A House of Gentlefolk/Chapter XIX

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The small manor-house to which Lavretsky had come and in which two years before Glafira Petrovna had breathed her last, had been built in the preceding century of solid pine-wood; it looked ancient, but it was still strong enough to stand another fifty years or more. Lavretsky made the tour of all the rooms, and to the great discomfiture of the aged languid flies, settled under the lintels and covered with white dust, he ordered the windows to be opened everywhere; they had not been opened ever since the death of Glafira Petrovna. Everything in the house had remained as it was; the thin-legged white miniature couches in the drawing-room, covered with glossy grey stuff, threadbare and rickety, vividly suggested the days of Catherine; in the drawing-room, too, stood the mistress's favourite arm-chair, with high straight back, against which she never leaned even in her old age. On the principal wall hung a very old portrait of Fedor's great-grandfather, Andrey Lavretsky; the! dark yellow face was scarcely distinguishable from the warped and blackened background; the small cruel eyes looked grimly out from beneath the eyelids, which dropped as if they were swollen; his black unpowdered hair rose bristling above his heavy indented brow. In the corner of the portrait hung a wreath of dusty immortelles. "Glafira Petrovna herself was pleased to make it," Anton announced. In the bedroom stood a narrow bedstead, under a canopy of old-fashioned and very good striped material; a heap of faded cushions and a thin quilted counterpane lay on the bed, and at the head hung a picture of the Presentation in the Temple of the Holy Mother of God; it was the very picture which the old maid, dying alone and forgotten by every one, had for the last time pressed to her chilling lips. A little toilet table of inlaid wood, with brass fittings and a warped looking-glass in a tarnished frame stood in the window. Next to the bedroom was the little ikon room with bare walls and a heavy case of holy images in the corner; on the! floor lay a threadbare rug spotted with wax; Glafira Petrovna used to pray bowing to the ground upon it. Anton went away with Lavretsky's groom to unlock the stable and coach-house; to replace him appeared an old woman of about the same age, with a handkerchief tied round to her very eyebrows; her head shook, and her eyes were dim, but they expressed zeal, the habit of years of submissive service, and at the same time a kind of respectful commiseration. She kissed Lavretsky's hand and stood still in the doorway awaiting his orders. He positively could not recollect her name and did not even remember whether he had ever seen her. Her name, it appeared, was Apraxya; forty years before, Glafira Petrovna had put her out of the master's house and ordered that she should be a poultry woman. She said little, however; she seemed to have lost her senses from old age, and could only gaze at him obsequiously. Besides these two old creatures and three pot-bellied children in long smocks, Anton's great-grandchildren, there was also living in the manor-house a one-armed peasant, who was exempted from servitude; he muttered like a woodcock and was of no use for anything. Not much more useful was the decrepit dog who had saluted Lavretsky's return by its barking; he had been for ten years fastened up by a heavy chain, purchased at Glafira Petrovna's command, and was scarcely able to move and drag the weight of it. Having looked over the house, Lavretsky went into the garden and was very much pleased with it. It was all overgrown with high grass, and burdock, and gooseberry and raspberry bushes, but there was plenty of shade, and many old lime-trees, which were remarkable for their immense size and the peculiar growth of their branches; they had been planted too close and at some time or other--a hundred years before--they had been lopped. At the end of the garden was a small clear pool bordered with high reddish rushes. The traces of human life very quickly! pass away; Glafira Petrovna's estate had not had time to become quite wild, but already it seemed plunged in that quiet slumber in which everything reposes on earth where there is not the infection of man's restlessness. Fedor Ivanitch walked also through the village; the peasant-women stared at him from the doorways of their huts, their cheeks resting on their hands; the peasants saluted him from a distance, the children ran out, and the dogs barked indifferently. At last he began to feel hungry; but he did not expect his servants and his cook till the evening; the waggons of provisions from Lavriky had not come yet, and he had to have recourse to Anton. Anton arranged matters at once; he caught, killed, and plucked an old hen; Apraxya gave it a long rubbing and cleaning, and washed it like linen before putting it into the stew-pan; when, at last, it was cooked Anton laid the cloth and set the table, placing beside the knife and fork a three-legged salt-cellar of tarnished plate and a cut decanter with a round glass stopper and a narrow neck; then he announced to Lavretsky in a sing-song voice that the meal was ready, and took his stand behind his chair, with a napkin twisted round his right fights, and diffusing about him a peculiar strong ancient odour, like the scent of a cypress-tree. Lavretsky tried the soup, and took out the hen; its skin was all covered with large blisters; a tough tendon ran up each leg; the meat had a flavour of wood and soda. When he had finished dinner, Lavretsky said that he would drink a cup of tea, if--"I will bring it this minute," the old man interrupted. And he kept his word. A pinch of tea was hunted up, twisted in a screw of red paper; a small but very fiery and loudly-hissing samovar was found, and sugar too in small lumps, which looked as if they were thawing. Lavretsky drank tea out of a large cup; he remembered this cup from childhood; there were playing-cards depicted upon it, only visitors used to drink out of it--and here was he drinking out if like a visitor. In the evening his servants came; Lavretsky did not care to sleep in his aunt's bed; he directed them put him up a bed in the dining-room. After extinguishing his candle he stared for a long time about him and feel into cheerless reflection; he experienced that feeling which every man knows whose lot it is to pass the night in a place long uninhabited; it seemed to him that the darkness surrounding him on all sides could not be accustomed to the new inhabitant, the very walls of the house seemed amazed. At last he sighed, drew up the counterpane round him and fell asleep. Anton remained up after all the rest of the household; he was whispering a long while with Apraxya, he sighed in an undertone, and twice he crossed himself; they had neither of them expected that their master would settle among them at Vassilyevskoe when he had not far off such a splendid estate with such a capitally built house; they did not suspect that the very house was hateful to Lavretsky; it stirred painful memories within him. Having gossiped to his heart's content, Anton took a stick and struck the night watchman's board, which had hung silent for so many years, and laid down to sleep in the courtyard with no covering on his white head. The May night was mild and soft, and the old man slept sweetly.