Dead Souls—A Poem/Book One/Chapter III
Meanwhile Tchitchikov in a contented frame of mind was sitting in his chaise which had for some time been rolling along the high-road. From the foregoing chapter it can now be seen what was the chief subject of his interests and inclinations, and so it is not surprising that he was soon completely absorbed in it. The suppositions, calculations, and reflections of which signs passed over his face were evidently very agreeable, for at every moment traces of a gratified smile were left by them. Engrossed in them, he paid no attention to the fact that his coachman, well satisfied with the reception given him by Manilov's servants, was making very sagacious observations to the dappled-grey trace-horse harnessed on the right side. This dappled-grey horse was extremely sly and only made a show of pulling, while the bay in the shafts and the other trace-horse, of a chestnut colour and called the Assessor because it had been purchased from some tax assessor, worked with all their hearts, so that the satisfaction they derived from it was actually perceptible in their eyes.
'Be as sly as you like! I'll be even with you!' said Selifan, rising in his seat and lashing the laggard with his whip. 'You mind your job, you German pantaloon! The bay is a gentlemanly horse, he does his duty; I'll be glad to give him an extra handful, for he is a gentlemanly horse, and the Assessor, he is a good horse too. … Now then, why are you shaking your ears? You should listen when you are spoken to, you fool! I am not going to teach you any harm, you dunce. There, where is he off to?' Here he lashed him, observing: 'Ugh, you savage! you damned Bonaparte! …'
Then he shouted at all of them:
'Hey, you darlings!' And he gave a flick to all three, not by way of punishment but to show that he was pleased with them. After having gratified himself in this way he again addressed the dappled trace-horse: 'You think you will hide your conduct. No, you must act straightforwardly, if you want to be treated with respect. At that landowner's now where we have been there are good folks. I am always glad to talk to a good man; a good man and I can always get on together, we are always close friends. Whether it's drinking a cup of tea with anybody or taking a snack of something, I do it with relish if he's a good man. Every one pays respect to a good man. Here's our master now, every one respects him because he has served his Tsar, do you hear, he is a collegiate councillor …'
Reasoning in this way Selifan rose at last to the most abstract generalisations. If Tchitchikov had been listening, he would have learned many details relating to himself. But his thoughts were so engrossed with his pet idea that nothing but a loud clap of thunder made him rouse himself and look about him. The whole sky was completely covered with clouds and the dusty high-road was being sprinkled with drops of rain. Then there came a second clap of thunder louder and nearer and the rain spurted down in bucketfuls. At first falling in a slanting direction, it lashed on one side of the chaise, then on the other; then, changing its direction and coming down quite straight, it pattered on the roof of the carriage; and finally drops spurted straight into our hero's face. This made him draw the leather curtains, with two little round windows in them to give a view of the road, and tell Selifan to drive faster. Selifan, interrupted in the middle of his talk, realised that it certainly would not do to dawdle, pulled out from under the box seat some ragged garment of grey cloth, put it on, snatched up the reins, and shouted at his horses, who were scarcely moving their legs, for they felt agreeably relaxed by his edifying admonitions. But Selifan could not remember whether he had passed two, or three, turnings. On reflecting and recalling the road, he surmised that he had passed many. As in critical moments a Russian always decides what to do without further reflection, he turned to the right at the next cross-road and, shouting 'Hey, honoured friends!' put his horses into a gallop without considering long where the road he had taken might lead them.
The rain however seemed as though it would go on for hours. The dust lying on the high-road was soon churned into mud and it seemed harder every minute for the horses to draw the chaise. Tchitchikov was beginning to feel very uneasy at still seeing no sign of Sobakevitch's village. According to his calculations they ought to have arrived long before. He kept looking out on either side, but it was so dark that you could not see your hand before your face.
'Selifan,' he said at last, poking his head out of the chaise.
'What is it, master?' answered Selifan.
'Look out, isn't there a village in sight?'
'No, master, there is nothing in sight anywhere!' After which Selifan, brandishing his whip, struck up—not precisely a song but a sort of long rigmarole without an ending. Everything went into it: all the calls of encouragement and incitement with which horses are regaled all over Russia from one end to the other, adjectives of all kinds without discrimination just as they came first to his tongue. It came at last to his beginning to call them secretaries.
Meanwhile Tchitchikov began to notice that the chaise was swaying in all directions and jolting him violently: this made him aware that they had turned off the road and were probably jolting over a freshly harrowed field. Selifan seemed to perceive this himself but did not say a word.
'Why, you scoundrel, what road are you taking me?' said Tchitchikov.
'I can't help it, sir, it is such weather; there is no seeing the whip, it is so dark!'
As he said this, he gave the chaise such a lurch that Tchitchikov had to hold on with both hands. It was only then that he noticed that Selifan had been making merry.
'Take care, take care, you'll upset us!' he shouted to him.
'No, master, how can I upset you?' said Selifan. 'It wouldn't be right to upset you, I know that myself; I won't upset you for anything.'
Then he began slightly turning the chaise: he turned it and turned it till at last he tipped it on its side. Tchitchikov went splash on his hands and knees into the mud. Selifan stopped the horses, however; though they would have stopped of themselves for they were exhausted. This unforeseen mishap completely bewildered him. Clambering off the box he stood facing the chaise with his arms akimbo, while his master was floundering in the mud, trying to scramble out of it, and said after some pondering: 'Well, I never did! it has upset, too!'
'You are as drunk as a cobbler!' said Tchitchikov.
'No, master, how could I be drunk! I know that it is not the right thing to be drunk. I had a chat with a friend, because one may have a chat with a good man, there is no harm in that,—and we had a snack together. There is nothing to hurt in a snack: one can take a snack of something with a good man.'
'And what did I tell you last time when you got drunk, eh? have you forgotten?' said Tchitchikov.
'No, your honour, as though I could forget! I know my duty. I know it is not right to get drunk. I had a chat with a good man because …'
'I will give you a thrashing that will teach you to have a chat with a good man.'
'That is as your honour thinks best,' answered Selifan, ready to agree to anything, 'if it's to be a thrashing, a thrashing let it be; I have nothing against it. Why not a thrashing, if it's deserved? That's what you are master for. There must be thrashing, for the peasants are too fond of their ease; order must be kept up. If it's deserved, then thrash, why not thrash?'
His master found absolutely no reply to make to this line of argument. But at that instant it seemed as though fate itself had determined to take pity on them. They heard a dog barking in the distance. Tchitchikov, overjoyed, told Selifan to whip up the horses. The Russian driver has a keen scent that takes the place of eyes; that is how it is he jolts along at full speed with his eyes shut and always arrives somewhere in the end. Though Selifan could not see his hand before his face, he drove the horses so straight to the village that he didn't stop till the shafts of the chaise struck against a fence and he could absolutely drive no further. All Tchitchikov could discern through the thick curtain of streaming rain was something that looked like a roof. He sent Selifan to seek for the gate, an operation which would undoubtedly have taken a long time if it were not that in Russia ferocious dogs do duty for house-porters, and these proclaimed its whereabouts so loudly that he put his fingers into his ears. There was a gleam of light in one little window which sent a misty glimmer as far as the fence and showed our travellers the gate. Selifan fell to knocking and soon a figure clad in a smock was thrust out at the gate, and the master and his servant heard a husky female voice ask: 'Who is knocking? Why do you make such a row?'
'We are travellers, my good woman, put us up for the night,' answered Tchitchikov.
'Well, you are a sharp one,' said the old woman, 'what a time to come! This isn't an inn: this is a lady's place.'
'What can we do, my good woman? You see we have lost our way. We can't spend the night on the steppe in such weather.'
'Yes, it is dark weather, it is not good weather,' added Selifan.
'Hold your tongue, you fool,' said Tchitchikov.
'Why, who are you?' said the old woman.
'A nobleman, my good woman.'
The word nobleman seemed to make the old woman consider a little. 'Wait a minute, I will tell the mistress,' she said, and two minutes later she came back with a lantern in her hand. The gates were opened. There was a gleam of light in another window. Driving into the yard the chaise stopped before a little house which it was difficult to make out in the darkness. Only one half of it was lighted up by the light from the window; a pool in front of the house on which the light fell directly was also visible. The rain was pattering noisily on the wooden roof and running in gurghng streams into the water-butt. Meanwhile the dogs were barking on every possible note: one throwing up its head executed a howl as prolonged and brought it out with as much effort as though it were getting a handsome salary for it; another snapped it out quickly like a sacristan, and between them there rang out like the bell of a post-cart an indefatigable falsetto, most likely of a young puppy, and it was completed by a bass, possibly an old fellow endowed with a sturdy doggy nature, for he was as husky as the bass in a choir when the concert is in full swing: when the tenors rise on tiptoe in their intense desire to bring out a high note, and all heads are flung back and straining upwards, while he alone, with his unshaven chin thrust into his cravat, squatting and almost sinking to the floor, lets out a note that sets the window-panes shaking and tinkling. From the mere barking of the dogs that made up such an orchestra it might be surmised that the village was a decent one; but our drenched and chilled hero thought of nothing but his bed. The chaise had not quite stopped when he leapt out on to the steps, gave a lurch, and almost fell down. Another woman, somewhat younger than the first, but very much like her, came out on to the steps. She led him into the house. Tchitchikov took two cursory glances at the room: it was hung with old striped paper; there were pictures of birds; between the windows there were little old-fashioned looking-glasses with dark frames in the shape of turned-back leaves; behind each looking-glass was stuffed either a letter or an old pack of cards or a stocking; there was a clock on the wall with flowers painted on the face, but he could distinguish nothing more. He felt that his eyelids were sticking together as though some one had smeared them with honey. A minute later the mistress of the house walked in, an elderly woman in some sort of nightcap hurriedly put on and with a piece of flannel round her neck, one of those good dames owning a small estate, who lament over the failure of their crops and their losses and hold their heads a little on one side, and yet little by little put away a tidy sum of money in different drawers of their chests. In one little bag they save up all the roubles, in another the half roubles, in a third the quarter roubles, though it looks as though there were nothing in the chest but underlinen and night-jackets and reels of cotton and an unpicked pelisse, intended to be turned into a dress later on, if the old one should be scorched in frying the holiday cakes, doughnuts, and fritters of all sorts, or should be worn out of itself. But the dress does not get scorched and is not worn out, the old lady is careful, and the pelisse is destined to lie unpicked for years and then to come later on to a niece, together with all sorts of other rubbish.
Tchitchikov apologised for disturbing her with his unexpected visit.
'It's all right, it's all right!' said the old lady. 'In what weather God has brought you! Such a storm of wind and rain. … You ought to have something to eat after your journey, but it is night-time, we can't cook anything.'
Her words were interrupted by a strange hissing sound so that Tchitchikov was somewhat alarmed: the sound suggested that the whole room was full of snakes, but glancing upwards he was reassured, for he noticed that the clock on the wall was disposed to strike. The hissing was followed at once by a wheezing, and at last with a desperate effort it struck two o'clock with a sound as though some one were hitting a broken pot with a stick, after which the pendulum returned to its tranquil ticking, to right and to left.
Tchitchikov thanked the old lady, saying that he wanted nothing, that she was not to put herself out, that he asked for nothing but a bed and was only curious to know to what place he had come, and whether it was far from here to the estate of Sobakevitch. To which the old lady replied that she had never heard the name and that there was no such landowner.
'You know Manilov, anyway?' said Tchitchikov.
'Why, who is Manilov?'
'A landowner, ma'am.'
'No, I have never heard of him, there is no such landowner here.'
'Who are the landowners here?'
'Bobrov, Svinyin, Kanapatyev, Harpakin, Trepakin, Plyeshakov.'
'Are they well-to-do people?'
'No, my good sir, not very well-to-do. One has twenty souls, another thirty; but there are none about here with as many as a hundred.'
Tchitchikov perceived that he had come quite into the wilds.
'Is it far to the town, anyway?'
'It will be some forty miles. What a pity I have nothing to give you! Won't you have a cup of tea, my good sir?'
'No thank you, ma'am, I want nothing but a bed.'
'After such a journey you must need a rest indeed. You can lie down here, my good sir, on this sofa. Hey, Fetinya, bring a feather bed, pillows, and a sheet. What weather God has sent us: such thunder—I have had a light burning before the holy image all night. Oh, my good sir, why, all your back and side is muddy as a hog's; where have you got so dirty?'
'It's a mercy that I am only muddy. I must be thankful that I did not break my ribs.'
'Holy Saints, how dreadful! But shouldn't your back be rubbed with something?'
'Thank you, thank you. Don't trouble, but only bid your maid dry my clothes and brush them.'
'Do you hear, Fetinya?' said the old lady, addressing the woman who had come out on to the steps with a light and who had now dragged in a feather bed and, beating it up on both sides, was scattering a perfect shower of feathers all over the room. 'You take the gentleman's coat together with his under-things, and first dry them before the fire as you used to do for the master, and afterwards give them a good brushing and beating.'
'Yes, ma'am,' said Fetinya, spreading a sheet over the feather bed and laying the pillows on it.
'Well, here's your bed ready,' said the old lady. 'Good-bye, sir, I wish you good-night, but is there nothing you would like? Perhaps you are accustomed, my good sir, to have some one tickle your heels at night? My poor dear husband could never get to sleep without it.'
But the visitor refused the heel-tickling also. The lady of the house retired and he made haste at once to undress, giving Fetinya all his garments, upper and lower, and Fetinya, wishing him a good-night too, carried off his wet array. Left alone he glanced with satisfaction at his bed which almost reached the ceiling. Fetinya was evidently a mistress of the art of beating up feathers. When, putting a chair beside it, he climbed on to the bed, it sank almost to the floor under his weight, and the feathers squeezed out of the cover flew into every corner of the room. Putting out the candle he drew the cotton quilt over him and, curling up under it, fell asleep that very minute. He woke rather late next morning. The sun was shining straight into his face, and the flies which had the night before been quietly asleep on the walls and the ceiling were all paying attention to him: one was sitting on his lip, another on his ear, a third was trying to settle on his eye; one who had had the indiscretion to settle close to his nostril he had in his sleep drawn up into his nose, which set him sneezing violently—the circumstance which caused him to wake up. Looking about the room he noticed now that the pictures were not all of birds: among them hung a portrait of Kutuzov, and an old gentleman painted in oils with red revers on his uniform as worn in the reign of Paul I. The clock again emitted a hissing sound and struck ten: a woman's face peeped in at the door, and instantly withdrew seeing that Tchitchikov had flung off absolutely everything to sleep more at his ease. The face that peeped in seemed to him somehow familiar. He began trying to recall who it was and at last remembered that it was the mistress of the house. He put on his shirt; his clothes, dried and brushed, were lying beside him. After dressing he went up to the looking-glass and sneezed again so loudly that a turkey-cock who had come up to the window at that moment—the window was very near the ground—gabbled something very quickly to him in his queer language, probably 'God bless you,' on which Tchitchikov called him a fool. Going to the window he scrutinised the view before him; the window might be said to look into the poultry yard. At least the narrow little yard that lay before him was filled with fowls and domestic animals of all sorts. There were turkeys and hens beyond all reckoning; among them a cock was strutting about with measured steps, shaking his comb and turning his head on one side as though listening to something; a sow too was there with her family; poking about in a heap of litter, she ate a chicken in passing and, without noticing it, went on gobbling melon rinds as before. This little yard was shut in by a paling fence beyond which stretched a spacious kitchen garden with cabbages, onions, potatoes, beetroot, and other vegetables. Apple trees and other fruit trees were dotted here and there about the kitchen garden and were covered with nets to protect them from the magpies and sparrows, the latter of which were flitting from place to place in perfect clouds. With the same end in view, several scarecrows had been rigged up on long posts with outstretched arms; one of them was adorned with a cap belonging to the mistress of the house herself. Beyond the kitchen garden there were peasants' huts which, though placed at random and not arranged in straight rows, yet from what Tchitchikov could observe showed the prosperity of their inhabitants, for they were well kept: where the wood on the roof had rotted it had everywhere been replaced by new; the gates were nowhere on the slant, and, in the peasants' covered sheds turned towards him, he noticed in one an almost new cart and in another even two.
'Why, she hasn't such a very little village,' he said, and at once resolved to have a good talk with the lady of the house and to make her closer acquaintance. He glanced through the crack of the door from which her head had appeared and, seeing her sitting at the tea-table in the next room, went in to her with a good-humoured and friendly air.
'Good-morning, my good sir. How have you slept?' said the old lady, getting up from her seat. She was better dressed than she had been the night before, in a dark gown, and wore no nightcap, but she still had something wrapped round her neck.
'Very well, very well indeed,' said Tchitchikov, seating himself in an easy-chair. 'And what sort of a night had you, ma'am?'
'Very bad, sir.'
'It's sleeplessness. My back keeps aching and my leg above the knee is painful too.'
'That will pass, that will pass, ma'am. You mustn't take any notice of that.'
'God grant it may; I've rubbed it with lard and bathed it with turpentine, And what do you take with your tea? There's home-made wine in that bottle.'
'That's not amiss, ma'am. We will have a drop of home-made wine too.'
The reader has, I imagine, already observed that in spite of his friendly air Tchitchikov spoke with more freedom and easiness than with Manilov and did not stand on ceremony at all. It must be said that if we in Russia have not caught up foreigners in other things, we have far outstripped them in the knowledge of how to behave. All the shades and subtleties of our manners cannot be counted, A Frenchman or a German would never catch and understand all its peculiarities and distinctions; he will speak in almost the same tone of voice and almost the same language to a millionaire and to a little tobacconist, though of course in his soul he will grovel quite sufficiently before the former. It is not so with us: there are among us persons so clever that they can talk to a landowner with two hundred souls quite differently from the way in which they speak to one with three hundred; and to the one with three hundred they will speak differently again from the manner in which they will address one with five hundred; and to one with five hundred they do not talk as they do to one with eight hundred; in short there are shades all up to a million. Let us suppose, for instance, that there is a government office—not here but in some fairy kingdom—and let us suppose that in the office there is a head of the office. I beg you to look at him when he is sitting among his subordinates—one is simply too awe-stricken to utter a word. Pride and dignity … and what else is not expressed upon his face? You should take a brush and paint him: a Prometheus, a perfect Prometheus! He looks like an eagle, he moves with a measured step. That very eagle, when he has left his own room and is approaching the sanctum of his chief, flutters along like a partridge with papers under his arm as best he may. In company and at an evening-party if all present are of a low rank, Prometheus remains Prometheus, but if they are ever so little above him, Prometheus undergoes a metamorphosis such as Ovid never imagined: he is a fly, less than a fly indeed, he humbles himself into the dust! 'But this isn't Ivan Petrovitch,' you say, looking at him. 'Ivan Petrovitch is taller, and this fellow is both short and thin; Ivan Petrovitch talks in a loud bass voice and never laughs, while there is no making this fellow out, he pipes like a bird and keeps laughing.' You go near, you look, it really is Ivan Petrovitch! 'Aha!' you think to yourself. … However, we will return to the characters of our story.
Tchitchikov, as we have seen already, had made up his mind not to stand on ceremony at all, and so, taking the cup of tea in his hand and pouring some home-made wine into it, he spoke as follows:
'You have a nice little village, ma'am. How many souls in it?'
'Close upon eighty, my good sir,' said his hostess. 'But the times are bad, I am sorry to say. Last year, too, we had such a bad harvest, as I never wish to see again.'
'The peasants look sturdy enough, though, and their huts are solid. Allow me to ask your surname. I was so distracted … arriving in the night …'
'Thank you very much, and your Christian name and father's name?'
'Nastasya Petrovna? A good name, Nastasya Petrovna; I have an aunt, my mother's sister, called Nastasya Petrovna.'
'And what is your name?' asked the lady. 'You are a tax assessor, for sure?'
'No, ma'am,' answered Tchitchikov, grinning, 'not a tax assessor for sure, but just travelling on a little business of my own.'
'Oh, then you are a dealer! What a pity, really, that I sold my honey to the merchants so cheap; very likely you would have bought it from me, sir.'
'Your honey I shouldn't have bought.'
'What else then? Hemp perhaps? But there, I have very little hemp now, not more than half a pood.'
'No, ma'am, I buy a different sort of ware. Tell me, have any of your peasants died?'
'Oh, sir, eighteen of them,' said the old lady, sighing, 'and such a good lot died, all workmen. It's true that some have been born since, but what use are they? They are all such small fry. And the assessor came—you must pay the tax by the soul, said he. The peasants are dead, but I must pay as though they were alive. Last week my blacksmith was burnt, such a clever blacksmith and he could do locksmith's work too.'
'Did you have a fire, ma'am?'
'God preserve us from such a misfortune; a fire would be worse still: he caught fire of himself, my good sir. His inside somehow began burning, he had had a terrible lot to drink: all I can say is that a blue flame came out of him and he smouldered and smouldered away and turned black as a coal; and he was such a very clever blacksmith! And now I can't drive about, I have no one to shoe my horses.'
'It is all God's will, ma'am,' said Tchitchikov with a sigh, 'it is no use murmuring against the wisdom of God. … Let me have them, Nastasya Petrovna.'
'Have whom, sir?'
'Why, all those who are dead.'
'Why, how let you have them?'
'Oh, quite simply. Or if you like sell them, I'll pay you for them.'
'Why, how's that, I really don't take your meaning. Surely you don't want to dig them out of the ground, do you?'
Tchitchikov saw that the old lady was quite at sea, and that he absolutely must explain what he wanted. In a few words he explained to her that the transfer or purchase would take place only on paper and that the souls would be described as though alive.
'But what use will they be to you?' said the old lady, looking at him with round eyes.
'That's my business.'
'But you know they are dead.'
'Well, who says they are alive? That's just why they are a loss to you, that they are dead: you have to pay the tax on them, but now I will save you from all that trouble and expense. Do you understand? And I will not only do that, but give you fifteen roubles besides. Well, is it clear now?'
'I really don't know,' the old lady brought out hesitatingly, 'you see I've never sold the dead before.'
'I should think not! It would be a wonder indeed if you could sell them to any one. Or do you suppose that there is some profit to be made out of them, really?'
'No, I don't suppose that! What profit could there be in them? They are no use at all. The only thing that troubles me is that they are dead.'
'Well, the woman's thick-headed, it seems,' Tchitchikov thought to himself. 'Listen, ma'am, just look at it fairly yourself: you are being ruined, paying for them as though they were living …'
'Oh, my good sir, don't speak about it,' the old lady caught him up. 'Only the week before last I paid more than a hundred and fifty, besides presents to the assessor.'
'There you see, ma'am! And now take into consideration the mere fact that you won't have to make presents to the assessor again, because now I shall have to pay for them,—I and not you; I take all the taxes on myself, I will even pay all the legal expenses, do you understand that?'
The old lady pondered. She saw that the transaction certainly seemed a profitable one, only it was too novel and unusual, and so she began to be extremely uneasy that the purchaser might be trying to cheat her. God knows where he had come from, and he had arrived in the middle of the night, too.
'Well, ma'am, how is it to be then, is it a bargain?' said Tchitchikov.
'Upon my word, sir, it has never yet happened to me to sell the dead. The year before last I did sell some living ones, two girls to Protopopov, two girls for a hundred roubles each, and very grateful he was for them too: they have turned out capital girls to work; they even weave table napkins.'
'Well, it is not a question of the living; God bless them! I am asking for the dead.'
'Really, at first sight, I am afraid that it may be a loss to me. Perhaps you are deceiving me, sir, and they, er … are worth more, perhaps.'
'Listen, my good woman … ech, what nonsense you talk! What can they be worth? Just consider: why, they are dust, you know. Do you understand, they are nothing but dust. Take the most worthless, humblest article, a simple rag for instance—and even the rag has a value: rags are bought for making into paper, anyway, but what I am speaking of is of no use for anything. Come, tell me yourself, what is it of use for?'
'That is true, certainly. They are of no use for anything at all. The only thing that makes me hesitate is that, you see, they are dead.'
'Ugh, she is as stupid as a post,' said Tchitchikov to himself, beginning to lose patience. 'However is one to come to terms with her! She makes me feel hot all over, the confounded old woman!' And, taking a handkerchief out of his pocket, he began mopping his perspiring brow. Tchitchikov need not have been moved to anger, however: many a highly respected man, many a statesman indeed, is a regular Korobotchka in business. Once he has taken a notion into his head there is no getting over it, anyhow: however many arguments as clear as daylight you put before him, they all rebound from him as an india-rubber ball bounces from a wall.
After mopping his brow Tchitchikov made up his mind to try whether he could not get round her from some other side.
'Either you don't want to understand what I say, ma'am, or you talk like that, simply for the sake of saying something. I'll give you fifteen paper roubles—do you understand? That's money, you know. You won't pick it up in the road. Come, let me know what you sold your honey for?'
'Twelve roubles a pood.'
'You are taking a little sin upon your soul, ma'am, you didn't sell it for twelve roubles.'
'Upon my word, I did.'
'Well, do you see? That was for something—it was honey. You had been collecting it perhaps for about a year with work and trouble and anxiety, you went and killed the bees, and fed the bees in the cellar all the winter. But dead souls are not a thing of this world at all. In this case, you have taken no trouble whatever about them, it was God's will that they should leave this world to the loss of your estate. In the case of the honey, for your work, for your exertions you have received twelve roubles, but in this case you will get gratis, for nothing, not twelve but fifteen roubles, and not in silver but all in blue notes.'
After these powerful arguments Tchitchikov had no doubt that the old lady would give way.
'Really,' answered the old lady, 'I am an inexperienced widow; I had better wait a little, maybe the dealers will be coming and I shall find out about prices.'
'For shame, my good woman, it is simply shameful. Come, just think over what you are saying. Who is going to buy them? Why, what use could any one put them to?'
'Well, perhaps they may be put to some use somehow …,' replied the old lady, but she broke off and gazed open-mouthed at him, almost with horror, waiting to see what he would say to it.
'Dead men be put to some use! Ugh, what next! To scare the sparrows at night in your kitchen garden or what?'
'God have mercy on us! What dreadful things you do say!' said the old lady, crossing herself.
'What else do you want to do with them? Besides, the bones and the graves, all that will be left to you; the transfer is only on paper. Well, what do you say? How is it to be? Give me an answer, anyway.'
The old lady pondered again.
'What are you thinking about, Nastasya Petrovna?'
'I really can't make up my mind what to do; I had really better sell you my hemp.'
'Hemp! Upon my soul, I asked you about something quite different and you foist hemp upon me. Hemp is hemp, another time I'll come and take your hemp, too. So how is it to be, Nastasya Petrovna?'
'Oh dear, it is such a strange, quite unheard-of thing to sell.'
At this point Tchitchikov was completely driven out of all patience; he banged his chair upon the floor in his anger and consigned her to the devil.
The old lady was extremely frightened of the devil.
'Oh, don't speak of him, God bless him!' she cried, turning quite pale. 'Only the night before last I was dreaming all night of the evil spirit. I took a fancy to try my fortune on the cards after saying my prayers that night, and it seems the Lord sent him to punish me. He looked so horrid and his horns were longer than our bull's.'
'I wonder you don't dream of them by dozens. From simple Christian humanity I wanted to help you: I saw a poor woman struggling and in poverty. … But the plague take you and all your village!'
'Oh, what shocking words you are using!' said the old lady, looking at him with horror.
'Well, there is no knowing how to talk to you! Why, you are like some—not to use a bad word—dog in the manger that won't eat the hay itself and won't let others. I was meaning to buy all sorts of produce from you, for I take government contracts too …'
This was a lie, though quite a casual one, uttered with no ulterior design, but it was unexpectedly successful. The government contract produced a strong effect on Nastasya Petrovna. Anyway she brought out, in a voice of supplication almost:
'But why are you in such a terrible rage? If I had known before that you were so hot-tempered I wouldn't have contradicted you.'
'There's nothing to be angry about! The business is not worth a rotten egg, as though I should get in a rage about it!'
'Oh, very well then, I am ready to let you have them for fifteen paper roubles! Only, my good sir, about these contracts, mind, if you should be taking my rye or buckwheat flour or my grain or my carcases, please don't cheat me.'
'No, my good woman, I won't cheat you,' he said, while he wiped away the perspiration that was streaming down his face. He began inquiring whether she had any lawyer in the town or friend whom she could authorise to complete the purchase and do everything necessary.'
'To be sure! The son of the chief priest, Father Kirill, is a clerk in the law-court,' said the old lady. Tchitchikov asked her to write a letter of authorisation to him, and, to save unnecessary trouble, undertook to compose it himself.
'It would be a good thing,' the old lady was thinking to herself meanwhile, 'if he would take my flour and cattle for the government. I must soften his heart: there is some dough left from yesterday evening, so I'll go and tell Fetinya to make some pancakes; it would be a good thing to make an egg turnover too. They make turnovers capitally and it doesn't take long to do.'
The old woman departed to carry out her idea about the turnovers, and probably to complete it with other masterpieces of domestic baking and cookery; while Tchitchikov went into the drawing-room in which he had spent the night, in order to get the necessary papers out of his case. The drawing-room had been swept and dusted long before, the luxurious feather bed had been carried away, before the sofa stood a table laid for a meal. Putting his case upon it he paused for a little while, for he felt that he was wet with perspiration as though he were in a river: everything he had on from his shirt to his stockings was soaked.
'Ugh! how she has wearied me, the confounded old woman!' he said, resting for a little before he opened the case. The author is persuaded that there are readers so inquisitive as to be desirous of knowing the plan and internal arrangement of the case. By all means, why not satisfy them? This was the internal arrangement: in the very middle was a box for soap; above the soap-box six or seven narrow divisions for razors; then square places for a sand-box and an inkpot, with a little boat hollowed out between them for pens, sealing-wax, and things that were rather longer; then various divisions with covers and without covers for things that were shorter, full of visiting cards, funeral cards, theatre tickets, and other things kept as souvenirs. All the upper tray with its little divisions lifted out, and under it there was a space filled with packets of sheets of paper; then followed a little secret drawer for money, which came out from the side of the case. It always came out so quickly and was moved back at the same minute by Tchitchikov, so that one could not tell for certain how much money there was in it. He set to work at once, and mending a pen began to write. At that moment the old lady came in.
'You have a nice box there,' said she, sitting down beside him, 'I'll be bound you bought it in Moscow?'
'Yes, in Moscow,' said Tchitchikov, going on writing.
'I knew it; the work there is always good. The year before last my sister brought me little warm boots for the children from there: such good material, it has lasted till now. Oh la! what a lot of stamped paper you have in it!' she went on, peeping into the case. And there certainly was a good deal of stamped paper in it. 'You might make me a present of a sheet or two! I am so badly off for it; if I want to send in a petition to the court I have nothing to write it on.'
Tchitchikov explained to her that the paper was not the right sort for that, that it was meant for drawing up deeds of purchase and not for petitions. To satisfy her, however, he gave her a sheet worth a rouble. After writing the letter he gave it to her to sign and asked her for a little list of the peasants. It appeared that the old lady kept no lists or records, but knew them all by heart. He made her dictate their names to him. He was astonished at some of the peasants' surnames and still more at their nicknames, so much so that he paused on hearing them before beginning to write. He was particularly struck by one Pyotr Savelyev Ne-uvazhay-Koryto (Never mind the Trough), so that he could not help saying: 'What a long name.' Another had attached to his name Korovy-Kirpitch (Cow's Brick), another simply appeared as Ivan Koleso (Wheel). When he had finished writing he drew in the air through his nose and sniffed a seductive fragrance of something fried in butter.
'Pray come and have lunch,' said the old lady. Tchitchikov looked round and saw that the table was already spread with mushrooms, pies, fritters, cheesecakes, doughnuts, pancakes, open tarts with all sorts of different fillings, some with onions, some with poppy seeds, some with curds, and some with fish, and there is no knowing what else.
'Some egg pie?' said his hostess.
Tchitchikov drew up to the pie and, after consuming a little more than half of it on the spot, praised it. And the pie was indeed savoury, and after all his worry with the old lady seemed still more so.
'Some pancakes?' said his hostess.
In reply to this Tchitchikov folded three pancakes together and, moistening them in melted butter, directed them towards his mouth and then wiped his lips and hands with a table napkin. After repeating this operation three times, he asked his hostess to order the chaise to be brought round. Nastasya Petrovna at once despatched Fetinya, bidding her at the same time to bring in some more pancakes.
'Your pancakes are very nice, ma'am,' said Tchitchikov, attacking the hot ones as they were brought in.
'Yes, they fry them very nicely,' said the old lady, 'but the worst of it is that the harvest is poor and the flour is so unprofitable. … But why are you in such a hurry?' she said, seeing that Tchitchikov was taking up his cap. 'Why, the horses are not in yet.'
'They soon will be, ma'am, my servants don't take long to get ready.'
'Well, then, please don't forget about the government contracts.'
'I won't forget, I won't forget,' said Tchitchikov, going out into the passage.
'And won't you buy salt pork?' said the old lady, following him.
'Why not? I'll certainly buy it, only later.'
'I shall have salt pork by Easter.'
'We'll buy it, we'll buy everything, we'll buy salt pork too.'
'Perhaps you'll be wanting feathers. I shall have feathers too, by St. Philip's fast.'
'Very good, very good,' said Tchitchikov.
'There you see, my good sir, your chaise isn't ready yet,' said his hostess when they had gone out on to the steps.
'It will be, it will be directly. Only tell me how to reach the high-road.'
'How am I to do that?' said the old lady. 'It is hard to explain, there are so many turnings; perhaps I had better let you have a girl to show you the way. You have room, I daresay, on the box.'
'To be sure we have.'
'Very well, I'll let you have a little girl, she knows the way; only mind you don't carry her off, some merchants have carried off one of mine already.'
Tchitchikov assured her that he would not carry off the girl, and Madame Korobotchka, reassured, began scanning everything that was going on in her yard. She stared at the housekeeper who was bringing a wooden tub of honey out of the storeroom, at a peasant who appeared at the gate, and, little by little, was completely re-absorbed in the life of her farm. But why spend so long over Madame Korobotchka? Enough of Madame Korobotchka and Madame Manilov, of their well-ordered or ill-ordered lives! Or—as it is so strangely ordained in this world—what is amusing will turn into being gloomy, if you stand too long before it, and then God knows what ideas may not stray into the mind. Perhaps one may even begin thinking: 'But, after all, is Madame Korobotchka so low down on the endless ladder of human perfectibility?' Is there really such a vast chasm separating her from her sister, who, inaccessibly immured within the walls of her aristocratic house with its perfumed cast-iron staircases, its shining copper fittings, its mahogany and carpets, yawns over her unfinished book while she waits to pay her visits in witty fashionable society. There she has a field in which to display her intelligence and express the views she has learnt by heart—not ideas of her own, about her household and her estate, both neglected and in disorder, thanks to her ignorance of housekeeping and farming—but those opinions that by fashion's decree interest the town for a whole week, ideas about the political revolution brewing in France and the tendencies of fashionable Catholicism. But enough, enough! Why talk of this? Why is it that even in moments of unthinking careless gaiety a different and strange mood suddenly comes upon one? The smile has scarcely faded from the lips when, even among the same people, one is suddenly another man and already the face shines with a different light.
'Here is the chaise! Here is the chaise!' cried Tchitchikov, seeing his chaise drive up at last. 'Why have you been dawdling about so long, stupid? I suppose the drink you had yesterday has not quite gone off?'
Selifan made no answer to this.
'Good-bye, ma'am! But, I say, where is your little girl?'
'Hey, Pelageya!' said the old lady to a girl of eleven who stood near the steps in a frock of home-dyed linen, with bare legs so coated with fresh mud that at a little distance they might have been taken for boots. 'Show the gentleman the way.'
Selifan gave a hand to the girl who, putting her foot on to the carriage step and covering it with mud, clambered up and sat down on the box beside him. Tchitchikov put his foot on the step after her and tilting the chaise down on the right side, for he was no light weight, settled himself in at last, saying, 'We are all right now! Good-bye, ma'am!'
The horses set off.
Selifan was sullen all the way and at the same time very attentive to his driving, as he always was whenever he had been drunk or to blame in any way. The horses had been marvellously groomed. The collar on one of them, which had almost always hitherto been put on with a rent in it, so that the stuffing peeped out under the leather, had been skilfully repaired. All the way he was silent; he merely lashed the horses and did not address any words of admonishment to them, though the dappled-grey was doubtless longing for a sermon, for the reins were always slack and the whip was merely passed over their backs as a matter of form when the garrulous driver was holding forth. On this occasion, however, no sound came from his sullen lips but monotonous and unpleasant exclamations: 'Now then! now! raven! crawling along!' Even the bay and the Assessor were dissatisfied at not once hearing the usual terms of endearment. The dappled-grey felt the lashes on his broad, plump sides extremely disagreeable, 'I say, how he is going it,' he thought to himself, twitching his ears a little. 'He knows right enough where to hit! He doesn't simply switch one on the back, but just picks out the spot that is tenderest; he flicks one on the ear or lashes one under the belly.'
'To the right?' was the curt question Selifan addressed to the girl sitting beside him, as he pointed with his whip towards the rain-darkened road between the fresh bright green fields.
'No, no, I'll show you,' answered the girl.
'Which way?' asked Selifan, when they were getting nearer.
'That way,' answered the girl, pointing with her hand.
'Well, you are a one,' said Selifan. 'Why, that is to the right: she doesn't know her right hand from her left!'
Though it was a very fine day, the ground was so thick with mud that the chaise wheels, flinging it up, were soon thickly coated, and that made the carriage considerably heavier. Moreover, the soil was of exceptionally sticky clay. Owing to these difficulties it was midday before they got on to the high-road. They would have hardly done that without the girl, for the by-roads ran zig-zagging to and fro like crabs when they are shaken out of a sack, and Selifan might well have gone astray through no fault of his own. Soon the girl pointed to a dingy-looking building in the distance, saying: 'Yonder is the high-road!'
'And the house?' asked Selifan.
'It's the tavern,' said the girl.
'Well, now we can get along by ourselves,' said Selifan, 'you can run home.'
He stopped and helped her to get down, muttering through his teeth: 'Oh, you grubby legs!'
Tchitchikov gave her a copper and she sauntered home, highly delighted at having had a ride on the box.