" he inquired: "will you have a
cup of tea?"
"No, much obliged," replied Ivan Ivanovitch, as he bowed and seated
"Do me the favour--one little cup," repeated the judge.
"No, thank you; much obliged for your hospitality," replied Ivan
Ivanovitch, and rose, bowed, and sat down again.
"Just one little cup," repeated the judge.
"No, do not trouble yourself, Demyan Demyanovitch." Whereupon Ivan
Ivanovitch again rose, bowed, and sat down.
"A little cup!"
"Very well, then, just a little cup," said Ivan Ivanovitch, and
reached out his hand to the tray. Heavens! What a height of refinement
there was in that man! It is impossible to describe what a pleasant
impression such manners produce!
"Will you not have another cup?"
"I thank you sincerely," answered Ivan Ivanovitch, turning his cup
upside down upon the tray and bowing.
"Do me the favour, Ivan Ivanovitch."
"I cannot; much obliged." Thereupon Ivan Ivanovitch bowed and sat
"Ivan Ivanovitch, for the sake of our friendship, just one little
"No: I am extremely indebted for your hospitality." So saying, Ivan
Ivanovitch bowed and seated himself.
"Only a cup, one little cup!"
Ivan Ivanovitch put his hand out to the tray and took a cup. Oh, the
deuce! How can a man contrive to support his dignity!
"Demyan Demyanovitch," said Ivan Ivanovitch, swallowing the last
drain, "I have pressing business with you; I want to enter a
Then Ivan Ivanovitch set down his cup, and drew from his pocket a
sheet of stamped paper, written over. "A complaint against my enemy,
my declared enemy."
"And who is that?"
"Ivan Nikiforovitch Dovgotchkun."
At these words, the judge nearly fell off his chair. "What do you
say?" he exclaimed, clasping his hands; "Ivan Ivanovitch, is this
"You see yourself that it is I."
"The Lord and all the saints be with you! What! You! Ivan Ivanovitch!
you have fallen out with Ivan Nikiforovitch! Is it your mouth which
says that? Repeat it! Is not some one hid behind you who is speaking
instead of you?"
"What is there incredible about it? I can't endure the sight of him:
he has done me a deadly injury--he has insulted my honour."
"Holy Trinity! How am I to believe my mother now? Why, every day, when
I quarrel with my sister, the old woman says, 'Children, you live
together like dogs. If you would only take pattern by Ivan Ivanovitch
and Ivan Nikiforovitch, they are friends indeed! such friends! such
worthy people!' There you are with your friend! Tell me what this is
about. How is it?"
"It is a delicate business, Demyan Demyanovitch; it is impossible to
relate it in words: be pleased rather to read my plaint. Here, take it
by this side; it is more convenient."
"Read it, Taras Tikhonovitch," said the judge, turning to the
Taras Tikhonovitch took the plaint; and blowing his nose, as all
district judges' secretaries blow their noses, with the assistance of
two fingers, he began to read:--
"From the nobleman and landed proprietor of the Mirgorod District,
Ivan Pererepenko, son of Ivan, a plaint: concerning which the
following points are to be noted:--
"1. Ivan Dovgotchkun, son of Nikifor, nobleman, known to all the world
for his godless acts, which inspire disgust, and in lawlessness exceed
all bounds, on the seventh day of July of this year 1810, inflicted
upon me a deadly insult, touching my personal honour, and likewise
tending to the humiliation and confusion of my rank and family. The
said nobleman, of repulsive aspect, has also a pugnacious disposition,
and is full to overflowing with blasphemy and quarrelsome words."
Here the reader paused for an instant to blow his nose again; but the
judge folded his hands in approbation and murmured to himself, "What a
ready pen! Lord! how this man does write!"
Ivan Ivanovitch requested that the reading might proceed, and Taras
Tikhonovitch went on:--
"The said Ivan Dovgotchkun, son of Nikifor, when I went to him with a
friendly proposition, called me publicly by an epithet insulting and
injurious to my honour, namely, a goose, whereas it is known to the
whole district of Mirgorod, that I never was named after that
disgusting creature, and have no intention of ever being named after
it. The proof of my noble extraction is that, in the baptismal
register to be found in the Church of the Three Bishops, the day of my
birth, and likewise the fact of my baptism, are inscribed. But a
goose, as is well known to every one who has any knowledge of science,
cannot be inscribed in the baptismal register; for a goose is not a
man but a fowl; which, likewise, is sufficiently well known even to
persons who have not been to college. But the said evil-minded
nobleman, being privy to all these facts, affronted me with the
aforesaid foul word, for no other purpose than to offer a deadly
insult to my rank and station.
"2. And the same impolite and indecent nobleman, moreover, attempted
injury to my property, inherited by me from my father, a member of the
clerical profession, Ivan Pererepenko, son of Onisieff, of blessed
memory, inasmuch that he, contrary to all law, transported directly
opposite my porch a goose-shed, which was done with no other intention
that to emphasise the insult offered me; for the said shed had, up to
that time, stood in a very suitable situation, and was still
sufficiently strong. But the loathsome intention of the aforesaid
nobleman consisted simply in this: viz., in making me a witness of
unpleasant occurrences; for it is well known that no man goes into a
shed, much less into a goose-shed, for polite purposes. In the
execution of his lawless deed, the two front posts trespassed on my
land, received by me during the lifetime of my father, Ivan
Pererepenko, son of Onisieff, of blessed memory, beginning at the
granary, thence in a straight line to the spot where the women wash
"3. The above-described nobleman, whose very name and surname inspire
thorough disgust, cherishes in his mind a malicious design to burn me
in my own house. Which the infallible signs, hereinafter mentioned,
fully demonstrate; in the first place, the said wicked nobleman has
begun to emerge frequently from his apartments, which he never did
formerly on account of his laziness and the disgusting corpulence of
his body; in the second place, in his servants' apartments, adjoining
the fence, surrounding my own land, received by me from my father of
blessed memory, Ivan Pererepenko, son of Onisieff, a light burns every
day, and for a remarkably long period of time, which is also a clear
proof of the fact. For hitherto, owing to his repulsive niggardliness,
not only the tallow-candle but also the grease-lamp has been
"And therefore I pray that the said nobleman, Ivan Dovgotchkun, son of
Nikifor, being plainly guilty of incendiarism, of insult to my rank,
name, and family, and of illegal appropriation of my property, and,
worse than all else, of malicious and deliberate addition to my
surname, of the nickname of goose, be condemned by the court, to fine,
satisfaction, costs, and damages, and, being chained, be removed to
the town jail, and that judgment be rendered upon this, my plaint,
immediately and without delay.
"Written and composed by Ivan Pererepenko, son of Ivan, nobleman, and
landed proprietor of Mirgorod."
After the reading of the plaint was concluded, the judge approached
Ivanovitch, took him by the button, and began to talk to him after
this fashion: "What are you doing, Ivan Ivanovitch? Fear God! throw
away that plaint, let it go! may Satan carry it off! Better take Ivan
Nikiforovitch by the hand and kiss him, buy some Santurinski or
Nikopolski liquor, make a punch, and call me in. We will drink it up
together and forget all unpleasantness."
"No, Demyan Demyanovitch! it's not that sort of an affair," said Ivan
Ivanovitch, with the dignity which always became him so well; "it is
not an affair which can be arranged by a friendly agreement. Farewell!
Good-day to you, too, gentlemen," he continued with the same dignity,
turning to them all. "I hope that my plaint will lead to proper action
being taken;" and out he went, leaving all present in a state of
The judge sat down without uttering a word; the secretary took a pinch
of snuff; the clerks upset some broken fragments of bottles which
served for inkstands; and the judge himself, in absence of mind,
spread out a puddle of ink upon the table with his finger.
"What do you say to this, Dorofei Trofimovitch?" said the judge,
turning to the assistant after a pause.
"I've nothing to say," replied the clerk.
"What things do happen!" continued the judge. He had not finished
saying this before the door creaked and the front half of Ivan
Nikiforovitch presented itself in the court-room; the rest of him
remaining in the ante-room. The appearance of Ivan Nikiforovitch, and
in court too, seemed so extraordinary that the judge screamed; the
secretary stopped reading; one clerk, in his frieze imitation of a
dress-coat, took his pen in his lips; and the other swallowed a fly.
Even the constable on duty and the watchman, a discharged soldier who
up to that moment had stood by the door scratching about his dirty
tunic, with chevrons on its arm, dropped his jaw and trod on some
"What chance brings you here? How is your health, Ivan Nikiforovitch?"
But Ivan Nikiforovitch was neither dead nor alive; for he was stuck
fast in the door, and could not take a step either forwards or
backwards. In vain did the judge shout into the ante-room that some
one there should push Ivan Nikiforovitch forward into the court-room.
In the ante-room there was only one old woman with a petition, who, in
spite of all the efforts of her bony hands, could accomplish nothing.
Then one of the clerks, with thick lips, a thick nose, eyes which
looked askance and intoxicated, broad shoulders, and ragged elbows,
approached the front half of Ivan Nikiforovitch, crossed his hands for
him as though he had been a child, and winked at the old soldier, who
braced his knee against Ivan Nikiforovitch's belly, so, in spite of
the latter's piteous moans, he was squeezed out into the ante-room.
Then they pulled the bolts, and opened the other half of the door.
Meanwhile the clerk and his assistant, breathing hard with their
friendly exertions, exhaled such a strong odour that the court-room
seemed temporarily turned into a drinking-room.
"Are you hurt, Ivan Nikiforovitch? I will tell my mother to send you a
decoction of brandy, with which you need but to rub your back and
stomach and all your pains will disappear."
But Ivan Nikiforovitch dropped into a chair, and could utter no word
beyond prolonged oh's. Finally, in a faint and barely audible voice
from fatigue, he exclaimed, "Wouldn't you like some?" and drawing his
snuff-box from his pocket, added, "Help yourself, if you please."
"Very glad to see you," replied the judge; "but I cannot conceive what
made you put yourself to so much trouble, and favour us with so
unexpected an honour."
"A plaint!" Ivan Nikiforovitch managed to ejaculate.
"A plaint? What plaint?"
"A complaint . . ." here his asthma entailed a prolonged pause--"Oh! a
complaint against that rascal--Ivan Ivanovitch Pererepenko!"
"And you too! Such particular friends! A complaint against such a
"He's Satan himself!" ejaculated Ivan Nikiforovitch abruptly.
The judge crossed himself.
"Take my plaint, and read it."
"There is nothing to be done. Read it, Taras Tikhonovitch," said the
judge, turning to the secretary with an expression of displeasure,
which caused his nose to sniff at his upper lip, which generally
occurred only as a sign of great enjoyment. This independence on the
part of his nose caused the judge still greater vexation. He pulled
out his handkerchief, and rubbed off all the snuff from his upper lip
in order to punish it for its daring.
The secretary, having gone through the usual performance, which he
always indulged in before he began to read, that is to say, blowing
his nose without the aid of a pocket-handkerchief, began in his
ordinary voice, in the following manner:--
"Ivan Dovgotchkun, son of Nikifor, nobleman of the Mirgorod District,
presents a plaint, and begs to call attention to the following