Dead Souls—A Poem/Book One/Chapter X

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Dead Souls—A Poem: Book One, Chapter X
by Nikolai Gogol, translated by Constance Garnett


CHAPTER X

When they met at the house of the police-master, already known to the reader as the father and benefactor of the town, the officials had the opportunity of observing of each other that they had actually grown thin through all these worries and anxieties. And, indeed, the appointment of a new governor-general, and the two documents of so serious a character, and these extraordinary rumours, had, all taken together, left a perceptible imprint on their faces, and the dresscoats of some of them had become noticeably looser. Everything was changed for the worse: the president was thinner, and the inspector of the medical board was thinner, and the prosecutor was thinner, and one Semyon Ivanovitch, who was never called by his surname, and wore on his first finger a ring which he used to show to ladies—even he was thinner. Of course there were some bold spirits, as there always are, who did not lose their presence of mind; but they were not many; in fact the postmaster was the only one. He alone was unchanged in his invariable composure, and always when such things happened was in the habit of saying: 'We know all about you governor-generals! You may be changed three or four times over, but I have been for thirty years in the same place, my good sir.' To this the other officials usually answered: 'It's all very well for you, Sprechen Sie Deutsch, Ivan Andreitch: the post office is your job—receiving and despatching the mails; the worst you can do is to close the post office an hour too early if you are in a bad temper, or to accept a late letter from some merchant at the wrong hour, or to send off some parcel which ought not to be sent off—any one would be a saint, of course, in your place. But suppose you had the devil at your elbow every day, so that even what you don't want to take he thrusts upon you. You have not much to fear, to be sure; you have only one son; while God has been so bountiful to Praskovya Fyodorovna, my boy, that not a year passes but she presents me with a little Praskovya or a little Petrushka; in our place, you'd sing a different tune, my boy.' So said the officials, but whether it is really possible to resist the devil it is not for the author to decide. In the council assembled on this occasion, there was a conspicuous absence of that essential thing which among the common people is called good sense. We seem somehow not made for representative institutions. In all our assemblies, from the meetings of the peasants up to all kinds of learned and other committees, there is a pretty thorough muddle, unless there is some one at the head who is managing it all. It is hard to say why it is. Apparently the nature of the Russian people is such, that the only successful committees are those formed to arrange entertainments, or dinners, such as clubs, or pleasure gardens in the German style. Yet we are always ready at any minute for anything. We fly like the wind to get up benevolent and philanthropic societies and goodness knows what. The aim may be excellent but nothing ever comes of it. Perhaps it is because we are satisfied at the very beginning and consider everything has already been done. For instance, after organising a society for the benefit of the poor, and subscribing a considerable sum, we immediately spend half of the fund subscribed on giving a dinner to all the worthies of the town in celebration of our laudable enterprise; with what is left of our funds we promptly take a grand house with heating arrangements and porters for the use of the committee; after which five roubles and a half is all that is left for the poor, and over the distribution of that sum, the members of the committee cannot agree, each one urging the claims of some crony of his own. The committee that met on this occasion was of quite another kind: it was formed through urgent necessity. It was not a question of the poor or of outsiders at all: it concerned every official personally: the occasion was a calamity which threatened all alike, and so the meeting should have been more unanimous and more united. But for all that the result was awfully queer. To say nothing of the differences of opinion that crop up at every meeting, an inexplicable indecisiveness was apparent in the views of all present; one said that Tchitchikov was a forger of government notes, and then added, 'Though perhaps he isn't a forger'; another declared that he was an official in the governor-general's office, and at once went on, 'Though the devil only knows, it is not branded on his forehead.' All were opposed to the suggestion that he was a brigand in disguise. They considered that besides his appearance, which was highly respectable, there was nothing in his conversation to suggest a man given to deeds of violence. All at once the postmaster, who had been standing for some minutes lost in meditation, cried out suddenly from some inspiration or from something else: 'Do you know who he is, my friends?' There was something so striking in the voice in which he uttered this, that it made them all cry out with one voice: 'Who?' 'He is no other than Captain Kopeykin, gentlemen!' And when they all instantly asked with one voice, 'Who is Captain Kopeykin?' the postmaster said: 'Why, don't you know who Captain Kopeykin is?'

They all answered that they did not know who Captain Kopeykin was.

'Captain Kopeykin,' said the postmaster, opening his snuff-box only a little way for fear that some of his neighbours should take a pinch with fingers in whose cleanliness he had no confidence—he was, indeed, in the habit of saying, 'We know, my good sir, there is no telling where your fingers have been, and snuff's a thing that must be kept clean,'—'Captain Kopeykin,' he repeated as he took a pinch: 'why you know if I were to tell you, it would make a regular romance after a fashion, very interesting to any author.'

Every one present expressed a desire to hear this story, or as the postmaster expressed it, a regular romance after a fashion, very interesting to any author, and he began as follows:


'After the campaign of 1812, my good sir'—so the postmaster began his story, regardless of the fact that not one but six gentlemen were sitting in the room—'after the campaign of 1812, Captain Kopeykin was sent back with the wounded. A hot-headed fellow, as whimsical as the devil, he had been punished in various ways and been under arrest—there was nothing he had not had a taste of. Whether it was at Krasnoe or at Leipzig I can't say but, can you fancy, he had an arm and a leg blown off. Well, at that time, no arrangements had been made, you know, about the wounded; that—what do you call it?—pension fund for the wounded was only set going, can you fancy, long afterwards. Captain Kopeykin saw that he would have to work, but he only had one arm, you understand, the left. He went home to his father's. His father said, "I can't keep you, I can scarcely," only fancy, "get a crust of bread for myself." So my Captain Kopeykin made up his mind to go to Petersburg, my good sir, to see whether he could get help from the authorities, to put it to them, in a manner of speaking, that he had sacrificed his life and shed his blood. … Well, in one way or another, on a train of wagons, you know, or on the government vans, he got at last to Petersburg, my good sir. Well, can you fancy, here what do you call him, I mean, Captain Kopeykin, found himself in the capital, the like of which, in a manner of speaking, there is not in the world! All at once a world, in a manner of speaking, lies before him, a certain plane of life, a fairy tale of Scheherazade, you understand. All at once, can you fancy, the Nevsky Prospect or Gorohovaya, dash it all, or Liteiny; there is a spire of some sort in the air; the bridges hang there like the devil, only fancy, without any support, that is, in short, a Semiramis, sir, and that's the only word for it! He made some attempts to get lodgings, only it was all terribly dear: curtains, blinds, all sorts of devilry, you understand, carpets—Persia, sir, in short … in a manner of speaking, you trample fortunes under foot. You walk along the street and your very nose can sniff the thousands: and all my Captain Kopeykin's banking account consisted of some fifty roubles and some small silver. … Well, you can't buy an estate with that, you know, you might buy one perhaps, if you added forty thousand to it, but you would have to borrow the forty thousand from the King of France; well, he found a refuge in a tavern for a rouble a day; dinner—cabbage soup, a piece of beef-steak … he sees it won't do to stay there long. He makes inquiries where he is to apply? "Where are you to apply?" they say, "the higher authorities are not in Petersburg yet." They were all in Paris, you understand, the troops had not come back yet. "But there is a temporary committee," they tell him. "You had better try there, maybe they can do something." "I'll go to the committee," says Kopeykin. "I'll say that I have, in a manner of speaking, shed my blood, that in a sense I have sacrificed my life." So, sir, getting up early he combed his beard with his left hand, for to pay a barber would be in a certain sense to run up a bill, he pulled on his shabby uniform and stumped off, only fancy, on his wooden leg to the chief of the committee. He inquired where the chief lives. "Over yonder," they tell him, "a house on the embankment": a poor hovel, you understand, glass panes in the windows, only fancy, mirrors ten feet across, marbles, footmen, my good sir, in fact, enough to turn you giddy. A metal handle on the door—a luxury of the highest class so that one would have to run to the shop, you know, and buy a ha'porth of soap and scrub away at one's hands for a couple of hours in a manner of speaking, and then perhaps one might venture to take hold of the handle. A porter at the door, you understand, with a stick in his hand, a face like a count's, a cambric collar, like some fat, overfed pug dog. … My Kopeykin dragged himself somehow on his wooden leg to the reception room, squeezed himself into a corner for fear he might jerk his elbow against some American or Indian, only fancy, gilt china vase of some sort. Well, I need hardly say he had to wait till he had had enough, for he arrived at the hour when the chief was, in a manner of speaking, just getting out of bed, and his valet had just brought him a silver basin for washing and all that, don't you know. My Kopeykin waits for four hours, and then the clerk on duty comes in and says: "The director will be here directly." And the room was full up by then with epaulettes and shoulder knots, as many people as beans on a plate. At last, my good sir, the director comes in. Well … Can you imagine … the director! In his face, so to say … well in keeping, you understand, … with his position and his rank … such an expression, you know. He had a tip-top manner in every way; he goes up first to one and then to another: "What have you come about? What do you want? What is your business?" At last, my good sir, he goes up to Kopeykin. Kopeykin says one thing and another. "I have shed my blood, I have lost my arms and legs, I can't work—I make bold to ask, will there not be some assistance, some sort of an arrangement in regard to compensation, so to speak, a pension or something," you understand. The director sees that the man has got a wooden leg and that his right sleeve is empty and pinned to his uniform. "Very good," he says, "come again in a day or two." My Kopeykin is highly delighted. "Come," he thinks, "the matter's settled." He hops along the pavement in such spirits as you can fancy, goes into the Palkinsky restaurant, drinks a glass of vodka, dines, my good sir, at the London restaurant, orders cutlets with caper sauce, a chicken with all sorts of trimmings, asks for a bottle of wine, and in the evening goes to the theatre—in fact he has a jolly good time, so to say. In the street he sees a graceful English girl, floating along like a swan, only fancy. My Kopeykin—his blood was a little heated, you understand—was just about to run after her on his wooden leg, tap, tap along the pavement. "But no," he thought, "to the devil with dangling after ladies for the time being! Better later on, when I get my pension. I have let myself go a little too much as it is." And meanwhile he had spent almost half his money in one day, I beg you to observe. Three or four days later he goes to the committee to see the director. "I have come," he said, "to hear what you have for me, owing to the illnesses and wounds I have sustained … I have in a sense shed my blood …" and that sort of thing, you understand, in the language suitable. "Well," said the director, "I must tell you first of all that we can do nothing in your case without instructions from the higher command. You see yourself the position. Military operations are in a manner of speaking, not completely over yet. You must wait till the minister arrives, you must have patience. Then you may be sure you won't be overlooked. And if you have nothing to live upon, here," he said, "here is something to help you …" And what he gave him, you understand, was not very much, though with prudence it might have lasted till further instructions came. But that was not what my Kopeykin wanted. He had been reckoning on their paying him a thousand roubles down or something of the sort, with "There you are, my dear boy, drink and make merry," and instead of that, "You can wait," and no date fixed either. And already, you know, he had visions of the English girl and little suppers and cutlets. So he went down the steps as glum as an owl, looking like a poodle that has been drenched with water, with its ears drooping and its tail between its legs. Life in Petersburg had already got a hold on him, he had had some taste of it already. And now there was no knowing how he was to live, and he had no hope of any luxuries, you understand. And you know he was full of life and health and he had the appetite of a wolf. He passes some restaurant; and the cook there, only fancy, a Frenchman of some sort with an open countenance, with a linen shirt, an apron as white, in a manner of speaking, as snow, is making fines-herbes or cutlets with truffles, in fact all sorts of such delicacies that it would give one appetite enough to eat oneself. He passes Milyutinsky's shop, there is a salmon looking out of window, in a manner of speaking, cherries at five roubles the measure. A huge water-melon as big as an omnibus peeps out of window and seems to be looking for some one fool enough to pay a hundred roubles for it—in short, there is temptation at every step, his mouth watering, so to speak, and he must wait. So imagine his position: here on one side, so to say, there is salmon and water-melon, while on the other side they present him with the bitter dish called "to-morrow." "Well," he thinks, "they can do as they like, but I will go," he says, "and rouse all the committee, every one in authority. I shall say, 'do as you like.'" And he certainly was a persistent, impudent fellow, no sense in his head, you understand, but plenty of bounce. He goes to the committee: "Well, what is it?" they say. "Why are you back again? You have been told already." "I can't scrape along anyhow," he says. "I want to eat a cutlet, have a bottle of French wine, enjoy myself in the theatre too, you understand. …" "Well, you must excuse me," said the director. "For all that you must, in a manner of speaking, have patience. You have been given something to keep you for the time, till instructions arrive, and no doubt you will be properly pensioned, for it has never happened yet that among us in Russia a man who has, in a manner of speaking, deserved well of his country should be left without recognition. But if you want to pamper yourself with cutlets and the theatre, then you must excuse me. In that case, you must find the means and do what you can for yourself." But my Kopeykin, can you fancy, did not turn a hair. Those words bounced off him like peas against a wall. He made such an uproar, he did let them have it! He began going for them all and swearing at them, all of them, the head clerks and the secretaries. "You are this," he said, "you are that," he said, "you don't know your duties," he said. He gave them all a dressing. A general turned up, you know, from quite a different department; he went for him too, my good sir! He made such a row. What's to be done with a beggar like that? The director sees that they must have recourse, so to say, to stern measures. "Very good," he says, "if you won't be satisfied with what is given you, and wait quietly, in a manner of speaking, here in the capital for your case to be settled, I will find a lodging for you elsewhere. Call the attendant," he said, "take him to a place of detention!" And the attendant was there already, you understand, at the door, a man seven feet high, with a great fist made by nature for a driver, only fancy, a regular dentist, in fact. … So they put him, the servant of God, into a cart, with the attendant. "Well," thinks Kopeykin, "I shan't have to pay my fare, anyway, that is something to be thankful for." He goes in the cart, and as he goes he thinks: "Very good," he thinks, "you told me I must find means for myself; very good, I will find them!" Well, how they took him to his destination and where he was taken, no one knows. All traces of Captain Kopeykin were lost, you understand, in the waters of oblivion, in Lethe, or whatever the poets call it. But here, gentlemen, allow me to point out, begins the gist of the story. What became of Kopeykin no one knows, but before two months had passed, would you believe it, a band of robbers made their appearance in the forests of Ryazan and the chief of that band, my good sir, was no other than …'

'But excuse me, Ivan Andreyevitch,' said the police-master, suddenly interrupting him. 'Why, you said yourself that Captain Kopeykin lost an arm and a leg, while Tchitchikov has …'

The postmaster cried out, slapped himself on the forehead and called himself a calf publicly before them all. He could not understand how the circumstance had not occurred to him at the beginning of the story, and confessed that the saying, 'The Russian is wise after the event,' was perfectly true. A minute later, however, he began to be ingenious and tried to wriggle out of it, saying that mechanical limbs had been brought to a wonderful perfection in England, that it seemed from the papers that a man had invented artificial legs, that by merely touching an unseen spring would carry a man goodness knows where, so that he could never be found again.

But every one was extremely doubtful whether Tchitchikov really was Captain Kopeykin, and thought the postmaster was a little wide of the mark. However, they would not own themselves beaten either, and inspired by the postmaster's clever suggestion, made others that were almost more far-fetched. Among a number of sagacious theories there was one, strange to say, that Tchitchikov might be Napoleon in disguise, that the English had long been envious of the greatness and vast expanse of Russia—there had actually been on several occasions cartoons in which a Russian was represented talking to an Englishman, the Englishman was holding a dog on a cord behind him, and the dog of course stood for Napoleon: 'Mind,' he was saying, 'if there is anything I don't like I will let the dog off.' And now perhaps they really had let him out from the island of St. Helena, and now here he was wandering about Russia got up as Tchitchikov, though he was really not Tchitchikov at all.

Of course the officials did not fully believe this, but they grew very thoughtful, and each separately thinking the matter over, decided that Tchitchikov, if he were turned round and looked at sideways, was very much like the portraits of Napoleon. The police-master, who had served in the campaign of 1812 and had seen Napoleon in person, could not but admit that he was no taller than Tchitchikov, and that in figure Napoleon could not be said to be too stout, though on the other hand he was far from thin. Perhaps some of my readers will call this improbable; the author is quite prepared to oblige them by confessing that it is most improbable; but unfortunately it all happened precisely as described, and what makes it the more astonishing is that the town was not far away in the wilds, but, on the contrary, no great distance from both capitals. But it must be remembered that all this happened very shortly after the glorious expulsion of the French. At that period all our landowners, officials and merchants and shopmen and every one that could read and write, and even illiterate peasants, became at least for eight years inveterate politicians. The Moscow News and the Son of the Fatherland were read with merciless zeal, and reached the last reader in tatters quite useless for any purpose whatever. Instead of such questions as: 'At what price were they selling the measure of oats, sir?' 'Did you get any fun out of the snow we had yesterday?' they used to ask: 'What news is there in the paper? Haven't they let Napoleon out of the Island again?' The merchants were in the greatest apprehension of this, for they put implicit faith in the predictions of a prophet who had been for three years in prison. No one knew where the prophet came from, he made his appearance wearing bark shoes, and an unlined sheepskin and smelling terribly of stale fish, and announced that Napoleon was Antichrist, and was bound by a stone chain behind six walls and seven seas, but later on would break his chain and gain possession of the whole world. The prophet was very properly put into prison for his predictions, but nevertheless he had done his work and completely confounded the merchants. Long afterwards, even at a time of most profitable transactions, the merchants talked of Antichrist when they went to the tavern to drink their tea. Many of the official class and of the gentry could not help thinking about it too, and infected by the mysticism which was, as is well known, all the fashion then, saw in every letter of the name Napoleon some peculiar significance, some even discovered Apocalyptic numbers in it. And so there is nothing surprising in the fact that the officials unconsciously thought on the same lines; but they soon pulled themselves together, realising that their imaginations were running away with them, and that all this was nonsense. They pondered and pondered and discussed and discussed and at last decided that it would not be amiss to question Nozdryov thoroughly again. Since he was the first to tell the story of the dead souls and was, so it was said, on very intimate terms with Tchitchikov, and therefore would undoubtedly know something about the circumstances of his life, it was decided to try again what Nozdryov could tell them.

Strange people were these official gentlemen, and so indeed are the gentlemen of all other callings too: they knew perfectly well that Nozdryov was a liar, that one could not believe a word he said, even about the merest trifle, and yet they had recourse to him! Explain man if you can! He doesn't believe in God but he believes that if the bridge of his nose is scratched he will die; he passes by the work of a poet clear as daylight, all bathed in harmony and the sublime wisdom of simplicity, and pounces eagerly on the work of some audacious fellow who muddles, twists, and distorts nature, and he is delighted with it and cries: 'This is it, here is real comprehension of the mysteries of the heart!' All his life he has despised doctors and ends by consulting some peasant woman who cures him by muttering spells and using spittle, or better still invents for himself some decoction of goodness knows what rubbish, which he regards as a remedy for his complaints, God knows why. Of course the officials may be to some extent excused by the really difficult position in which they were placed. A drowning man will catch even at a straw, they say, and he has not the sense at the moment to reflect that a fly could scarcely save itself on a straw, while he weighs eleven if not twelve stone; but that consideration does not occur to him at that moment, and he clutches at the straw. So our friends clutched at Nozdryov. The police-master immediately wrote a note to him, inviting him to an evening-party. And a policeman in big boots, with engagingly rosy cheeks, ran off instantly, with his hand upon his sword, to Nozdryov's rooms. Nozdryov was engaged upon something very important; it was four whole days since he had kept his room, admitting no one, and having his food passed in at his window, in fact he had actually grown thin and sallow. It was a business that called for the closest attention; it consisted of making up out of several hundreds of cards a complete suit of the most recognisable, upon which he could rely as upon a faithful friend. He had at least another fortnight's work before him. All this time, Porfiry had to brush a mastiff puppy with a special brush and to wash it with soap three times a day. Nozdryov was very angry at his solitude being broken in upon; first of all, he sent the policeman to the devil, but when he read in the letter that he might reckon on winning something, as a novice at cards was expected at the party, he immediately locked the door of his room, dressed himself after a fashion and set off. Nozdryov's statements, his evidence and his suppositions were so completely the opposite of those of the officials that every theory they had was confounded. He was a man for whom doubt did not exist, and there was as much decision and certainty about his suppositions as there was hesitation and timidity about theirs. He answered every question without faltering: he declared Tchitchikov had bought thousands of roubles' worth of dead souls, and that he, Nozdryov, had sold them, because he did not see any reason why he shouldn't. To the question whether he was a spy and whether he was trying to find out something, Nozdryov answered that he was a spy; that even at school, where Nozdryov was with him, they used to call him a tell-tale, and that his schoolfellows, among them Nozdryov himself, had knocked him about for it so much that he had had to have two hundred and forty leeches put on his temples, that is, he meant to say forty but two hundred had somehow got said of itself. To the question whether he was a forger of counterfeit notes Nozdryov answered that he was, and thereupon told an anecdote of Tchitchikov's extraordinary dexterity; how it was found out that there were in his house counterfeit notes for two million roubles, a seal was put on the house, and two soldiers were set to keep guard at every door, and how Tchitchikov changed all the notes in a single night so that when the seal was taken off next day, the notes were found to be all genuine. To the question whether Tchitchikov were designing to elope with the governor's daughter, and whether it were true that he had himself undertaken to assist him and to take part in arranging it, Nozdryov answered that he had helped him and that nothing would have come off without him. Here he pulled himself up, realising that he had told quite an unnecessary lie and might get himself into trouble, but his tongue ran away with him. And it was particularly difficult to restrain it, for so many interesting details which he could not possibly sacrifice rose before his imagination. For instance, the very village in the parish church of which it was arranged that the wedding should take place was mentioned by name as Truhmatchevka, the priest, Father Sidor, was to be paid seventy-five roubles for the wedding, and he would not have agreed to do it even for that if Nozdryov had not scared him, threatening to inform the police that he had illegally married a corn-dealer called Mihail, to a girl who had stood godmother to a child of which the latter was the godfather; that he had offered the use of his carriage and had bespoken relays of horses at the posting stations. He went so far into details as even to mention the names of the drivers.

They tried dropping a hint about Napoleon, but regretted doing so afterwards, for Nozdryov went off into a rigmarole which not only had no semblance of truth, but had actually no semblance of anything whatever, so much so that the officials all walked away with a sigh; only the police-master went on listening to him, thinking that something might crop up later, but at last he too made a gesture of despair, saying: 'What the devil is one to make of it!' And all agreed that, 'do what you will with a bull you can never get milk out of him,' and the officials found themselves in a worse position than before, and the upshot of it was that they could not possibly find out who Tchitchikov was. And what followed showed distinctly what a strange sort of a creature man is: he is wise, clever, sensible in everything that concerns other people but not in what concerns himself. How well he is provided with resolute and prudent counsels in the difficult crises of life! 'How quick and resourceful a brain!' cries the crowd, 'what a resolute character!' But let some misfortune befall that quick and resourceful man, let him be put in a difficult position himself, and what becomes of his character! The resolute man is utterly distracted, and turns into a pitiful coward, a weak insignificant baby or simply a muff, as Nozdryov called it.

All these discussions, opinions and rumours for some unaccountable reason affected the poor prosecutor more than any one. They had such an effect upon him that on reaching home he fell to brooding, and suddenly, for no rhyme or reason as the saying is, died. Whether it was a paralytic stroke or some other attack, anyway, while he was sitting at the table he flopped forward on his face. As is usual on such occasions, people cried out, 'Good God!' and flinging up their hands, sent for the doctor to bleed him, but saw that the prosecutor was a soulless corpse. It was only then they recognised with regret that he really had a soul, though he had always been too modest to show it. And meanwhile death was as terrible in a small man as in a great one: a man who had only lately been walking about, moving, playing whist, and signing various papers, and who had been so often seen among the other officials with his thick eyebrows and his winking eye, was now lying on the table; his left eye did not wink now at all, but one eyebrow was still raised with a questioning expression. What the dead man was inquiring about, why he died or why he had lived—God only knows.

'But this is absurd though! It's out of the question! It's impossible that officials could scare themselves so, could make up such nonsense, could stray so far from the truth when a child could have seen through it!' Many readers will say this, and will blame the author for improbability, or will call the poor officials fools, for man is lavish in the use of the word fool, and is ready to apply it to his neighbour twenty times a day. It is quite enough if out of ten points in his character he has one stupid one, for him to be set down as a fool in spite of his nine good points. It is easy for readers to criticise, looking down from their comfortable niche on the heights from which the whole horizon lies open, at all that is taking place below, where man can only see the object nearest to him. And in the history of humanity there are many whole centuries which he would, I fancy, strike out and suppress as unnecessary. Many mistakes have been made in the world which now one would hardly think a child could make. How many crooked, narrow, impassable blind alleys, leading far off the track, has mankind chosen in the effort to reach the eternal verity, while before him the straight road lay open like the road that leads to a magnificent mansion destined to be a royal palace! It is broader and more splendid than all the other paths, with the sun lighting it up by day and many lights by night. But men have streamed past it in blind darkness. And how many times even when guided by understanding that has been given them from heaven, they have managed even then to halt and go astray, have managed in the light of day to get into the impassable jungle, have managed to throw a blinding fog again over one another's eyes, and lured by will-of-the-wisps have succeeded in reaching the brink of the abyss, only to ask one another with horror: 'Where is the way out? Where is the road?' The present generation sees everything clearly, marvels at the errors and laughs at the follies of its forefathers, not seeing that there are streaks of heavenly light in that history, that every letter in it cries aloud to them, that on all sides a pointing finger is turned upon it, upon the present generation. But the present generation laughs and proudly, self-confidently, enters upon a series of fresh errors at which their descendants will laugh again in their turn.

Tchitchikov knew absolutely nothing of all this. As ill luck would have it, he had taken a slight chill and had a swollen face and a slight sore throat, in the distribution of which the climate of our provincial towns is extremely liberal. That his life might not—God forbid—be cut short without leaving descendants he thought it better to keep to his bed for three or four days. During those days he was continually gargling with a decoction of milk and figs which he afterwards ate, and bound a bag filled with camomile and camphor on his cheek. To occupy his time he made some new and detailed lists of all the peasants he had bought, read a volume of the Duchesse de la Vallière, which he dug out of his trunk, looked through many notes and other objects in his chest, read something over a second time, and all this bored him horribly. He could not make out how it was that none of the officials of the town had been to inquire after him, though a little while before there had always been a chaise standing before the hotel door—either the postmaster's, the prosecutor's or the president's. But he only shrugged his shoulders as he walked up and down the room. At last he felt better and was highly delighted when he saw that he could go out in the open air. Without delay he set to work to get ready, opened his case, poured some hot water into a glass, took out his shaving brush and his soap, and proceeded to shave, and indeed it was high time he did, for feeling his chin with his hand and looking into the glass he exclaimed: 'Ough, what a forest!' And indeed though it was not a forest there was a very thick growth over his cheeks and under his chin. When he had shaved he began to dress rapidly, so much so that he almost jumped out of his trousers. At last he was dressed, sprinkled with eau-de-Cologne and, warmly wrapped up, made his way down into the street, keeping his cheek bandaged as a precaution. Going out was for him, as for every convalescent, like a holiday. Everything that caught his eye looked smiling,—the houses, and some passing peasants who however did in reality look glum, and one of whom had just boxed his brother's ears. He meant to pay his first visit to the governor. All sorts of ideas came into his mind on the road: the fair daughter was continually in his thoughts, and he indulged in flights of fancy, till at last he began to mock and laugh at himself. In such a frame of mind he reached the governor's door. He was on the point of hurriedly flinging off his overcoat in the entrance hall, when the hall porter astonished him by the utterly unexpected words: 'I've orders not to admit you!'

'What! what do you mean! I suppose you don't know me? You should look at one more carefully!' Tchitchikov said to him.

'Not know you indeed, it is not the first time I have seen you,' said the porter. 'Why it is just you I've orders not to let in, I may admit any one else.'

'Well, upon my soul! Why? What for?'

'That's my orders; so I suppose that's right,' said the hall porter, and added the word, 'Yes,' after which he stood facing him in the most free and easy attitude, completely dropping the ingratiating air with which on other occasions he had hastened to help him off with his coat. He seemed as he looked at him to think, 'Aha, since their Excellencies kick you out of the door you must be a low rascal!'

'How inexplicable!' Tchitchikov thought to himself, and he set off at once to call upon the president of the court of justice, but the president was so overwhelmed with confusion on seeing him that he could not utter anything coherent, and talked such utter twaddle that they were both abashed. On leaving him Tchitchikov did his very utmost to understand what the president had meant and what his words could refer to, yet he could make nothing out of them. Then he went on to the others: to the police-master, to the deputy-governor, to the postmaster, but either they were not at home to him, or they received him so strangely, made such constrained and unaccountable observations, were so disconcerted, and the general effect of irrational incoherence was such that he began to have doubts of their sanity. He tried going on to some one else in the hope of finding out the reason anyway, but he could not get at the reason. Like a man half awake he wandered aimlessly about the town, unable to decide whether he had gone out of his mind or the officials had gone out of theirs, or whether it was all a dream or whether it was a reality more absurd than any dream. It was late, almost getting dusk when at last he went back to his hotel which he had left that morning in such a pleasant state of mind, and feeling dull, he ordered tea to be sent up. Musing and absent-mindedly brooding over the strangeness of his position, he began to pour out his tea when suddenly the door of his room was opened and Nozdryov most unexpectedly stood before him.

'As the proverb has it, "to see a friend, five miles is not out of one's way,"' he said, taking off his cap. 'I was passing and saw the light in the window. "There," I thought, "I'll go in, no doubt he is still up." And it is first-rate that you have got tea on the table, I shall enjoy a cup: I ate all sorts of rubbish at dinner to-day, I feel as though there were a riot beginning in my stomach. Tell your man to fill me a pipe! Where is your pipe?'

'I don't smoke a pipe,' said Tchitchikov drily.

'Nonsense, as though I don't know you are a smoker. Hi, what's your fellow's name? Hi, Vahramey, I say.'

'Not Vahramey but Petrushka!'

'How is that? You did have a Vahramey?'

'I never had a man called Vahramey.'

'Oh yes, it is at Derebin's that there is a Vahramey. Only fancy, what luck for Derebin: his aunt has quarrelled with her son because he has married a serf girl, and now she has left him all her property. I thought to myself, if only one could have an aunt like that for the sake of the future! But how is it, old man, you have kept away from all of us and have not been near any one? Of course I know you are sometimes engaged in abstruse studies, you are fond of reading' (on what ground Nozdryov believed that Tchitchikov was engaged in abstruse subjects and was fond of reading we must own we cannot tell, and still less could Tchitchikov). 'Ah, Tchitchikov, old man, if you had only seen … it really would have been a subject for your sarcastic wit' (why Tchitchikov was supposed to have a sarcastic wit is unknown also). 'Only fancy, old boy, we were having a game of cards at the merchant Lihatchev's, and didn't we have fun there too! Perependev who was with me, "If only Tchitchikov were here," said he, "it would be just the thing for him. …" (Tchitchikov had never known any one called Perependev in his life.) 'But you must own up, old boy, you did play me a nasty trick, do you remember, over that game of draughts? I won it, you know. … Yes, old man, you simply did me over that. But there I don't know how the devil it is but I can't be cross. The other day at the president's … Ah, yes, I ought to tell you every one in the town is turned against you. They imagine you forge notes. They kept pestering me about you, I stood up for you like a rock—I told them I had been to school with you and knew your father; and there, there's no denying I pitched them a fine tale.'

'I forge notes!' cried Tchitchikov, getting up from his seat.

'Why did you give them such a fright though?' Nozdryov went on. 'They are terrified out of their wits, the devil knows why: they take you for a brigand and a spy. And the prosecutor has died of fright; the funeral is to-morrow. Won't you be there? To tell the truth they are afraid of the new governor-general, in case there may be some trouble about you. But what I think about the governor-general is, that if he is stuck up and gives himself airs he certainly won't be able to do anything with the nobility. The nobility insist on hospitality, don't they? Of course he can shut himself up in his study if he likes and not give a single ball, but what's the use of that? There is no gaining anything by that. But you know, Tchitchikov, it is a risky business you are going in for.'

'What risky business?' Tchitchikov asked uneasily.

'Why, eloping with the governor's daughter. I must own I expected it, I did, upon my soul. The first time I saw you together at the ball I thought to myself: "I'll be bound Tchitchikov is up to something. …" But you have made a poor choice, I see nothing in her. Now there is one, a relation of Bikusov's, his sister's daughter—that is something like a girl! a wonderful little bit of goods!'

'What do you mean? what are you talking about? Elope with the governor's daughter? What do you mean?' said Tchitchikov, with his eyes starting out of his head.

'Oh, drop that, old boy, you are a close one. I'll own I came to you to tell you I am ready to help you. So be it: I'll hold the wedding crown over your head, I'll provide the carriage and the changes of horses, only on one condition: you must lend me three thousand roubles. I must have it if I die for it.'

While Nozdryov was rattling on, Tchitchikov several times rubbed his eyes to make sure that he was not hearing all this in a dream. The charge of forging counterfeit notes, the elopement with the governor's daughter, the death of the prosecutor, of which Tchitchikov was supposed to be the cause, the arrival of the new governor-general—all this excited considerable alarm.

'Well, if it has come to this,' he thought to himself, 'it's no good lingering on here, I must make haste and get away.'

He tried to get rid of Nozdryov as quickly as he could, at once sent for Selifan and told him to be ready at daybreak, so that they could leave the town at six o'clock next morning without fail, to look over everything, see that the carriage was greased and so on, and so on. Selifan articulated, 'Yes, Pavel Ivanovitch,' but remained for some minutes standing motionless at the door. Our hero bade Petrushka pull the portmanteau, by now thickly covered with dust, from under the bed and began packing indiscriminately stockings, shirts, underlinen washed and unwashed, boot trees, a calendar. … All this was packed anyhow: he wanted to make sure of being ready so that nothing could happen to detain him in the morning. Selifan after standing for two minutes at the door went slowly away. He went slowly, as slowly as possible downstairs, leaving traces of his wet boots on the steps worn hollow by long use, and he stood for a long time scratching the back of his head. What did that scratching signify? and what does it indicate as a rule? Was it vexation at missing the meeting planned for the next day in some imperial tavern with a fellow-coachman, clad in an unattractive sheepskin with a sash tied round the waist, or had some little affair of the heart developed in this new place, and had he to give up standing in the evenings at the gate and diplomatically holding white hands at the hour when twilight drops upon the town, when a lad in a red shirt twangs on the balalaika before the assembled house-serfs, and working people of all sorts after their toil exchange quiet talk? Or was he simply sorry to leave the snug place he had made for himself under a sheepskin by the stove in the servants' kitchen, and the cabbage soup with the tender little town-made pies, to go dragging again through the rain and the sleet and all the hardships of the road? God knows,—there is no guessing. Scratching the head signifies all manner of things among the Russian people.