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