Part 5 out of 6
"1. Through his hateful malice and plainly manifested ill-will, the
person calling himself a nobleman, Ivan Pererepenko, son of Ivan,
perpetrates against me every manner of injury, damage, and like
spiteful deeds, which inspire me with terror. Yesterday afternoon,
like a brigand and thief, with axes, saws, chisels, and various
locksmith's tools, he came by night into my yard and into my own
goose-shed located within it, and with his own hand, and in outrageous
manner, destroyed it; for which very illegal and burglarious deed on
my side I gave no manner of cause.
"2. The same nobleman Pererepenko has designs upon my life; and on the
7th of last month, cherishing this design in secret, he came to me,
and began, in a friendly and insidious manner, to ask of me a gun
which was in my chamber, and offered me for it, with the miserliness
peculiar to him, many worthless objects, such as a brown sow and two
sacks of oats. Divining at that time his criminal intentions, I
endeavoured in every way to dissuade him from it: but the said rascal
and scoundrel, Ivan Pererepenko, son of Ivan, abused me like a muzhik,
and since that time has cherished against me an irreconcilable enmity.
His sister was well known to every one as a loose character, and went
off with a regiment of chasseurs which was stationed at Mirgorod five
years ago; but she inscribed her husband as a peasant. His father and
mother too were not law-abiding people, and both were inconceivable
drunkards. The afore-mentioned nobleman and robber, Pererepenko, in
his beastly and blameworthy actions, goes beyond all his family, and
under the guise of piety does the most immoral things. He does not
observe the fasts; for on the eve of St. Philip's this atheist bought
a sheep, and next day ordered his mistress, Gapka, to kill it,
alleging that he needed tallow for lamps and candles at once.
"Therefore I pray that the said nobleman, a manifest robber,
church-thief, and rascal, convicted of plundering and stealing, may be
put in irons, and confined in the jail or the government prison, and
there, under supervision, deprived of his rank and nobility, well
flogged, and banished to forced labour in Siberia, and that he may be
commanded to pay damages and costs, and that judgment may be rendered
on this my petition.
"To this plaint, Ivan Dovgotchkun, son of Nikifor, noble of the
Mirgorod district, has set his hand."
As soon as the secretary had finished reading, Ivan Nikiforovitch
seized his hat and bowed, with the intention of departing.
"Where are you going, Ivan Nikiforovitch?" the judge called after him.
"Sit down a little while. Have some tea. Orishko, why are you standing
there, you stupid girl, winking at the clerks? Go, bring tea."
But Ivan Nikiforovitch, in terror at having got so far from home, and
at having undergone such a fearful quarantine, made haste to crawl
through the door, saying, "Don't trouble yourself. It is with pleasure
that I--" and closed it after him, leaving all present stupefied.
There was nothing to be done. Both plaints were entered; and the
affair promised to assume a sufficiently serious aspect when an
unforeseen occurrence lent an added interest to it. As the judge was
leaving the court in company with the clerk and secretary, and the
employees were thrusting into sacks the fowls, eggs, loaves, pies,
cracknels, and other odds and ends brought by the plaintiffs--just at
that moment a brown sow rushed into the room and snatched, to the
amazement of the spectators, neither a pie nor a crust of bread but
Ivan Nikiforovitch's plaint, which lay at the end of the table with
its leaves hanging over. Having seized the document, mistress sow ran
off so briskly that not one of the clerks or officials could catch
her, in spite of the rulers and ink-bottles they hurled after her.
This extraordinary occurrence produced a terrible muddle, for there
had not even been a copy taken of the plaint. The judge, that is to
say, his secretary and the assistant debated for a long time upon such
an unheard-of affair. Finally it was decided to write a report of the
matter to the governor, as the investigation of the matter pertained
more to the department of the city police. Report No. 389 was
despatched to him that same day; and also upon that day there came to
light a sufficiently curious explanation, which the reader may learn
from the following chapter.
IN WHICH ARE DETAILED THE DELIBERATIONS OF TWO
IMPORTANT PERSONAGES OF MIRGOROD
As soon as Ivan Ivanovitch had arranged his domestic affairs and
stepped out upon the balcony, according to his custom, to lie down, he
saw, to his indescribable amazement, something red at the gate. This
was the red facings of the chief of police's coat, which were polished
equally with his collar, and resembled varnished leather on the edges.
Ivan Ivanovitch thought to himself, "It's not bad that Peter
Feodorovitch has come to talk it over with me." But he was very much
surprised to see that the chief was walking remarkably fast and
flourishing his hands, which was very rarely the case with him. There
were eight buttons on the chief of police's uniform: the ninth, torn
off in some manner during the procession at the consecration of the
church two years before, the police had not been able to find up to
this time: although the chief, on the occasion of the daily reports
made to him by the sergeants, always asked, "Has that button been
found?" These eight buttons were strewn about him as women sow
beans--one to the right and one to the left. His left foot had been
struck by a ball in the last campaign, and so he limped and threw it
out so far to one side as to almost counteract the efforts of the
right foot. The more briskly the chief of police worked his walking
apparatus the less progress he made in advance. So while he was
getting to the balcony, Ivan Ivanovitch had plenty of time to lose
himself in surmises as to why the chief was flourishing his hands so
vigorously. This interested him the more, as the matter seemed one of
unusual importance; for the chief had on a new dagger.
"Good morning, Peter Feodorovitch!" cried Ivan Ivanovitch, who was, as
has already been stated, exceedingly curious, and could not restrain
his impatience as the chief of police began to ascend to the balcony,
yet never raised his eyes, and kept grumbling at his foot, which could
not be persuaded to mount the step at the first attempt.
"I wish my good friend and benefactor, Ivan Ivanovitch, a good-day,"
replied the chief.
"Pray sit down. I see that you are weary, as your lame foot hinders--"
"My foot!" screamed the chief, bestowing upon Ivan Ivanovitch a glance
such as a giant might cast upon a pigmy, a pedant upon a
dancing-master: and he stretched out his foot and stamped upon the
floor with it. This boldness cost him dear; for his whole body wavered
and his nose struck the railing; but the brave preserver of order,
with the purpose of making light of it, righted himself immediately,
and began to feel in his pocket as if to get his snuff-box. "I must
report to you, my dear friend and benefactor, Ivan Ivanovitch, that
never in all my days have I made such a march. Yes, seriously. For
instance, during the campaign of 1807-- Ah! I will tell to you how I
crawled through the enclosure to see a pretty little German." Here the
chief closed one eye and executed a diabolically sly smile.
"Where have you been to-day?" asked Ivan Ivanovitch, wishing to cut
the chief short and bring him more speedily to the object of his
visit. He would have very much liked to inquire what the chief meant
to tell him, but his extensive knowledge of the world showed him the
impropriety of such a question; and so he had to keep himself well in
hand and await a solution, his heart, meanwhile, beating with unusual
"Ah, excuse me! I was going to tell you--where was I?" answered the
chief of police. "In the first place, I report that the weather is
At these last words, Ivan Ivanovitch nearly died.
"But permit me," went on the chief. "I have come to you to-day about a
very important affair." Here the chief's face and bearing assumed the
same careworn aspect with which he had ascended to the balcony.
Ivan Ivanovitch breathed again, and shook as if in a fever, omitting
not, as was his habit, to put a question. "What is the important
matter? Is it important?"
"Pray judge for yourself; in the first place I venture to report to
you, dear friend and benefactor, Ivan Ivanovitch, that you-- I beg you
to observe that, for my own part, I should have nothing to say; but
the rules of government require it--that you have transgressed the
rules of propriety."
"What do you mean, Peter Feodorovitch? I don't understand at all."
"Pardon me, Ivan Ivanovitch! how can it be that you do not understand?
Your own beast has destroyed an important government document; and you
can still say, after that, that you do not understand!"
"Your own brown sow, with your permission, be it said."
"How can I be responsible? Why did the door-keeper of the court open
"But, Ivan Ivanovitch, your own brown sow. You must be responsible."
"I am extremely obliged to you for comparing me to a sow."
"But I did not say that, Ivan Ivanovitch! By Heaven! I did not say so!
Pray judge from your own clear conscience. It is known to you without
doubt, that in accordance with the views of the government, unclean
animals are forbidden to roam about the town, particularly in the
principal streets. Admit, now, that it is prohibited."
"God knows what you are talking about! A mighty important business
that a sow got into the street!"
"Permit me to inform you, Ivan Ivanovitch, permit me, permit me, that
this is utterly inadvisable. What is to be done? The authorities
command, we must obey. I don't deny that sometimes chickens and geese
run about the street, and even about the square, pray observe,
chickens and geese; but only last year, I gave orders that pigs and
goats were not to be admitted to the public squares, which regulations
I directed to be read aloud at the time before all the people."
"No, Peter Feodorovitch, I see nothing here except that you are doing
your best to insult me."
"But you cannot say that, my dearest friend and benefactor, that I
have tried to insult you. Bethink yourself: I never said a word to you
last year when you built a roof a whole foot higher than is allowed by
law. On the contrary, I pretended not to have observed it. Believe me,
my dearest friend, even now, I would, so to speak--but my duty--in a
word, my duty demands that I should have an eye to cleanliness. Just
judge for yourself, when suddenly in the principal street--"
"Fine principal streets yours are! Every woman goes there and throws
down any rubbish she chooses."
"Permit me to inform you, Ivan Ivanovitch, that it is you who are
insulting me. That does sometimes happen, but, as a rule, only besides
fences, sheds, or storehouses; but that a filthy sow should intrude
herself in the main street, in the square, now is a matter--"
"What sort of a matter? Peter Feodorovitch! surely a sow is one of
"Agreed. Everybody knows that you are a learned man, that you are
acquainted with sciences and various other subjects. I never studied
the sciences: I began to learn to write in my thirteenth year. Of
course you know that I was a soldier in the ranks."
"Hm!" said Ivan Ivanovitch.
"Yes," continued the chief of police, "in 1801 I was in the
Forty-second Regiment of chasseurs, lieutenant in the fourth company.
The commander of our company was, if I may be permitted to mention it,
Captain Eremeeff." Thereupon the chief of police thrust his fingers
into the snuff-box which Ivan Ivanovitch was holding open, and stirred
up the snuff.
Ivan Ivanovitch answered, "Hm!"
"But my duty," went on the chief of police, "is to obey the commands
of the authorities. Do you know, Ivan Ivanovitch, that a person who
purloins a government document in the court-room incurs capital
punishment equally with other criminals?"
"I know it; and, if you like, I can give you lessons. It is so decreed
with regard to people, as if you, for instance, were to steal a
document; but a sow is an animal, one of God's creatures."
"Certainly; but the law reads, 'Those guilty of theft'--I beg of you
to listen most attentively--'Those guilty!' Here is indicated neither
race nor sex nor rank: of course an animal can be guilty. You may say
what you please; but the animal, until the sentence is pronounced by
the court, should be committed to the charge of the police as a
transgressor of the law."
"No, Peter Feodorovitch," retorted Ivan Ivanovitch coolly, "that shall
"As you like: only I must carry out the orders of the authorities."
"What are you threatening me with? Probably you want to send that
one-armed soldier after her. I shall order the woman who tends the
door to drive him off with the poker: he'll get his last arm broken."
"I dare not dispute with you. In case you will not commit the sow to
the charge of the police, then do what you please with her: kill her
for Christmas, if you like, and make hams of her, or eat her as she
is. Only I should like to ask you, in case you make sausages, to send
me a couple, such as your Gapka makes so well, of blood and lard. My
Agrafena Trofimovna is extremely fond of them."
"I will send you a couple of sausages if you permit."
"I shall be extremely obliged to you, dear friend and benefactor. Now
permit me to say one word more. I am commissioned by the judge, as
well as by all our acquaintances, so to speak, to effect a
reconciliation between you and your friend, Ivan Nikiforovitch."
"What! with that brute! I to be reconciled to that clown! Never! It
shall not be, it shall not be!" Ivan Ivanovitch was in a remarkably
determined frame of mind.
"As you like," replied the chief of police, treating both nostrils to
snuff. "I will not venture to advise you; but permit me to
mention--here you live at enmity, and if you make peace. . ."
But Ivan Ivanovitch began to talk about catching quail, as he usually
did when he wanted to put an end to a conversation. So the chief of
police was obliged to retire without having achieved any success
FROM WHICH THE READER CAN EASILY DISCOVER
WHAT IS CONTAINED IN IT
In spite of all the judge's efforts to keep the matter secret, all
Mirgorod knew by the next day that Ivan Ivanovitch's sow had stolen
Ivan Nikiforovitch's petition. The chief of police himself, in a
moment of forgetfulness, was the first to betray himself. When Ivan
Nikiforovitch was informed of it he said nothing: he merely inquired,
"Was it the brown one?"
But Agafya Fedosyevna, who was present, began again to urge on Ivan
Nikiforovitch. "What's the matter with you, Ivan Nikiforovitch? People
will laugh at you as at a fool if you let it pass. How can you remain
a nobleman after that? You will be worse than the old woman who sells
the honeycakes with hemp-seed oil you are so fond of."
And the mischief-maker persuaded him. She hunted up somewhere a
middle-aged man with dark complexion, spots all over his face, and a
dark-blue surtout patched on the elbows, a regular official scribbler.
He blacked his boots with tar, wore three pens behind his ear, and a
glass vial tied to his buttonhole with a string instead of an
ink-bottle: ate as many as nine pies at once, and put the tenth in his
pocket, and wrote so many slanders of all sorts on a single sheet of
stamped paper that no reader could get through all at one time without
interspersing coughs and sneezes. This man laboured, toiled, and
wrote, and finally concocted the following document:-
"To the District Judge of Mirgorod, from the noble, Ivan Dovgotchkun,
son of Nikifor.
"In pursuance of my plaint which was presented by me, Ivan
Dovgotchkun, son of Nikifor, against the nobleman, Ivan Pererepenko,
son of Ivan, to which the judge of the Mirgorod district court has
exhibited indifference; and the shameless, high-handed deed of the
brown sow being kept secret, and coming to my ears from outside
"And the said neglect, plainly malicious, lies incontestably at the
judge's door; for the sow is a stupid animal, and therefore unfitted
for the theft of papers. From which it plainly appears that the said
frequently mentioned sow was not otherwise than instigated to the same
by the opponent, Ivan Pererepenko, son of Ivan, calling himself a
nobleman, and already convicted of theft, conspiracy against life, and
desecration of a church. But the said Mirgorod judge, with the
partisanship peculiar to him, gave his private consent to this
individual; for without such consent the said sow could by no possible
means have been admitted to carry off the document; for the judge of
the district court of Mirgorod is well provided with servants: it was
only necessary to summon a soldier, who is always on duty in the
reception-room, and who, although he has but one eye and one somewhat
damaged arm, has powers quite adequate to driving out a sow, and to
beating it with a stick, from which is credibly evident the criminal
neglect of the said Mirgorod judge and the incontestable sharing of
the Jew-like spoils therefrom resulting from these mutual
conspirators. And the aforesaid robber and nobleman, Ivan Pererepenko,
son of Ivan, having disgraced himself, finished his turning on his
lathe. Wherefore, I, the noble Ivan Dovgotchkun, son of Nikifor,
declare to the said district judge in proper form that if the said
brown sow, or the man Pererepenko, be not summoned to the court, and
judgment in accordance with justice and my advantage pronounced upon
her, then I, Ivan Dovgotchkun, son of Nikifor, shall present a plaint,
with observance of all due formalities, against the said district
judge for his illegal partisanship to the superior courts.
"Ivan Dovgotchkun, son of Nikifor, noble of the Mirgorod District."
This petition produced its effect. The judge was a man of timid
disposition, as all good people generally are. He betook himself to
the secretary. But the secretary emitted from his lips a thick "Hm,"
and exhibited on his countenance that indifferent and diabolically
equivocal expression which Satan alone assumes when he sees his victim
hastening to his feet. One resource remained to him, to reconcile the
two friends. But how to set about it, when all attempts up to that
time had been so unsuccessful? Nevertheless, it was decided to make
another effort; but Ivan Ivanovitch declared outright that he would
not hear of it, and even flew into a violent passion; whilst Ivan
Nikiforovitch, in lieu of an answer, turned his back and would not
utter a word.
Then the case went on with the unusual promptness upon which courts
usually pride themselves. Documents were dated, labelled, numbered,
sewed together, registered all in one day, and the matter laid on the
shelf, where it continued to lie, for one, two, or three years. Many
brides were married; a new street was laid out in Mirgorod; one of the
judge's double teeth fell out and two of his eye-teeth; more children
than ever ran about Ivan Ivanovitch's yard; Ivan Nikiforovitch, as a
reproof to Ivan Ivanovitch, constructed a new goose-shed, although a
little farther back than the first, and built himself completely off
from his neighbour, so that these worthy people hardly ever beheld
each other's faces; but still the case lay in the cabinet, which had
become marbled with ink-pots.
In the meantime a very important event for all Mirgorod had taken
place. The chief of police had given a reception. Whence shall I
obtain the brush and colours to depict this varied gathering and
magnificent feast? Take your watch, open it, and look what is going on
inside. A fearful confusion, is it not? Now, imagine almost the same,
if not a greater, number of wheels standing in the chief of police's
courtyard. How many carriages and waggons were there! One was wide
behind and narrow in front; another narrow behind and wide in front.
One was a carriage and a waggon combined; another neither a carriage
nor a waggon. One resembled a huge hayrick or a fat merchant's wife;
another a dilapidated Jew or a skeleton not quite freed from the skin.
One was a perfect pipe with long stem in profile; another, resembling
nothing whatever, suggested some strange, shapeless, fantastic object.
In the midst of this chaos of wheels rose coaches with windows like
those of a room. The drivers, in grey Cossack coats, gaberdines, and
white hare-skin coats, sheepskin hats and caps of various patterns,
and with pipes in their hands, drove the unharnessed horses through
What a reception the chief of police gave! Permit me to run through
the list of those who were there: Taras Tarasovitch, Evpl Akinfovitch,
Evtikhiy Evtikhievitch, Ivan Ivanovitch--not that Ivan Ivanovitch but
another--Gabba Bavrilonovitch, our Ivan Ivanovitch, Elevferiy
Elevferievitch, Makar Nazarevitch, Thoma Grigorovitch--I can say no
more: my powers fail me, my hand stops writing. And how many ladies
were there! dark and fair, tall and short, some fat like Ivan
Nikiforovitch, and some so thin that it seemed as though each one
might hide herself in the scabbard of the chief's sword. What
head-dresses! what costumes! red, yellow, coffee-colour, green, blue,
new, turned, re-made dresses, ribbons, reticules. Farewell, poor eyes!
you will never be good for anything any more after such a spectacle.
And how long the table was drawn out! and how all talked! and what a
noise they made! What is a mill with its driving-wheel, stones, beams,
hammers, wheels, in comparison with this? I cannot tell you exactly
what they talked about, but presumably of many agreeable and useful
things, such as the weather, dogs, wheat, caps, and dice. At length
Ivan Ivanovitch--not our Ivan Ivanovitch, but the other, who had but
one eye--said, "It strikes me as strange that my right eye," this
one-eyed Ivan Ivanovitch always spoke sarcastically about himself,
"does not see Ivan Nikiforovitch, Gospodin Dovgotchkun."
"He would not come," said the chief of police.
"It's two years now, glory to God! since they quarrelled; that is,
Ivan Ivanovitch and Ivan Nikiforovitch; and where one goes, the other
will not go."
"You don't say so!" Thereupon one-eyed Ivan Ivanovitch raised his eye
and clasped his hands. "Well, if people with good eyes cannot live in
peace, how am I to live amicably, with my bad one?"
At these words they all laughed at the tops of their voices. Every one
liked one-eyed Ivan Ivanovitch, because he cracked jokes in that
style. A tall, thin man in a frieze coat, with a plaster on his nose,
who up to this time had sat in the corner, and never once altered the
expression of his face, even when a fly lighted on his nose, rose from
his seat, and approached nearer to the crowd which surrounded one-eyed
Ivan Ivanovitch. "Listen," said Ivan Ivanovitch, when he perceived
that quite a throng had collected about him; "suppose we make peace
between our friends. Ivan Ivanovitch is talking with the women and
girls; let us send quietly for Ivan Nikiforovitch and bring them
Ivan Ivanovitch's proposal was unanimously agreed to; and it was
decided to send at once to Ivan Nikiforovitch's house, and beg him, at
any rate, to come to the chief of police's for dinner. But the
difficult question as to who was to be intrusted with this weighty
commission rendered all thoughtful. They debated long as to who was
the most expert in diplomatic matters. At length it was unanimously
agreed to depute Anton Prokofievitch to do this business.
But it is necessary, first of all, to make the reader somewhat
acquainted with this noteworthy person. Anton Prokofievitch was a
truly good man, in the fullest meaning of the term. If any one in
Mirgorod gave him a neckerchief or underclothes, he returned thanks;
if any one gave him a fillip on the nose, he returned thanks too. If
he was asked, "Why, Anton Prokofievitch, do you wear a light brown
coat with blue sleeves?" he generally replied, "Ah, you haven't one
like it! Wait a bit, it will soon fade and will be alike all over."
And, in point of fact, the blue cloth, from the effects of the sun,
began to turn cinnamon colour, and became of the same tint as the rest
of the coat. But the strange part of it was that Anton Prokofievitch
had a habit of wearing woollen clothing in summer and nankeen in
Anton Prokofievitch had no house of his own. He used to have one on
the outskirts of the town; but he sold it, and with the purchase-money
bought a team of brown horses and a little carriage in which he drove
about to stay with the squires. But as the horses were a deal of
trouble and money was required for oats, Anton Prokofievitch bartered
them for a violin and a housemaid, with twenty-five paper rubles to
boot. Afterwards Anton Prokofievitch sold the violin, and exchanged
the girl for a morocco and gold tobacco-pouch; now he has such a
tobacco-pouch as no one else has. As a result of this luxury, he can
no longer go about among the country houses, but has to remain in the
town and pass the night at different houses, especially of those
gentlemen who take pleasure in tapping him on the nose. Anton
Prokofievitch is very fond of good eating, and plays a good game at
cards. Obeying orders always was his forte; so, taking his hat and
cane, he set out at once on his errand.
But, as he walked along, he began to ponder in what manner he should
contrive to induce Ivan Nikiforovitch to come to the assembly. The
unbending character of the latter, who was otherwise a worthy man,
rendered the undertaking almost hopeless. How, indeed, was he to
persuade him to come, when even rising from his bed cost him so great
an effort? But supposing that he did rise, how could he get him to
come, where, as he doubtless knew, his irreconcilable enemy already
was? The more Anton Prokofievitch reflected, the more difficulties he
perceived. The day was sultry, the sun beat down, the perspiration
poured from him in streams. Anton Prokofievitch was a tolerably sharp
man in many respects though they did tap him on the nose. In
bartering, however, he was not fortunate. He knew very well when to
play the fool, and sometimes contrived to turn things to his own
profit amid circumstances and surroundings from which a wise man could
rarely escape without loss.
His ingenious mind had contrived a means of persuading Ivan
Nikiforovitch; and he was proceeding bravely to face everything when
an unexpected occurrence somewhat disturbed his equanimity. There is
no harm, at this point, in admitting to the reader that, among other
things, Anton Prokofievitch was the owner of a pair of trousers of
such singular properties that whenever he put them on the dogs always
bit his calves. Unfortunately, he had donned this particular pair of
trousers; and he had hardly given himself up to meditation before a
fearful barking on all sides saluted his ears. Anton Prokofievitch
raised such a yell, no one could scream louder than he, that not only
did the well-known woman and the occupant of the endless coat rush out
to meet him, but even the small boys from Ivan Ivanovitch's yard. But
although the dogs succeeded in tasting only one of his calves, this
sensibility diminished his courage, and he entered the porch with a
certain amount of timidity.
HOW A RECONCILIATION WAS SOUGHT TO BE EFFECTED
AND A LAW SUIT ENSUED
"Ah! how do you do? Why do you irritate the dogs?" said Ivan
Nikiforovitch, on perceiving Anton Prokofievitch; for no one spoke
otherwise than jestingly with Anton Prokofievitch.
"Hang them! who's been irritating them?" retorted Anton Prokofievitch.
"By Heavens, no! You are invited to dinner by Peter Feodorovitch."
"He invited you in a more pressing manner than I can tell you. 'Why,'
says he, 'does Ivan Nikiforovitch shun me like an enemy? He never
comes round to have a chat, or make a call.'"
Ivan Nikiforovitch stroked his beard.
"'If,' says he, 'Ivan Nikiforovitch does not come now, I shall not
know what to think: surely, he must have some design against me. Pray,
Anton Prokofievitch, persuade Ivan Nikiforovitch!' Come, Ivan
Nikiforovitch, let us go! a very choice company is already met there."
Ivan Nikiforovitch began to look at a cock, which was perched on the
roof, crowing with all its might.
"If you only knew, Ivan Nikiforovitch," pursued the zealous
ambassador, "what fresh sturgeon and caviare Peter Feodorovitch has
had sent to him!" Whereupon Ivan Nikiforovitch turned his head and
began to listen attentively. This encouraged the messenger. "Come
quickly: Thoma Grigorovitch is there too. Why don't you come?" he
added, seeing that Ivan Nikiforovitch still lay in the same position.
"Shall we go, or not?"
This "I won't" startled Anton Prokofievitch. He had fancied that his
alluring representations had quite moved this very worthy man; but
instead, he heard that decisive "I won't."
"Why won't you?" he asked, with a vexation which he very rarely
exhibited, even when they put burning paper on his head, a trick which
the judge and the chief of police were particularly fond of indulging
Ivan Nikiforovitch took a pinch of snuff.
"Just as you like, Ivan Nikiforovitch. I do not know what detains
"Why don't I go?" said Ivan Nikiforovitch at length: "because that
brigand will be there!" This was his ordinary way of alluding to Ivan
Ivanovitch. "Just God! and is it long?"
"He will not be there, he will not be there! May the lightning kill me
on the spot!" returned Anton Prokofievitch, who was ready to perjure
himself ten times in an hour. "Come along, Ivan Nikiforovitch!"
"You lie, Anton Prokofievitch! he is there!"
"By Heaven, by Heaven, he's not! May I never stir from this place if
he's there! Now, just think for yourself, what object have I in lying?
May my hands and feet wither!-- What, don't you believe me now? May I
perish right here in your presence! Don't you believe me yet?"
Ivan Nikiforovitch was entirely reassured by these asseverations, and
ordered his valet, in the boundless coat, to fetch his trousers and
To describe how Ivan Nikiforovitch put on his trousers, how they wound
his neckerchief about his neck, and finally dragged on his spencer,
which burst under the left sleeve, would be quite superfluous. Suffice
it to say, that during the whole of the time he preserved a becoming
calmness of demeanour, and answered not a word to Anton
Prokofievitch's proposition to exchange something for his Turkish
Meanwhile, the assembly awaited with impatience the decisive moment
when Ivan Nikiforovitch should make his appearance and at length
comply with the general desire that these worthy people should be
reconciled to each other. Many were almost convinced that Ivan
Nikiforovitch would not come. Even the chief of police offered to bet
with one-eyed Ivan Ivanovitch that he would not come; and only
desisted when one-eyed Ivan Ivanovitch demanded that he should wager
his lame foot against his own bad eye, at which the chief of police
was greatly offended, and the company enjoyed a quiet laugh. No one
had yet sat down to the table, although it was long past two o'clock,
an hour before which in Mirgorod, even on ceremonial occasions, every
one had already dined.
No sooner did Anton Prokofievitch show himself in the doorway, then he
was instantly surrounded. Anton Prokofievitch, in answer to all
inquiries, shouted the all-decisive words, "He will not come!" No
sooner had he uttered them than a hailstorm of reproaches, scoldings,
and, possibly, even fillips were about to descend upon his head for
the ill success of his mission, when all at once the door opened,
and--Ivan Nikiforovitch entered.
If Satan himself or a corpse had appeared, it would not have caused
such consternation amongst the company as Ivan Nikiforovitch's
unexpected arrival created. But Anton Prokofievitch only went off into
a fit of laughter, and held his sides with delight at having played
such a joke upon the company.
At all events, it was almost past the belief of all that Ivan
Nikiforovitch could, in so brief a space of time, have attired himself
like a respectable gentleman. Ivan Ivanovitch was not there at the
moment: he had stepped out somewhere. Recovering from their amazement,
the guests expressed an interest in Ivan Nikiforovitch's health, and
their pleasure at his increase in breadth. Ivan Nikiforovitch kissed
every one, and said, "Very much obliged!"
Meantime, the fragrance of the beet-soup was wafted through the
apartment, and tickled the nostrils of the hungry guests very
agreeably. All rushed headlong to table. The line of ladies,
loquacious and silent, thin and stout, swept on, and the long table
soon glittered with all the hues of the rainbow. I will not describe
the courses: I will make no mention of the curd dumplings with sour
cream, nor of the dish of pig's fry that was served with the soup, nor
of the turkey with plums and raisins, nor of the dish which greatly
resembled in appearance a boot soaked in kvas, nor of the sauce, which
is the swan's song of the old-fashioned cook, nor of that other dish
which was brought in all enveloped in the flames of spirit, and amused
as well as frightened the ladies extremely. I will say nothing of
these dishes, because I like to eat them better than to spend many
words in discussing them.
Ivan Ivanovitch was exceedingly pleased with the fish dressed with
horse-radish. He devoted himself especially to this useful and
nourishing preparation. Picking out all the fine bones from the fish,
he laid them on his plate; and happening to glance across the
table--Heavenly Creator; but this was strange! Opposite him sat Ivan
At the very same instant Ivan Nikiforovitch glanced up also-- No, I
can do no more-- Give me a fresh pen with a fine point for this
picture! mine is flabby. Their faces seemed to turn to stone whilst
still retaining their defiant expression. Each beheld a long familiar
face, to which it should have seemed the most natural of things to
step up, involuntarily, as to an unexpected friend, and offer a
snuff-box, with the words, "Do me the favour," or "Dare I beg you to
do me the favour?" Instead of this, that face was terrible as a
forerunner of evil. The perspiration poured in streams from Ivan
Ivanovitch and Ivan Nikiforovitch.
All the guests at the table grew dumb with attention, and never once
took their eyes off the former friends. The ladies, who had been busy
up to that time on a sufficiently interesting discussion as to the
preparation of capons, suddenly cut their conversation short. All was
silence. It was a picture worthy of the brush of a great artist.
At length Ivan Ivanovitch pulled out his handkerchief and began to
blow his nose; whilst Ivan Nikiforovitch glanced about and his eye
rested on the open door. The chief of police at once perceived this
movement, and ordered the door to be fastened. Then both of the
friends began to eat, and never once glanced at each other again.
As soon as dinner was over, the two former friends both rose from
their seats, and began to look for their hats, with a view to
departure. Then the chief beckoned; and Ivan Ivanovitch--not our Ivan
Ivanovitch, but the other with the one eye--got behind Ivan
Nikiforovitch, and the chief stepped behind Ivan Ivanovitch, and the
two began to drag them backwards, in order to bring them together, and
not release them till they had shaken hands with each other. Ivan
Ivanovitch, the one-eyed, pushed Ivan Nikiforovitch, with tolerable
success, towards the spot where stood Ivan Ivanovitch. But the chief
of police directed his course too much to one side, because he could
not steer himself with his refractory leg, which obeyed no orders
whatever on this occasion, and, as if with malice and aforethought,
swung itself uncommonly far, and in quite the contrary direction,
possibly from the fact that there had been an unusual amount of fruit
wine after dinner, so that Ivan Ivanovitch fell over a lady in a red
gown, who had thrust herself into the very midst, out of curiosity.
Such an omen forboded no good. Nevertheless, the judge, in order to
set things to rights, took the chief of police's place, and, sweeping
all the snuff from his upper lip with his nose, pushed Ivan Ivanovitch
in the opposite direction. In Mirgorod this is the usual manner of
effecting a reconciliation: it somewhat resembles a game of ball. As
soon as the judge pushed Ivan Ivanovitch, Ivan Ivanovitch with the one
eye exerted all his strength, and pushed Ivan Nikiforovitch, from whom
the perspiration streamed like rain-water from a roof. In spite of the
fact that the friends resisted to the best of their ability, they were
nevertheless brought together, for the two chief movers received
reinforcements from the ranks of their guests.
Then they were closely surrounded on all sides, not to be released
until they had decided to give one another their hands. "God be with
you, Ivan Nikiforovitch and Ivan Ivanovitch! declare upon your honour
now, that what you quarrelled about were mere trifles, were they not?
Are you not ashamed of yourselves before people and before God?"
"I do not know," said Ivan Nikiforovitch, panting with fatigue, though
it is to be observed that he was not at all disinclined to a
reconciliation, "I do not know what I did to Ivan Ivanovitch; but why
did he destroy my coop and plot against my life?"
"I am innocent of any evil designs!" said Ivan Ivanovitch, never
looking at Ivan Nikiforovitch. "I swear before God and before you,
honourable noblemen, I did nothing to my enemy! Why does he calumniate
me and insult my rank and family?"
"How have I insulted you, Ivan Ivanovitch?" said Ivan Nikiforovitch.
One moment more of explanation, and the long enmity would have been
extinguished. Ivan Nikiforovitch was already feeling in his pocket for
his snuff-box, and was about to say, "Do me the favour."
"Is it not an insult," answered Ivan Ivanovitch, without raising his
eyes, "when you, my dear sir, insulted my honour and my family with a
word which it is improper to repeat here?"
"Permit me to observe, in a friendly manner, Ivan Ivanovitch," here
Ivan Nikiforovitch touched Ivan Ivanovitch's button with his finger,
which clearly indicated the disposition of his mind, "that you took
offence, the deuce only knows at what, because I called you a
It occurred to Ivan Nikiforovitch that he had made a mistake in
uttering that word; but it was too late: the word was said. Everything
went to the winds. It, on the utterance of this word without
witnesses, Ivan Ivanovitch lost control of himself and flew into such
a passion as God preserve us from beholding any man in, what was to be
expected now? I put it to you, dear readers, what was to be expected
now, when the fatal word was uttered in an assemblage of persons among
whom were ladies, in whose presence Ivan Ivanovitch liked to be
particularly polite? If Ivan Nikiforovitch had set to work in any
other manner, if he had only said bird and not goose, it might still
have been arranged, but all was at an end.
He gave one look at Ivan Nikiforovitch, but such a look! If that look
had possessed active power, then it would have turned Ivan
Nikiforovitch into dust. The guests understood the look and hastened
to separate them. And this man, the very model of gentleness, who
never let a single poor woman go by without interrogating her, rushed
out in a fearful rage. Such violent storms do passions produce!
For a whole month nothing was heard of Ivan Ivanovitch. He shut
himself up at home. His ancestral chest was opened, and from it were
taken silver rubles, his grandfather's old silver rubles! And these
rubles passed into the ink-stained hands of legal advisers. The case
was sent up to the higher court; and when Ivan Ivanovitch received the
joyful news that it would be decided on the morrow, then only did he
look out upon the world and resolve to emerge from his house. Alas!
from that time forth the council gave notice day by day that the case
would be finished on the morrow, for the space of ten years.
Five years ago, I passed through the town of Mirgorod. I came at a bad
time. It was autumn, with its damp, melancholy weather, mud and mists.
An unnatural verdure, the result of incessant rains, covered with a
watery network the fields and meadows, to which it is as well suited
as youthful pranks to an old man, or roses to an old woman. The
weather made a deep impression on me at the time: when it was dull, I
was dull; but in spite of this, when I came to pass through Mirgorod,
my heart beat violently. God, what reminiscences! I had not seen
Mirgorod for twenty years. Here had lived, in touching friendship, two
inseparable friends. And how many prominent people had died! Judge
Demyan Demyanovitch was already gone: Ivan Ivanovitch, with the one
eye, had long ceased to live.
I entered the main street. All about stood poles with bundles of straw
on top: some alterations were in progress. Several dwellings had been
removed. The remnants of board and wattled fences projected sadly here
and there. It was a festival day. I ordered my basket chaise to stop
in front of the church, and entered softly that no one might turn
round. To tell the truth, there was no need of this: the church was
almost empty; there were very few people; it was evident that even the
most pious feared the mud. The candles seemed strangely unpleasant in
that gloomy, or rather sickly, light. The dim vestibule was
melancholy; the long windows, with their circular panes, were bedewed
with tears of rain. I retired into the vestibule, and addressing a
respectable old man, with greyish hair, said, "May I inquire if Ivan
Nikiforovitch is still living?"
At that moment the lamp before the holy picture burned up more
brightly and the light fell directly upon the face of my companion.
What was my surprise, on looking more closely, to behold features with
which I was acquainted! It was Ivan Nikiforovitch himself! But how he
"Are you well, Ivan Nikiforovitch? How old you have grown!"
"Yes, I have grown old. I have just come from Poltava to-day,"
answered Ivan Nikiforovitch.
"You don't say so! you have been to Poltava in such bad weather?"
"What was to be done? that lawsuit--"
At this I sighed involuntarily.
Ivan Nikiforovitch observed my sigh, and said, "Do not be troubled: I
have reliable information that the case will be decided next week, and
in my favour."
I shrugged my shoulders, and went to seek news of Ivan Ivanovitch.
"Ivan Ivanovitch is here," some one said to me, "in the choir."
I saw a gaunt form. Was that Ivan Ivanovitch? His face was covered
with wrinkles, his hair was perfectly white; but the pelisse was the
same as ever. After the first greetings were over, Ivan Ivanovitch,
turning to me with a joyful smile which always became his
funnel-shaped face, said, "Have you been told the good news?"
"What news?" I inquired.
"My case is to be decided to-morrow without fail: the court has
announced it decisively."
I sighed more deeply than before, made haste to take my leave, for I
was bound on very important business, and seated myself in my kibitka.
The lean nags known in Mirgorod as post-horses started, producing with
their hoofs, which were buried in a grey mass of mud, a sound very
displeasing to the ear. The rain poured in torrents upon the Jew
seated on the box, covered with a rug. The dampness penetrated through
and through me. The gloomy barrier with a sentry-box, in which an old
soldier was repairing his weapons, was passed slowly. Again the same
fields, in some places black where they had been dug up, in others of
a greenish hue; wet daws and crows; monotonous rain; a tearful sky,
without one gleam of light! . . . It is gloomy in this world,
THE MYSTERIOUS PORTRAIT
Nowhere did so many people pause as before the little picture-shop in
the Shtchukinui Dvor. This little shop contained, indeed, the most
varied collection of curiosities. The pictures were chiefly
oil-paintings covered with dark varnish, in frames of dingy yellow.
Winter scenes with white trees; very red sunsets, like raging
conflagrations, a Flemish boor, more like a turkey-cock in cuffs than
a human being, were the prevailing subjects. To these must be added a
few engravings, such as a portrait of Khozreff-Mirza in a sheepskin
cap, and some generals with three-cornered hats and hooked noses.
Moreover, the doors of such shops are usually festooned with bundles
of those publications, printed on large sheets of bark, and then
coloured by hand, which bear witness to the native talent of the
On one was the Tzarevna Miliktrisa Kirbitievna; on another the city of
Jerusalem. There are usually but few purchasers of these productions,
but gazers are many. Some truant lackey probably yawns in front of
them, holding in his hand the dishes containing dinner from the
cook-shop for his master, who will not get his soup very hot. Before
them, too, will most likely be standing a soldier wrapped in his
cloak, a dealer from the old-clothes mart, with a couple of penknives
for sale, and a huckstress, with a basketful of shoes. Each expresses
admiration in his own way. The muzhiks generally touch them with their
fingers; the dealers gaze seriously at them; serving boys and
apprentices laugh, and tease each other with the coloured caricatures;
old lackeys in frieze cloaks look at them merely for the sake of
yawning away their time somewhere; and the hucksters, young Russian
women, halt by instinct to hear what people are gossiping about, and
to see what they are looking at.
At the time our story opens, the young painter, Tchartkoff, paused
involuntarily as he passed the shop. His old cloak and plain attire
showed him to be a man who was devoted to his art with self-denying
zeal, and who had no time to trouble himself about his clothes. He
halted in front of the little shop, and at first enjoyed an inward
laugh over the monstrosities in the shape of pictures.
At length he sank unconsciously into a reverie, and began to ponder as
to what sort of people wanted these productions? It did not seem
remarkable to him that the Russian populace should gaze with rapture
upon "Eruslanoff Lazarevitch," on "The Glutton" and "The Carouser," on
"Thoma and Erema." The delineations of these subjects were easily
intelligible to the masses. But where were there purchases for those
streaky, dirty oil-paintings? Who needed those Flemish boors, those
red and blue landscapes, which put forth some claims to a higher stage
of art, but which really expressed the depths of its degradation? They
did not appear the works of a self-taught child. In that case, in
spite of the caricature of drawing, a sharp distinction would have
manifested itself. But here were visible only simple dullness,
steady-going incapacity, which stood, through self-will, in the ranks
of art, while its true place was among the lowest trades. The same
colours, the same manner, the same practised hand, belonging rather to
a manufacturing automaton than to a man!
He stood before the dirty pictures for some time, his thoughts at
length wandering to other matters. Meanwhile the proprietor of the
shop, a little grey man, in a frieze cloak, with a beard which had not
been shaved since Sunday, had been urging him to buy for some time,
naming prices, without even knowing what pleased him or what he
wanted. "Here, I'll take a silver piece for these peasants and this
little landscape. What painting! it fairly dazzles one; only just
received from the factory; the varnish isn't dry yet. Or here is a
winter scene--take the winter scene; fifteen rubles; the frame alone
is worth it. What a winter scene!" Here the merchant gave a slight
fillip to the canvas, as if to demonstrate all the merits of the
winter scene. "Pray have them put up and sent to your house. Where do
you live? Here, boy, give me some string!"
"Hold, not so fast!" said the painter, coming to himself, and
perceiving that the brisk dealer was beginning in earnest to pack some
pictures up. He was rather ashamed not to take anything after standing
so long in front of the shop; so saying, "Here, stop! I will see if
there is anything I want here!" he stooped and began to pick up from
the floor, where they were thrown in a heap, some worn, dusty old
paintings. There were old family portraits, whose descendants,
probably could not be found on earth; with torn canvas and frames
minus their gilding; in short, trash. But the painter began his
search, thinking to himself, "Perhaps I may come across something." He
had heard stories about pictures of the great masters having been
found among the rubbish in cheap print-sellers' shops.
The dealer, perceiving what he was about, ceased his importunities,
and took up his post again at the door, hailing the passers-by with,
"Hither, friends, here are pictures; step in, step in; just received
from the makers!" He shouted his fill, and generally in vain, had a
long talk with a rag-merchant, standing opposite, at the door of his
shop; and finally, recollecting that he had a customer in his shop,
turned his back on the public and went inside. "Well, friend, have you
chosen anything?" said he. But the painter had already been standing
motionless for some time before a portrait in a large and originally
magnificent frame, upon which, however, hardly a trace of gilding now
It represented an old man, with a thin, bronzed face and high
cheek-bones; the features seemingly depicted in a moment of convulsive
agitation. He wore a flowing Asiatic costume. Dusty and defaced as the
portrait was, Tchartkoff saw, when he had succeeded in removing the
dirt from the face, traces of the work of a great artist. The portrait
appeared to be unfinished, but the power of the handling was striking.
The eyes were the most remarkable picture of all: it seemed as though
the full power of the artist's brush had been lavished upon them. They
fairly gazed out of the portrait, destroying its harmony with their
strange liveliness. When he carried the portrait to the door, the eyes
gleamed even more penetratingly. They produced nearly the same
impression on the public. A woman standing behind him exclaimed, "He
is looking, he is looking!" and jumped back. Tchartkoff experienced an
unpleasant feeling, inexplicable even to himself, and placed the
portrait on the floor.
"Well, will you take the portrait?" said the dealer.
"How much is it?" said the painter.
"Why chaffer over it? give me seventy-five kopeks."
"Well, how much will you give?"
"Twenty kopeks," said the painter, preparing to go.
"What a price! Why, you couldn't buy the frame for that! Perhaps you
will decide to purchase to-morrow. Sir, sir, turn back! Add ten
kopeks. Take it, take it! give me twenty kopeks. To tell the truth,
you are my only customer to-day, and that's the only reason."
Thus Tchartkoff quite unexpectedly became the purchaser of the old
portrait, and at the same time reflected, "Why have I bought it? What
is it to me?" But there was nothing to be done. He pulled a
twenty-kopek piece from his pocket, gave it to the merchant, took the
portrait under his arm, and carried it home. On the way thither, he
remembered that the twenty-kopek piece he had given for it was his
last. His thoughts at once became gloomy. Vexation and careless
indifference took possession of him at one and the same moment. The
red light of sunset still lingered in one half the sky; the houses
facing that way still gleamed with its warm light; and meanwhile the
cold blue light of the moon grew brighter. Light, half-transparent
shadows fell in bands upon the ground. The painter began by degrees to
glance up at the sky, flushed with a transparent light; and at the
same moment from his mouth fell the words, "What a delicate tone! What
a nuisance! Deuce take it!" Re-adjusting the portrait, which kept
slipping from under his arm, he quickened his pace.
Weary and bathed in perspiration, he dragged himself to Vasilievsky
Ostroff. With difficulty and much panting he made his way up the
stairs flooded with soap-suds, and adorned with the tracks of dogs and
cats. To his knock there was no answer: there was no one at home. He
leaned against the window, and disposed himself to wait patiently,
until at last there resounded behind him the footsteps of a boy in a
blue blouse, his servant, model, and colour-grinder. This boy was
called Nikita, and spent all his time in the streets when his master
was not at home. Nikita tried for a long time to get the key into the
lock, which was quite invisible, by reason of the darkness.
Finally the door was opened. Tchartkoff entered his ante-room, which
was intolerably cold, as painters' rooms always are, which fact,
however, they do not notice. Without giving Nikita his coat, he went
on into his studio, a large room, but low, fitted up with all sorts of
artistic rubbish--plaster hands, canvases, sketches begun and
discarded, and draperies thrown over chairs. Feeling very tired, he
took off his cloak, placed the portrait abstractedly between two small
canvasses, and threw himself on the narrow divan. Having stretched
himself out, he finally called for a light.
"There are no candles," said Nikita.
"And there were none last night," said Nikita. The artist recollected
that, in fact, there had been no candles the previous evening, and
became silent. He let Nikita take his coat off, and put on his old
"There has been a gentleman here," said Nikita.
"Yes, he came for money, I know," said the painter, waving his hand.
"He was not alone," said Nikita.
"Who else was with him?"
"I don't know, some police officer or other."
"But why a police officer?"
"I don't know why, but he says because your rent is not paid."
"Well, what will come of it?"
"I don't know what will come of it: he said, 'If he won't pay, why,
let him leave the rooms.' They are both coming again to-morrow."
"Let them come," said Tchartkoff, with indifference; and a gloomy mood
took full possession of him.
Young Tchartkoff was an artist of talent, which promised great things:
his work gave evidence of observation, thought, and a strong
inclination to approach nearer to nature.
"Look here, my friend," his professor said to him more than once, "you
have talent; it will be a shame if you waste it: but you are
impatient; you have but to be attracted by anything, to fall in love
with it, you become engrossed with it, and all else goes for nothing,
and you won't even look at it. See to it that you do not become a
fashionable artist. At present your colouring begins to assert itself
too loudly; and your drawing is at times quite weak; you are already
striving after the fashionable style, because it strikes the eye at
once. Have a care! society already begins to have its attraction for
you: I have seen you with a shiny hat, a foppish neckerchief. . . . It
is seductive to paint fashionable little pictures and portraits for
money; but talent is ruined, not developed, by that means. Be patient;
think out every piece of work, discard your foppishness; let others
amass money, your own will not fail you."
The professor was partly right. Our artist sometimes wanted to enjoy
himself, to play the fop, in short, to give vent to his youthful
impulses in some way or other; but he could control himself withal. At
times he would forget everything, when he had once taken his brush in
his hand, and could not tear himself from it except as from a
delightful dream. His taste perceptibly developed. He did not as yet
understand all the depths of Raphael, but he was attracted by Guido's
broad and rapid handling, he paused before Titian's portraits, he
delighted in the Flemish masters. The dark veil enshrouding the
ancient pictures had not yet wholly passed away from before them; but
he already saw something in them, though in private he did not agree
with the professor that the secrets of the old masters are
irremediably lost to us. It seemed to him that the nineteenth century
had improved upon them considerably, that the delineation of nature
was more clear, more vivid, more close. It sometimes vexed him when he
saw how a strange artist, French or German, sometimes not even a
painter by profession, but only a skilful dauber, produced, by the
celerity of his brush and the vividness of his colouring, a universal
commotion, and amassed in a twinkling a funded capital. This did not
occur to him when fully occupied with his own work, for then he forgot
food and drink and all the world. But when dire want arrived, when he
had no money wherewith to buy brushes and colours, when his implacable
landlord came ten times a day to demand the rent for his rooms, then
did the luck of the wealthy artists recur to his hungry imagination;
then did the thought which so often traverses Russian minds, to give
up altogether, and go down hill, utterly to the bad, traverse his. And
now he was almost in this frame of mind.
"Yes, it is all very well, to be patient, be patient!" he exclaimed,
with vexation; "but there is an end to patience at last. Be patient!
but what money have I to buy a dinner with to-morrow? No one will lend
me any. If I did bring myself to sell all my pictures and sketches,
they would not give me twenty kopeks for the whole of them. They are
useful; I feel that not one of them has been undertaken in vain; I
have learned something from each one. Yes, but of what use is it?
Studies, sketches, all will be studies, trial-sketches to the end. And
who will buy, not even knowing me by name? Who wants drawings from the
antique, or the life class, or my unfinished love of a Psyche, or the
interior of my room, or the portrait of Nikita, though it is better,
to tell the truth, than the portraits by any of the fashionable
artists? Why do I worry, and toil like a learner over the alphabet,
when I might shine as brightly as the rest, and have money, too, like
Thus speaking, the artist suddenly shuddered, and turned pale. A
convulsively distorted face gazed at him, peeping forth from the
surrounding canvas; two terrible eyes were fixed straight upon him; on
the mouth was written a menacing command of silence. Alarmed, he tried
to scream and summon Nikita, who already was snoring in the ante-room;
but he suddenly paused and laughed. The sensation of fear died away in
a moment; it was the portrait he had bought, and which he had quite
forgotten. The light of the moon illuminating the chamber had fallen
upon it, and lent it a strange likeness to life.
He began to examine it. He moistened a sponge with water, passed it
over the picture several times, washed off nearly all the accumulated
and incrusted dust and dirt, hung it on the wall before him, wondering
yet more at the remarkable workmanship. The whole face had gained new
life, and the eyes gazed at him so that he shuddered; and, springing
back, he exclaimed in a voice of surprise: "It looks with human eyes!"
Then suddenly there occurred to him a story he had heard long before
from his professor, of a certain portrait by the renowned Leonardo da
Vinci, upon which the great master laboured several years, and still
regarded as incomplete, but which, according to Vasari, was
nevertheless deemed by all the most complete and finished product of
his art. The most finished thing about it was the eyes, which amazed
his contemporaries; the very smallest, barely visible veins in them
being reproduced on the canvas.
But in the portrait now before him there was something singular. It
was no longer art; it even destroyed the harmony of the portrait; they
were living, human eyes! It seemed as though they had been cut from a
living man and inserted. Here was none of that high enjoyment which
takes possession of the soul at the sight of an artist's production,
no matter how terrible the subject he may have chosen.
Again he approached the portrait, in order to observe those wondrous
eyes, and perceived, with terror, that they were gazing at him. This
was no copy from Nature; it was life, the strange life which might
have lighted up the face of a dead man, risen from the grave. Whether
it was the effect of the moonlight, which brought with it fantastic
thoughts, and transformed things into strange likenesses, opposed to
those of matter-of-fact day, or from some other cause, but it suddenly
became terrible to him, he knew not why, to sit alone in the room. He
draw back from the portrait, turned aside, and tried not to look at
it; but his eye involuntarily, of its own accord, kept glancing
sideways towards it. Finally, he became afraid to walk about the room.
It seemed as though some one were on the point of stepping up behind
him; and every time he turned, he glanced timidly back. He had never
been a coward; but his imagination and nerves were sensitive, and that
evening he could not explain his involuntary fear. He seated himself
in one corner, but even then it seemed to him that some one was
peeping over his shoulder into his face. Even Nikita's snores,
resounding from the ante-room, did not chase away his fear. At length
he rose from the seat, without raising his eyes, went behind a screen,
and lay down on his bed. Through the cracks of the screen he saw his
room lit up by the moon, and the portrait hanging stiffly on the wall.
The eyes were fixed upon him in a yet more terrible and significant
manner, and it seemed as if they would not look at anything but
himself. Overpowered with a feeling of oppression, he decided to rise
from his bed, seized a sheet, and, approaching the portrait, covered
it up completely.
Having done this, he lay done more at ease on his bed, and began to
meditate upon the poverty and pitiful lot of the artist, and the
thorny path lying before him in the world. But meanwhile his eye
glanced involuntarily through the joint of the screen at the portrait
muffled in the sheet. The light of the moon heightened the whiteness
of the sheet, and it seemed to him as though those terrible eyes shone
through the cloth. With terror he fixed his eyes more steadfastly on
the spot, as if wishing to convince himself that it was all nonsense.
But at length he saw--saw clearly; there was no longer a sheet--the
portrait was quite uncovered, and was gazing beyond everything around
it, straight at him; gazing as it seemed fairly into his heart. His
heart grew cold. He watched anxiously; the old man moved, and
suddenly, supporting himself on the frame with both arms, raised
himself by his hands, and, putting forth both feet, leapt out of the
frame. Through the crack of the screen, the empty frame alone was now
visible. Footsteps resounded through the room, and approached nearer
and nearer to the screen. The poor artist's heart began beating fast.
He expected every moment, his breath failing for fear, that the old
man would look round the screen at him. And lo! he did look from
behind the screen, with the very same bronzed face, and with his big
eyes roving about.
Tchartkoff tried to scream, and felt that his voice was gone; he tried
to move; his limbs refused their office. With open mouth, and failing
breath, he gazed at the tall phantom, draped in some kind of a flowing
Asiatic robe, and waited for what it would do. The old man sat down
almost on his very feet, and then pulled out something from among the
folds of his wide garment. It was a purse. The old man untied it, took
it by the end, and shook it. Heavy rolls of coin fell out with a dull
thud upon the floor. Each was wrapped in blue paper, and on each was
marked, "1000 ducats." The old man protruded his long, bony hand from
his wide sleeves, and began to undo the rolls. The gold glittered.
Great as was the artist's unreasoning fear, he concentrated all his
attention upon the gold, gazing motionless, as it made its appearance
in the bony hands, gleamed, rang lightly or dully, and was wrapped up
again. Then he perceived one packet which had rolled farther than the
rest, to the very leg of his bedstead, near his pillow. He grasped it
almost convulsively, and glanced in fear at the old man to see whether
he noticed it.
But the old man appeared very much occupied: he collected all his
rolls, replaced them in the purse, and went outside the screen without
looking at him. Tchartkoff's heart beat wildly as he heard the rustle
of the retreating footsteps sounding through the room. He clasped the
roll of coin more closely in his hand, quivering in every limb.
Suddenly he heard the footsteps approaching the screen again.
Apparently the old man had recollected that one roll was missing. Lo!
again he looked round the screen at him. The artist in despair grasped
the roll with all his strength, tried with all his power to make a
movement, shrieked--and awoke.
He was bathed in a cold perspiration; his heart beat as hard as it was
possible for it to beat; his chest was oppressed, as though his last
breath was about to issue from it. "Was it a dream?" he said, seizing
his head with both hands. But the terrible reality of the apparition
did not resemble a dream. As he woke, he saw the old man step into the
frame: the skirts of the flowing garment even fluttered, and his hand
felt plainly that a moment before it had held something heavy. The
moonlight lit up the room, bringing out from the dark corners here a
canvas, there the model of a hand: a drapery thrown over a chair;
trousers and dirty boots. Then he perceived that he was not lying in
his bed, but standing upright in front of the portrait. How he had
come there, he could not in the least comprehend. Still more surprised
was he to find the portrait uncovered, and with actually no sheet over
it. Motionless with terror, he gazed at it, and perceived that the
living, human eyes were fastened upon him. A cold perspiration broke
out upon his forehead. He wanted to move away, but felt that his feet
had in some way become rooted to the earth. And he felt that this was
not a dream. The old man's features moved, and his lips began to
project towards him, as though he wanted to suck him in. With a yell
of despair he jumped back--and awoke.
"Was it a dream?" With his heart throbbing to bursting, he felt about
him with both hands. Yes, he was lying in bed, and in precisely the
position in which he had fallen asleep. Before him stood the screen.
The moonlight flooded the room. Through the crack of the screen, the
portrait was visible, covered with the sheet, as it should be, just as
he had covered it. And so that, too, was a dream? But his clenched
fist still felt as though something had been held in it. The throbbing
of his heart was violent, almost terrible; the weight upon his breast
intolerable. He fixed his eyes upon the crack, and stared steadfastly
at the sheet. And lo! he saw plainly the sheet begin to open, as
though hands were pushing from underneath, and trying to throw it off.
"Lord God, what is it!" he shrieked, crossing himself in despair--and
And was this, too, a dream? He sprang from his bed, half-mad, and
could not comprehend what had happened to him. Was it the oppression
of a nightmare, the raving of fever, or an actual apparition? Striving
to calm, as far as possible, his mental tumult, and stay the wildly
rushing blood, which beat with straining pulses in every vein, he went
to the window and opened it. The cool breeze revived him. The
moonlight lay on the roofs and the white walls of the houses, though
small clouds passed frequently across the sky. All was still: from
time to time there struck the ear the distant rumble of a carriage. He
put his head out of the window, and gazed for some time. Already the
signs of approaching dawn were spreading over the sky. At last he felt
drowsy, shut to the window, stepped back, lay down in bed, and quickly
fell, like one exhausted, into a deep sleep.
He awoke late, and with the disagreeable feeling of a man who has been
half-suffocated with coal-gas: his head ached painfully. The room was
dim: an unpleasant moisture pervaded the air, and penetrated the
cracks of his windows. Dissatisfied and depressed as a wet cock, he
seated himself on his dilapidated divan, not knowing what to do, what
to set about, and at length remembered the whole of his dream. As he
recalled it, the dream presented itself to his mind as so oppressively
real that he even began to wonder whether it were a dream, whether
there were not something more here, whether it were not really an
apparition. Removing the sheet, he looked at the terrible portrait by
the light of day. The eyes were really striking in their liveliness,
but he found nothing particularly terrible about them, though an
indescribably unpleasant feeling lingered in his mind. Nevertheless,
he could not quite convince himself that it was a dream. It struck him
that there must have been some terrible fragment of reality in the
vision. It seemed as though there were something in the old man's very
glance and expression which said that he had been with him that night:
his hand still felt the weight which had so recently lain in it as if
some one had but just snatched it from him. It seemed to him that, if
he had only grasped the roll more firmly, it would have remained in
his hand, even after his awakening.
"My God, if I only had a portion of that money!" he said, breathing
heavily; and in his fancy, all the rolls of coin, with their
fascinating inscription, "1000 ducats," began to pour out of the
purse. The rolls opened, the gold glittered, and was wrapped up again;
and he sat motionless, with his eyes fixed on the empty air, as if he
were incapable of tearing himself from such a sight, like a child who
sits before a plate of sweets, and beholds, with watering mouth, other
people devouring them.
At last there came a knock on the door, which recalled him
unpleasantly to himself. The landlord entered with the constable of
the district, whose presence is even more disagreeable to poor people
than is the presence of a beggar to the rich. The landlord of the
little house in which Tchartkoff lived resembled the other individuals
who own houses anywhere in the Vasilievsky Ostroff, on the St.
Petersburg side, or in the distant regions of Kolomna--individuals
whose character is as difficult to define as the colour of a
threadbare surtout. In his youth he had been a captain and a braggart,
a master in the art of flogging, skilful, foppish, and stupid; but in
his old age he combined all these various qualities into a kind of dim
indefiniteness. He was a widower, already on the retired list, no
longer boasted, nor was dandified, nor quarrelled, but only cared to
drink tea and talk all sorts of nonsense over it. He walked about his
room, and arranged the ends of the tallow candles; called punctually
at the end of each month upon his lodgers for money; went out into the
street, with the key in his hand, to look at the roof of his house,
and sometimes chased the porter out of his den, where he had hidden
himself to sleep. In short, he was a man on the retired list, who,
after the turmoils and wildness of his life, had only his
old-fashioned habits left.
"Please to see for yourself, Varukh Kusmitch," said the landlord,
turning to the officer, and throwing out his hands, "this man does not
pay his rent, he does not pay."
"How can I when I have no money? Wait, and I will pay."
"I can't wait, my good fellow," said the landlord angrily, making a
gesture with the key which he held in his hand. "Lieutenant-Colonel
Potogonkin has lived with me seven years, seven years already; Anna
Petrovna Buchmisteroff rents the coach-house and stable, with the
exception of two stalls, and has three household servants: that is the
kind of lodgers I have. I say to you frankly, that this is not an
establishment where people do not pay their rent. Pay your money at
once, please, or else clear out."
"Yes, if you rented the rooms, please to pay," said the constable,
with a slight shake of the head, as he laid his finger on one of the
buttons of his uniform.
"Well, what am I to pay with? that's the question. I haven't a
groschen just at present."
"In that case, satisfy the claims of Ivan Ivanovitch with the fruits
of your profession," said the officer: "perhaps he will consent to
"No, thank you, my good fellow, no pictures. Pictures of holy
subjects, such as one could hang upon the walls, would be well enough;
or some general with a star, or Prince Kutusoff's portrait. But this
fellow has painted that muzhik, that muzhik in his blouse, his servant
who grinds his colours! The idea of painting his portrait, the hog!
I'll thrash him well: he took all the nails out of my bolts, the
scoundrel! Just see what subjects! Here he has drawn his room. It
would have been well enough had he taken a clean, well-furnished room;
but he has gone and drawn this one, with all the dirt and rubbish he
has collected. Just see how he has defaced my room! Look for yourself.
Yes, and my lodgers have been with me seven years, the
lieutenant-colonel, Anna Petrovna Buchmisteroff. No, I tell you, there
is no worse lodger than a painter: he lives like a pig--God have
The poor artist had to listen patiently to all this. Meanwhile the
officer had occupied himself with examining the pictures and studies,
and showed that his mind was more advanced than the landlord's, and
that he was not insensible to artistic impressions.
"Heh!" said he, tapping one canvas, on which was depicted a naked
woman, "this subject is--lively. But why so much black under her nose?
did she take snuff?"
"Shadow," answered Tchartkoff gruffly, without looking at him.
"But it might have been put in some other place: it is too conspicuous
under the nose," observed the officer. "And whose likeness is this?"
he continued, approaching the old man's portrait. "It is too terrible.
Was he really so dreadful? Ah! why, he actually looks at one! What a
thunder-cloud! From whom did you paint it?"
"Ah! it is from a--" said Tchartkoff, but did not finish his sentence:
he heard a crack. It seems that the officer had pressed too hard on
the frame of the portrait, thanks to the weight of his constable's
hands. The small boards at the side caved in, one fell on the floor,
and with it fell, with a heavy crash, a roll of blue paper. The
inscription caught Tchartkoff's eye--"1000 ducats." Like a madman, he
sprang to pick it up, grasped the roll, and gripped it convulsively in
his hand, which sank with the weight.
"Wasn't there a sound of money?" inquired the officer, hearing the
noise of something falling on the floor, and not catching sight of it,
owing to the rapidity with which Tchartkoff had hastened to pick it
"What business is it of yours what is in my room?"
"It's my business because you ought to pay your rent to the landlord
at once; because you have money, and won't pay, that's why it's my
"Well, I will pay him to-day."
"Well, and why wouldn't you pay before, instead of giving trouble to
your landlord, and bothering the police to boot?"
"Because I did not want to touch this money. I will pay him in full
this evening, and leave the rooms to-morrow. I will not stay with such
"Well, Ivan Ivanovitch, he will pay you," said the constable, turning
to the landlord. "But in case you are not satisfied in every respect
this evening, then you must excuse me, Mr. Painter." So saying, he put
on his three-cornered hat, and went into the ante-room, followed by
the landlord hanging his head, and apparently engaged in meditation.
"Thank God, Satan has carried them off!" said Tchartkoff, as he heard
the outer door of the ante-room close. He looked out into the
ante-room, sent Nikita off on some errand, in order to be quite alone,
fastened the door behind him, and, returning to his room, began with
wildly beating heart to undo the roll.
In it were ducats, all new, and bright as fire. Almost beside himself,
he sat down beside the pile of gold, still asking himself, "Is not
this all a dream?" There were just a thousand in the roll, the
exterior of which was precisely like what he had seen in his dream. He
turned them over, and looked at them for some minutes. His imagination
recalled up all the tales he had heard of hidden hoards, cabinets with
secret drawers, left by ancestors for their spendthrift descendants,
with firm belief in the extravagance of their life. He pondered this:
"Did not some grandfather, in the present instance, leave a gift for
his grandchild, shut up in the frame of a family portrait?" Filled
with romantic fancies, he began to think whether this had not some
secret connection with his fate? whether the existence of the portrait
was not bound up with his own, and whether his acquisition of it was
not due to a kind of predestination?
He began to examine the frame with curiosity. On one side a cavity was
hollowed out, but concealed so skilfully and neatly by a little board,
that, if the massive hand of the constable had not effected a breach,
the ducats might have remained hidden to the end of time. On examining
the portrait, he marvelled again at the exquisite workmanship, the
extraordinary treatment of the eyes. They no longer appeared terrible
to him; but, nevertheless, each time he looked at them a disagreeable
feeling involuntarily lingered in his mind.
"No," he said to himself, "no matter whose grandfather you were, I'll
put a glass over you, and get you a gilt frame." Then he laid his hand
on the golden pile before him, and his heart beat faster at the touch.
"What shall I do with them?" he said, fixing his eyes on them. "Now I
am independent for at least three years: I can shut myself up in my
room and work. I have money for colours now; for food and lodging--no
one will annoy and disturb me now. I will buy myself a first-class lay
figure, I will order a plaster torso, and some model feet, I will have
a Venus. I will buy engravings of the best pictures. And if I work
three years to satisfy myself, without haste or with the idea of
selling, I shall surpass all, and may become a distinguished artist."
Thus he spoke in solitude, with his good judgment prompting him; but
louder and more distinct sounded another voice within him. As he
glanced once more at the gold, it was not thus that his twenty-two
years and fiery youth reasoned. Now everything was within his power on
which he had hitherto gazed with envious eyes, had viewed from afar
with longing. How his heart beat when he thought of it! To wear a
fashionable coat, to feast after long abstinence, to hire handsome
apartments, to go at once to the theatre, to the confectioner's,
to . . . other places; and seizing his money, he was in the street in
First of all he went to the tailor, was clothed anew from head to
foot, and began to look at himself like a child. He purchased perfumes
and pomades; hired the first elegant suite of apartments with mirrors
and plateglass windows which he came across in the Nevsky Prospect,
without haggling about the price; bought, on the impulse of the
moment, a costly eye-glass; bought, also on the impulse, a number of
neckties of every description, many more than he needed; had his hair
curled at the hairdresser's; rode through the city twice without any
object whatever; ate an immense quantity of sweetmeats at the
confectioner's; and went to the French Restaurant, of which he had
heard rumours as indistinct as though they had concerned the Empire of
China. There he dined, casting proud glances at the other visitors,
and continually arranging his curls in the glass. There he drank a
bottle of champagne, which had been known to him hitherto only by
hearsay. The wine rather affected his head; and he emerged into the
street, lively, pugnacious, and ready to raise the Devil, according to
the Russian expression. He strutted along the pavement, levelling his
eye-glass at everybody. On the bridge he caught sight of his former
professor, and slipped past him neatly, as if he did not see him, so
that the astounded professor stood stock-still on the bridge for a
long time, with a face suggestive of a note of interrogation.
All his goods and chattels, everything he owned, easels, canvas,
pictures, were transported that same evening to his elegant quarters.
He arranged the best of them in conspicuous places, threw the worst
into a corner, and promenaded up and down the handsome rooms, glancing
constantly in the mirrors. An unconquerable desire to take the bull by
the horns, and show himself to the world at once, had arisen in his
mind. He already heard the shouts, "Tchartkoff! Tchartkoff! Tchartkoff
paints! What talent Tchartkoff has!" He paced the room in a state of
The next day he took ten ducats, and went to the editor of a popular
journal asking his charitable assistance. He was joyfully received by
the journalist, who called him on the spot, "Most respected sir,"
squeezed both his hands, and made minute inquiries as to his name,
birthplace, residence. The next day there appeared in the journal,
below a notice of some newly invented tallow candles, an article with
the following heading:--
"TCHARTKOFF'S IMMENSE TALENT
"We hasten to delight the cultivated inhabitants of the capital with a
discovery which we may call splendid in every respect. All are agreed
that there are among us many very handsome faces, but hitherto there
has been no means of committing them to canvas for transmission to
posterity. This want has now been supplied: an artist has been found
who unites in himself all desirable qualities. The beauty can now feel
assured that she will be depicted with all the grace of her charms,
airy, fascinating, butterfly-like, flitting among the flowers of
spring. The stately father of a family can see himself surrounded by
his family. Merchant, warrior, citizen, statesman--hasten one and all,
wherever you may be. The artist's magnificent establishment [Nevsky
Prospect, such and such a number] is hung with portraits from his
brush, worthy of Van Dyck or Titian. We do not know which to admire
most, their truth and likeness to the originals, or the wonderful
brilliancy and freshness of the colouring. Hail to you, artist! you
have drawn a lucky number in the lottery. Long live Andrei
Petrovitch!" (The journalist evidently liked familiarity.) "Glorify
yourself and us. We know how to prize you. Universal popularity, and
with it wealth, will be your meed, though some of our brother
journalists may rise against you."
The artist read this article with secret satisfaction; his face
beamed. He was mentioned in print; it was a novelty to him: he read
the lines over several times. The comparison with Van Dyck and Titian
flattered him extremely. The praise, "Long live Andrei Petrovitch,"
also pleased him greatly: to be spoken of by his Christian name and
patronymic in print was an honour hitherto totally unknown to him. He
began to pace the chamber briskly, now he sat down in an armchair, now
he sprang up, and seated himself on the sofa, planning each moment how
he would receive visitors, male and female; he went to his canvas and
made a rapid sweep of the brush, endeavouring to impart a graceful
movement to his hand.
The next day, the bell at his door rang. He hastened to open it. A
lady entered, accompanied by a girl of eighteen, her daughter, and
followed by a lackey in a furred livery-coat.
"You are the painter Tchartkoff?"
The artist bowed.
"A great deal is written about you: your portraits, it is said, are
the height of perfection." So saying, the lady raised her glass to her
eyes and glanced rapidly over the walls, upon which nothing was
hanging. "But where are your portraits?"
"They have been taken away" replied the artist, somewhat confusedly:
"I have but just moved into these apartments; so they are still on the
road, they have not arrived."
"You have been in Italy?" asked the lady, levelling her glass at him,
as she found nothing else to point it at.
"No, I have not been there; but I wish to go, and I have deferred it
for a while. Here is an arm-chair, madame: you are fatigued?"
"Thank you: I have been sitting a long time in the carriage. Ah, at
last I behold your work!" said the lady, running to the opposite wall,
and bringing her glass to bear upon his studies, sketches, views and
portraits which were standing there on the floor. "It is charming.
Lise! Lise, come here. Rooms in the style of Teniers. Do you see?
Disorder, disorder, a table with a bust upon it, a hand, a palette;
dust, see how the dust is painted! It is charming. And here on this
canvas is a woman washing her face. What a pretty face! Ah! a little
muzhik! So you do not devote yourself exclusively to portraits?"
"Oh! that is mere rubbish. I was trying experiments, studies."
"Tell me your opinion of the portrait painters of the present day. Is
it not true that there are none now like Titian? There is not that
strength of colour, that--that-- What a pity that I cannot express
myself in Russian." The lady was fond of paintings, and had gone
through all the galleries in Italy with her eye-glass. "But Monsieur
Nohl--ah, how well he paints! what remarkable work! I think his faces
have been more expression than Titian's. You do not know Monsieur
"Who is Nohl?" inquired the artist.
"Monsieur Nohl. Ah, what talent! He painted her portrait when she was
only twelve years old. You must certainly come to see us. Lise, you
shall show him your album. You know, we came expressly that you might
begin her portrait immediately."
"What? I am ready this very moment." And in a trice he pulled forward
an easel with a canvas already prepared, grasped his palette, and
fixed his eyes on the daughter's pretty little face. If he had been
acquainted with human nature, he might have read in it the dawning of
a childish passion for balls, the dawning of sorrow and misery at the
length of time before dinner and after dinner, the heavy traces of
uninterested application to various arts, insisted upon by her mother
for the elevation of her mind. But the artist saw only the tender
little face, a seductive subject for his brush, the body almost as
transparent as porcelain, the delicate white neck, and the
aristocratically slender form. And he prepared beforehand to triumph,
to display the delicacy of his brush, which had hitherto had to deal
only with the harsh features of coarse models, and severe antiques and
copies of classic masters. He already saw in fancy how this delicate
little face would turn out.
"Do you know," said the lady with a positively touching expression of
countenance, "I should like her to be painted simply attired, and
seated among green shadows, like meadows, with a flock or a grove in
the distance, so that it could not be seen that she goes to balls or
fashionable entertainments. Our balls, I must confess, murder the
intellect, deaden all remnants of feeling. Simplicity! would there
were more simplicity!" Alas, it was stamped on the faces of mother and
daughter that they had so overdanced themselves at balls that they had
become almost wax figures.
Tchartkoff set to work, posed his model, reflected a bit, fixed upon
the idea, waved his brush in the air, settling the points mentally,
and then began and finished the sketching in within an hour. Satisfied
with it, he began to paint. The task fascinated him; he forgot
everything, forgot the very existence of the aristocratic ladies,
began even to display some artistic tricks, uttering various odd
sounds and humming to himself now and then as artists do when immersed
heart and soul in their work. Without the slightest ceremony, he made
the sitter lift her head, which finally began to express utter
"Enough for the first time," said the lady.
"A little more," said the artist, forgetting himself.
"No, it is time to stop. Lise, three o'clock!" said the lady, taking
out a tiny watch which hung by a gold chain from her girdle. "How late
"Only a minute," said Tchartkoff innocently, with the pleading voice
of a child.
But the lady appeared to be not at all inclined to yield to his
artistic demands on this occasion; she promised, however, to sit
longer the next time.
"It is vexatious, all the same," thought Tchartkoff to himself: "I had
just got my hand in;" and he remembered no one had interrupted him or
stopped him when he was at work in his studio on Vasilievsky Ostroff.
Nikita sat motionless in one place. You might even paint him as long
as you pleased; he even went to sleep in the attitude prescribed him.
Feeling dissatisfied, he laid his brush and palette on a chair, and
paused in irritation before the picture.
The woman of the world's compliments awoke him from his reverie. He
flew to the door to show them out: on the stairs he received an
invitation to dine with them the following week, and returned with a
cheerful face to his apartments. The aristocratic lady had completely
charmed him. Up to that time he had looked upon such beings as
unapproachable, born solely to ride in magnificent carriages, with
liveried footmen and stylish coachmen, and to cast indifferent glances
on the poor man travelling on foot in a cheap cloak. And now, all of a
sudden, one of these very beings had entered his room; he was painting
her portrait, was invited to dinner at an aristocratic house. An
unusual feeling of pleasure took possession of him: he was completely
intoxicated, and rewarded himself with a splendid dinner, an evening
at the theatre, and a drive through the city in a carriage, without
any necessity whatever.
But meanwhile his ordinary work did not fall in with his mood at all.
He did nothing but wait for the moment when the bell should ring. At
last the aristocratic lady arrived with her pale daughter. He seated
them, drew forward the canvas with skill, and some efforts of
fashionable airs, and began to paint. The sunny day and bright light
aided him not a little: he saw in his dainty sitter much which, caught
and committed to canvas, would give great value to the portrait. He
perceived that he might accomplish something good if he could
reproduce, with accuracy, all that nature then offered to his eyes.
His heart began to beat faster as he felt that he was expressing
something which others had not even seen as yet. His work engrossed
him completely: he was wholly taken up with it, and again forgot the
aristocratic origin of the sitter. With heaving breast he saw the
delicate features and the almost transparent body of the fair maiden
grow beneath his hand. He had caught every shade, the slight
sallowness, the almost imperceptible blue tinge under the eyes--and
was already preparing to put in the tiny mole on the brow, when he
suddenly heard the mother's voice behind him.
"Ah! why do you paint that? it is not necessary: and you have made it
here, in several places, rather yellow; and here, quite so, like dark
The artist undertook to explain that the spots and yellow tinge would
turn out well, that they brought out the delicate and pleasing tones
of the face. He was informed that they did not bring out tones, and
would not turn out well at all. It was explained to him that just
to-day Lise did not feel quite well; that she never was sallow, and
that her face was distinguished for its fresh colouring.
Sadly he began to erase what his brush had put upon the canvas. Many a
nearly imperceptible feature disappeared, and with it vanished too a
portion of the resemblance. He began indifferently to impart to the
picture that commonplace colouring which can be painted mechanically,
and which lends to a face, even when taken from nature, the sort of
cold ideality observable on school programmes. But the lady was
satisfied when the objectionable tone was quite banished. She merely
expressed surprise that the work lasted so long, and added that she
had heard that he finished a portrait completely in two sittings. The
artist could not think of any answer to this. The ladies rose, and
prepared to depart. He laid aside his brush, escorted them to the
door, and then stood disconsolate for a long while in one spot before
He gazed stupidly at it; and meanwhile there floated before his mind's
eye those delicate features, those shades, and airy tints which he had
copied, and which his brush had annihilated. Engrossed with them, he
put the portrait on one side and hunted up a head of Psyche which he
had some time before thrown on canvas in a sketchy manner. It was a
pretty little face, well painted, but entirely ideal, and having cold,
regular features not lit up by life. For lack of occupation, he now
began to tone it up, imparting to it all he had taken note of in his
aristocratic sitter. Those features, shadows, tints, which he had
noted, made their appearance here in the purified form in which they
appear when the painter, after closely observing nature, subordinates
himself to her, and produces a creation equal to her own.
Psyche began to live: and the scarcely dawning thought began, little
by little, to clothe itself in a visible form. The type of face of the
fashionable young lady was unconsciously transferred to Psyche, yet
nevertheless she had an expression of her own which gave the picture
claims to be considered in truth an original creation. Tchartkoff gave
himself up entirely to his work. For several days he was engrossed by
it alone, and the ladies surprised him at it on their arrival. He had
not time to remove the picture from the easel. Both ladies uttered a
cry of amazement, and clasped their hands.
"Lise, Lise! Ah, how like! Superb, superb! What a happy thought, too,
to drape her in a Greek costume! Ah, what a surprise!"
The artist could not see his way to disabuse the ladies of their
error. Shamefacedly, with drooping head, he murmured, "This is
"In the character of Psyche? Charming!" said the mother, smiling, upon
which the daughter smiled too. "Confess, Lise, it pleases you to be
painted in the character of Psyche better than any other way? What a
sweet idea! But what treatment! It is Correggio himself. I must say
that, although I had read and heard about you, I did not know you had
so much talent. You positively must paint me too." Evidently the lady
wanted to be portrayed as some kind of Psyche too.
"What am I to do with them?" thought the artist. "If they will have it
so, why, let Psyche pass for what they choose:" and added aloud, "Pray
sit a little: I will touch it up here and there."
"Ah! I am afraid you will . . . it is such a capital likeness now!"
But the artist understood that the difficulty was with respect to the
sallowness, and so he reassured them by saying that he only wished to
give more brilliancy and expression to the eyes. In truth, he was
ashamed, and wanted to impart a little more likeness to the original,
lest any one should accuse him of actual barefaced flattery. And the
features of the pale young girl at length appeared more closely in
"Enough," said the mother, beginning to fear that the likeness might
become too decided. The artist was remunerated in every way, with
smiles, money, compliments, cordial pressures of the hand, invitations
to dinner: in short, he received a thousand flattering rewards.
The portrait created a furore in the city. The lady exhibited it to
her friends, and all admired the skill with which the artist had
preserved the likeness, and at the same time conferred more beauty on
the original. The last remark, of course, was prompted by a slight
tinge of envy. The artist was suddenly overwhelmed with work. It
seemed as if the whole city wanted to be painted by him. The door-bell
rang incessantly. From one point of view, this might be considered
advantageous, as presenting to him endless practice in variety and
number of faces. But, unfortunately, they were all people who were
hard to get along with, either busy, hurried people, or else belonging
to the fashionable world, and consequently more occupied than any one
else, and therefore impatient to the last degree. In all quarters, the
demand was merely that the likeness should be good and quickly
executed. The artist perceived that it was a simple impossibility to
finish his work; that it was necessary to exchange power of treatment
for lightness and rapidity, to catch only the general expression, and
not waste labour on delicate details.
Moreover, nearly all of his sitters made stipulations on various
points. The ladies required that mind and character should be
represented in their portraits; that all angles should be rounded, all
unevenness smoothed away, and even removed entirely if possible; in
short, that their faces should be such as to cause every one to stare
at them with admiration, if not fall in love with them outright. When
they sat to him, they sometimes assumed expressions which greatly
amazed the artist; one tried to express melancholy; another,
meditation; a third wanted to make her mouth appear small on any
terms, and puckered it up to such an extent that it finally looked
like a spot about as big as a pinhead. And in spite of all this, they
demanded of him good likenesses and unconstrained naturalness. The men
were no better: one insisted on being painted with an energetic,
muscular turn to his head; another, with upturned, inspired eyes; a
lieutenant of the guard demanded that Mars should be visible in his
eyes; an official in the civil service drew himself up to his full
height in order to have his uprightness expressed in his face, and
that his hand might rest on a book bearing the words in plain
characters, "He always stood up for the right."
At first such demands threw the artist into a cold perspiration.
Finally he acquired the knack of it, and never troubled himself at all
about it. He understood at a word how each wanted himself portrayed.
If a man wanted Mars in his face, he put in Mars: he gave a Byronic
turn and attitude to those who aimed at Byron. If the ladies wanted to
be Corinne, Undine, or Aspasia, he agreed with great readiness, and
threw in a sufficient measure of good looks from his own imagination,
which does no harm, and for the sake of which an artist is even
forgiven a lack of resemblance. He soon began to wonder himself at the
rapidity and dash of his brush. And of course those who sat to him
were in ecstasies, and proclaimed him a genius.
Tchartkoff became a fashionable artist in every sense of the word. He
began to dine out, to escort ladies to picture galleries, to dress
foppishly, and to assert audibly that an artist should belong to
society, that he must uphold his profession, that artists mostly dress
like showmakers, do not know how to behave themselves, do not maintain
the highest tone, and are lacking in all polish. At home, in his
studio, he carried cleanliness and spotlessness to the last extreme,
set up two superb footmen, took fashionable pupils, dressed several
times a day, curled his hair, practised various manners of receiving
his callers, and busied himself in adorning his person in every
conceivable way, in order to produce a pleasing impression on the
ladies. In short, it would soon have been impossible for any one to
have recognised in him the modest artist who had formerly toiled
unknown in his miserable quarters in the Vasilievsky Ostroff.
He now expressed himself decidedly concerning artists and art;
declared that too much credit had been given to the old masters; that
even Raphael did not always paint well, and that fame attached to many
of his works simply by force of tradition: that Michael Angelo was a
braggart because he could boast only a knowledge of anatomy; that
there was no grace about him, and that real brilliancy and power of
treatment and colouring were to be looked for in the present century.
And there, naturally, the question touched him personally. "I do not
understand," said he, "how others toil and work with difficulty: a man
who labours for months over a picture is a dauber, and no artist in my
opinion; I don't believe he has any talent: genius works boldly,
rapidly. Here is this portrait which I painted in two days, this head
in one day, this in a few hours, this in little more than an hour. No,
I confess I do not recognise as art that which adds line to line; that
is a handicraft, not art." In this manner did he lecture his visitors;
and the visitors admired the strength and boldness of his works,
uttered exclamations on hearing how fast they had been produced, and
said to each other, "This is talent, real talent! see how he speaks,
how his eyes gleam! There is something really extraordinary in his
It flattered the artist to hear such reports about himself. When
printed praise appeared in the papers, he rejoiced like a child,
although this praise was purchased with his money. He carried the
printed slips about with him everywhere, and showed them to friends
and acquaintances as if by accident. His fame increased, his works and
orders multiplied. Already the same portraits over and over again
wearied him, by the same attitudes and turns, which he had learned by
heart. He painted them now without any great interest in his work,
brushing in some sort of a head, and giving them to his pupil's to
finish. At first he had sought to devise a new attitude each time. Now
this had grown wearisome to him. His brain was tired with planning and
thinking. It was out of his power; his fashionable life bore him far
away from labour and thought. His work grew cold and colourless; and
he betook himself with indifference to the reproduction of monotonous,
well-worn forms. The eternally spick-and-span uniforms, and the
so-to-speak buttoned-up faces of the government officials, soldiers,
and statesmen, did not offer a wide field for his brush: it forgot how
to render superb draperies and powerful emotion and passion. Of
grouping, dramatic effect and its lofty connections, there was
nothing. In face of him was only a uniform, a corsage, a dress-coat,
and before which the artist feels cold and all imagination vanishes.
Even his own peculiar merits were no longer visible in his works, yet
they continued to enjoy renown; although genuine connoisseurs and
artists merely shrugged their shoulders when they saw his latest
productions. But some who had known Tchartkoff in his earlier days
could not understand how the talent of which he had given such clear
indications in the outset could so have vanished; and strove in vain
to divine by what means genius could be extinguished in a man just
when he had attained to the full development of his powers.
But the intoxicated artist did not hear these criticisms. He began to
attain to the age of dignity, both in mind and years: to grow stout,
and increase visibly in flesh. He often read in the papers such
phrases as, "Our most respected Andrei Petrovitch; our worthy Andrei
Petrovitch." He began to receive offers of distinguished posts in the
service, invitations to examinations and committees. He began, as is
usually the case in maturer years, to advocate Raphael and the old
masters, not because he had become thoroughly convinced of their
transcendent merits, but in order to snub the younger artists. His
life was already approaching the period when everything which suggests
impulse contracts within a man; when a powerful chord appeals more
feebly to the spirit; when the touch of beauty no longer converts
virgin strength into fire and flame, but when all the burnt-out
sentiments become more vulnerable to the sound of gold, hearken more
attentively to its seductive music, and little by little permit
themselves to be completely lulled to sleep by it. Fame can give no
pleasure to him who has stolen it, not won it; so all his feelings and
impulses turned towards wealth. Gold was his passion, his ideal, his
fear, his delight, his aim. The bundles of bank-notes increased in his
coffers; and, like all to whose lot falls this fearful gift, he began
to grow inaccessible to every sentiment except the love of gold. But
something occurred which gave him a powerful shock, and disturbed the
whole tenor of his life.
One day he found upon his table a note, in which the Academy of
Painting begged him, as a worthy member of its body, to come and give
his opinion upon a new work which had been sent from Italy by a
Russian artist who was perfecting himself there. The painter was one
of his former comrades, who had been possessed with a passion for art
from his earliest years, had given himself up to it with his whole
soul, estranged himself from his friends and relatives, and had
hastened to that wonderful Rome, at whose very name the artist's heart
beats wildly and hotly. There he buried himself in his work from which
he permitted nothing to entice him. He visited the galleries
unweariedly, he stood for hours at a time before the works of the
great masters, seizing and studying their marvellous methods. He never
finished anything without revising his impressions several times
before these great teachers, and reading in their works silent but
eloquent counsels. He gave each impartially his due, appropriating
from all only that which was most beautiful, and finally became the
pupil of the divine Raphael alone, as a great poet, after reading many
works, at last made Homer's "Iliad" his only breviary, having
discovered that it contains all one wants, and that there is nothing
which is not expressed in it in perfection. And so he brought away
from his school the grand conception of creation, the mighty beauty of
thought, the high charm of that heavenly brush.
When Tchartkoff entered the room, he found a crowd of visitors already
collected before the picture. The most profound silence, such as
rarely settles upon a throng of critics, reigned over all. He hastened
to assume the significant expression of a connoisseur, and approached
the picture; but, O God! what did he behold!
Pure, faultless, beautiful as a bride, stood the picture before him.
The critics regarded this new hitherto unknown work with a feeling of
involuntary wonder. All seemed united in it: the art of Raphael,
reflected in the lofty grace of the grouping; the art of Correggio,
breathing from the finished perfection of the workmanship. But more
striking than all else was the evident creative power in the artist's
mind. The very minutest object in the picture revealed it; he had
caught that melting roundness of outline which is visible in nature
only to the artist creator, and which comes out as angles with a
copyist. It was plainly visible how the artist, having imbibed it all
from the external world, had first stored it in his mind, and then
drawn it thence, as from a spiritual source, into one harmonious,
triumphant song. And it was evident, even to the uninitiated, how vast
a gulf there was fixed between creation and a mere copy from nature.
Involuntary tears stood ready to fall in the eyes of those who
surrounded the picture. It seemed as though all joined in a silent
hymn to the divine work.
Motionless, with open mouth, Tchartkoff stood before the picture. At
length, when by degrees the visitors and critics began to murmur and
comment upon the merits of the work, and turning to him, begged him to
express an opinion, he came to himself once more. He tried to assume
an indifferent, everyday expression; strove to utter some such
commonplace remark as; "Yes, to tell the truth, it is impossible to
deny the artist's talent; there is something in it;" but the speech
died upon his lips, tears and sobs burst forth uncontrollably, and he
rushed from the room like one beside himself.
In a moment he stood in his magnificent studio. All his being, all his
life, had been aroused in one instant, as if youth had returned to
him, as if the dying sparks of his talent had blazed forth afresh. The
bandage suddenly fell from his eyes. Heavens! to think of having
mercilessly wasted the best years of his youth, of having
extinguished, trodden out perhaps, that spark of fire which, cherished
in his breast, might perhaps have been developed into magnificence and
beauty, and have extorted too, its meed of tears and admiration! It
seemed as though those impulses which he had known in other days
re-awoke suddenly in his soul.
He seized a brush and approached his canvas. One thought possessed him
wholly, one desire consumed him; he strove to depict a fallen angel.
This idea was most in harmony with his frame of mind. The perspiration
started out upon his face with his efforts; but, alas! his figures,
attitudes, groups, thoughts, arranged themselves stiffly,
disconnectedly. His hand and his imagination had been too long
confined to one groove; and the fruitless effort to escape from the
bonds and fetters which he had imposed upon himself, showed itself in
irregularities and errors. He had despised the long, wearisome ladder
to knowledge, and the first fundamental law of the future great man,
hard work. He gave vent to his vexation. He ordered all his later
productions to be taken out of his studio, all the fashionable,
lifeless pictures, all the portraits of hussars, ladies, and
councillors of state.
He shut himself up alone in his room, would order no food, and devoted
himself entirely to his work. He sat toiling like a scholar. But how