Dead Souls—A Poem/Book Two/Chapter III
'No,' thought Tchitchikov, when he found himself once more in the midst of fields and open country, 'as soon as I get it all done satisfactorily and really become a man of means and property, I shall not manage things like that. I will have a good cook and a house well provided in every way, but it shall all be managed properly too. I shall make both ends meet and little by little I shall lay by a sum for my children if only, please God, my wife brings me offspring. … Hey, you great stupid!'
Selifan and Petrushka both looked round from the box.
'Where are you driving to?'
'Why, as you were pleased to tell us yourself, Pavel Ivanovitch—to Colonel Koshkaryov's,' said Selifan.
'And did you inquire the way?'
'Why, Pavel Ivanovitch, as your honour can see for yourself, since I was busy looking after the carriage all the while, well … I saw nothing but the general's stable, but Petrushka inquired of the coachman.'
'Well, you are a fool! You have been told not to rely upon Petrushka: Petrushka's a blockhead.'
'There is nothing very difficult about it,' said Petrushka, with a sidelong glance at him, 'excepting when we go down hill, we are to keep straight on, there was nothing more at all.'
'And excepting brandy I'll be bound you have not put a drop to your lips. And you are drunk now, I shouldn't wonder.'
Seeing the turn the conversation was taking, Petrushka simply wrinkled up his nose. He was on the point of saying that he had never touched it, but he felt somehow ashamed to say so.
'It's pleasant driving in the carriage,' said Selifan, turning round.
'I say, Pavel Ivanovitch, it is pleasant for your honour driving in the carriage, it's better than the chaise, it's not so jolting.'
'Get on, get on, nobodv asked you about that.'
Selifan switched the horses' sides and addressed his remarks to Petrushka: 'Did you hear, they say this gentleman, Koshkaryov, dresses up his peasants like Germans; you wouldn't know what they were at a distance, they strut along like cranes, just as Germans do. And the women don't tie kerchiefs round their heads like a pie or wear a headband, but some sort of German kapor, as German women, you know, go about in kapors. A kapor, that's what it's called, you know, kapor—it's some sort of German thing, you know, a kapor.'
'I should like to see you dressed up like a German and in a kapor!' said Petrushka, by way of a gibe at Selifan, and he grinned. But a queer face he made when he grinned! And there was not the slightest semblance of a grin, he looked like a man who has caught a bad cold and is trying to sneeze but cannot sneeze, and remains with a fixed expression of trying to sneeze.
Tchitchikov looked up into his face from below to see what was going on and said to himself: 'He is a pretty fellow and thinks he is handsome too!' Pavel Ivanovitch, it must be explained, was genuinely convinced that Petrushka was in love with his own looks, though as a matter of fact the latter at times completely forgot that he had a face at all.
'You ought, Pavel Ivanovitch,' said Selifan, turning round from the box, 'to have thought to ask Andrey Ivanovitch to give you another horse in exchange for the dappled grey here; he is so friendly disposed to you he wouldn't have refused you, and this horse is simply a rascally beast, and only a hindrance.'
'Get on, get on, don't chatter,' said Tchitchikov, while he thought to himself, 'Yes, it really is a pity I didn't think of it.'
The lightly moving carriage raced along easily meanwhile. It ran lightly up the hills, though the road was rough in parts, and lightly down hill, though there were steep descents in the cross roads. They were going down hill. The road passed by meadows, across bends of the river, by water-mills. In the distance there were glimpses of sand; one aspen copse stood out picturesquely behind another; close beside them willow bushes, alders and silver poplars flew rapidly by, hitting Selifan and Petrushka in the face with their twigs. They were continually knocking off the latter's cap. The surly servant clambered down from the box, swore at the stupid tree and the man who had planted it, but never thought to tie his cap on or even to keep hold of it, hoping all the while that perhaps it might not happen again. As they went on, the trees were more numerous and closer together. Here there were birch-trees as well as aspens and alders, and soon they were in a regular forest. The sunlight was hidden. There were dark pines and fir-trees. The impenetrable darkness of the boundless forest grew thicker and seemed turning into the blackness of night. And all at once between the trees the light glittered here and there like quicksilver or looking-glass through the trunks and branches. The forest began to grow lighter, the trees were more scattered, they heard shouts and all at once a lake lay before them. There was an expanse of water three miles across, with trees around it and huts behind it. Some twenty men up to their waists, their shoulders, or their throats in the water were dragging a net towards the opposite bank. In the midst of them a man almost as broad as he was long, perfectly round, a regular water-melon, was swimming rapidly, shouting and giving orders to every one. He was so fat that he could not under any circumstances have drowned, and however he had tumbled and turned trying to dive the water would have always borne him on the surface; and if a couple of men had sat on his back he would have remained floating like an obstinate bubble, though he might have snorted a bit and blown bubbles from his mouth and nose.
'Pavel Ivanovitch,' said Selifan, turning round on the box, 'that must be Colonel Koshkaryov.'
'Why do you think so?'
'Because his body's whiter than the others, and he is more corpulent and dignified, like a gentleman.'
The shouts meanwhile were becoming more distinct. The water-melon gentleman was shouting rapidly in a ringing voice:
'Hand it to Kozma, Denis, hand it to him, Kozma, take the tail from Denis. Big Foma, shove there where Little Foma is. Keep to the right, keep to the right. Stay, stay, the devil take you both! You've caught me round the navel. You have tangled me in it, I tell you, confound you, you have caught me in it!'
Those who were dragging on the right side of the net stopped, seeing that an unforeseen accident had occurred: their master was caught in the net.
'I say,' said Selifan to Petrushka, 'they have caught their master like a fish.'
The gentleman floundered about and trying to disentangle himself, turned on his back, belly upwards, and became more entangled than ever. Afraid of breaking the net he swam together with the fish that had been caught, telling them to tie a cord round him. Tying him with the cord they flung the end of it on to the bank. Some twenty fishermen standing on the bank caught hold of the end and began carefully hauling it in. When he reached shallow water the gentleman stood up, covered with the meshes of the net like a lady's hand covered with her openwork summer glove, glanced upwards and caught sight of the visitor driving along the dam in the carriage. Seeing a visitor he nodded to him. Tchitchikov took off his cap and politely bowed from the carriage.
'Have you dined?' shouted the gentleman, scrambling with the fish on to the bank, holding one hand over his eyes to shield them from the sun, the other in the attitude of the Medici Venus stepping out of the bath.
'No,' said Tchitchikov.
'Well, you may thank God then.'
'Oh why?' asked Tchitchikov with curiosity, holding his cap above his head.
'Why, look at this,' said the gentleman, who stood on the bank together with the carp and crucians which were struggling at his feet and leaping up a yard from the ground. 'These are nothing, don't look at these, that is the prize over there, yonder. Show the sturgeon, Big Foma.' Two sturdy peasants pulled a monster out of a tub. 'Isn't he a little prince, we have got him out of the river.'
'Yes, that is a regular prince!' said Tchitchikov.
'To be sure he is. You drive on ahead and I will follow you. Coachman, you take the lower road through the kitchen garden, my man. You run, Little Foma, you booby, and take down the barrier, and I'll be with you in a trice, before you have time to look round.'
'The colonel's a queer fish,' thought Tchitchikov, as after driving across the endless dam he approached the huts, of which some were scattered about the slope of the hillside like a flock of ducks, while others stood below on piles like herons. Creels, nets and fishing tackle were hung about everywhere. Little Foma removed the barrier, the carriage drove through the kitchen garden, and came out into an open space near an ancient wooden church. A little further, beyond the church, the roofs of the manor house and its outbuildings could be seen.
'Well, here I am again,' cried a voice from one side. Tchitchikov looked round and saw that the stout gentleman was already driving in a droshky beside him, clothed—a grass-green nankeen coat, yellow breeches, and a bare neck without a cravat like a Cupid. He was sitting sideways on the droshky, which he completely filled. Tchitchikov was about to say something to him, but the fat man had already vanished. The droshky appeared on the other side and the voice rang out again: 'Take the pike and the seven crucians to my booby the cook, but hand me the sturgeon here; I'll take it myself on the droshky.' Again there were shouts: 'Big Foma and Little Foma, Kozma and Denis!'
When Tchitchikov drove up to the front door, to his intense astonishment the fat gentleman was already on the steps, and received him with open arms. It was inconceivable how he could have managed to fly there in the time. They kissed each other three times, first on one cheek and then on the other.
'I have brought you greetings from his Excellency,' said Tchitchikov.
'From what Excellency?'
'From your kinsman, from the General Alexandr Dimitrievitch.'
'Who is Alexandr Dimitrievitch?'
'General Betrishtchev,' answered Tchitchikov, with some surprise.
'I don't know him, he is a stranger.'
Tchitchikov was still more astonished.
'How's that? I hope anyway I have the pleasure of addressing Colonel Koshkaryov?'
'Pyotr Petrovitch Pyetuh,' the stout gentleman caught him up.
Tchitchikov was dumbfoundered.
'Well, upon my soul! What have you done, you fools?' he said, turning to Selifan, who was sitting on the box and Petrushka, who was standing at the carriage door, both with their mouths wide open and their eyes starting out of their heads with astonishment. 'What have you done, you fools? You were told Colonel Koshkaryov's … and this is Pyotr Petrovitch Pyetuh!'
'The fellows have done splendidly,' said Pyotr Petrovitch. 'I'll give you each a mug of vodka for it and a fish pasty into the bargain. Take out the horses and run along at once to the servants' quarters!'
'I am really ashamed,' said Tchitchikov, bowing. 'Such an unexpected mistake.'
'Not a mistake,' Pyotr Petrovitch Pyetuh declared eagerly, 'it is not a mistake. You try what the dinner's like first and then say whether it is a mistake. Pray come in,' he said, taking Tchitchikov's arm, and leading him into the inner rooms.
Tchitchikov from politeness went in at the door sideways so as to allow the master of the house to pass in with him; but this courtesy was thrown away, the stout gentleman could not have got through the door with him, moreover he had already disappeared, he could only hear his remarks in the yard.
'Why, what's Big Foma about? Why isn't he here yet? Emelyan, you sluggard, run to booby the cook and tell him to make haste and stuff the sturgeon. Put the soft roe and the hard roe, the insides and the bream into the soup, and the crucians into the sauce. And the crayfish, the crayfish! Little Foma, you sluggard, where are the crayfish? The crayfish, I say the crayfish?' And for a long time afterwards he still heard shouts 'Crayfish, crayfish.'
'Well, the master of the house is busy,' said Tchitchikov, sitting down in an easy-chair, and looking round at the walls and corners.
'Here I am again,' said the fat gentleman, coming in and bringing two lads in light summer coats, as slender as willow wands and almost a full yard taller than Pyotr Petrovitch.
'My sons, high-school boys, they are home for the holidays. Nikolasha, you stay with the visitor, and you, Alexasha, follow me.' And Pyotr Petrovitch Pyetuh disappeared again.
Tchitchikov was entertained by Nikolasha. The lad was talkative. He told him that they were not very well taught at their high-school, that the teachers favoured those whose mammas sent the richest presents, that there was a regiment of the Inkermanlandsky Hussars stationed in the town; that Captain Vyetvitsky had a better horse than the colonel himself, though Lieutenant Vzyomtsev rode far better than he did.
'And tell me in what condition is your father's estate?' Tchitchikov asked.
'It's mortgaged,' the father himself replied, reappearing again in the drawing-room, 'It's mortgaged.'
Tchitchikov felt inclined to make that movement of the lips which a man makes when a thing is no good, and is ending in nothing.
'Why did you mortgage it?' he asked.
'Oh, no particular reason; everybody goes in for mortgaging nowadays, so why shouldn't I do the same as the rest? They tell me it's profitable. Besides I have always lived here, so I may as well try living in Moscow.'
'The fool, the fool!' thought Tchitchikov, 'he will spend everything and make his children spendthrifts too. You had better stay at home in the country, you fish pie.'
'I know what you are thinking,' said Pyetuh.
'What?' asked Tchitchikov, embarrassed.
'You are thinking, "He is a fool, he is a fool, this Pyetuh! He has invited me to dinner and there is no dinner all this time." It will soon be ready, my good sir, in less time than it takes a cropped wench to plait her hair, it will be here.'
'Father, Platon Mihailovitch is coming,' said Alexasha, looking out of the window.
'On a roan horse,' Nikolasha put in, stooping down to the window. 'Do you think it's a better horse than our grey, Alexasha?'
'Better, no, but its paces are different.'
A dispute sprung up between them about the merits of the roan and the grey. Meanwhile a handsome man of graceful figure, with fair shining curls and dark eyes, walked into the room. A ferocious-looking dog with powerful jaws came in behind him, jingling its copper collar.
'Have you dined?' asked the fat man.
'Yes, I have,' said the visitor.
'Why, have you come to make fun of me or what?' said Pyetuh, getting angry. 'What do I want with you after dinner?'
'Well, Pyotr Petrovitch,' said the visitor smiling, 'I can assure you I ate nothing at dinner, if that's any comfort.'
'Such a catch we have had, you should have seen it. Such a monstrous sturgeon was landed, and there was no counting the carp.'
'It makes me envious to hear you,' said the visitor. 'Do teach me to enjoy myself as you do.'
'But why be dull? Upon my soul!' said the fat gentleman.
'Why be dull? Because it is dull.'
'You don't eat enough, that is all. You should just try having a proper dinner. It's a new fashion they have invented, being bored; in old days no one was bored.'
'Don't go on boasting! Do you mean to say you have never been bored?'
'Never! And I don't know how it is, but I have not time to be bored. One wakes up in the morning—one has to have one's morning tea, you know, and then there is the steward to see, and then I go fishing and then it is dinner-time; after dinner you have hardly time for a snooze before supper's here, and after that the cook comes up—I have to order dinner for to-morrow. When could I be bored?'
All the while he was talking, Tchitchikov was looking at the visitor.
Platon Mihailovitch Platonov was an Achilles and Paris in one, a graceful figure, picturesque height, freshness—everything was combined in him. A pleasant smile with a faint expression of irony, as it were, accentuated his beauty, but, in spite of all that, there was something lifeless and drowsy about him. No passions, no sorrows, no agitations had traced lines on his virginal fresh face, but the absence of them left him lifeless.
'I must confess,' Tchitchikov pronounced, 'I too cannot understand how with an appearance like yours—if you will allow me to say so—you can be bored. Of course there may be other reasons—lack of money or vexations due to evil-minded persons, for indeed there are some such as are ready even to attempt one's life.'
'But the point is that there is nothing of the sort,' said Platonov. 'Would you believe it that sometimes I could wish that it were so, that I had some anxiety and trouble, well, even for instance that some one would make me angry, but no, I am bored and that is all about it!'
'I don't understand it, but perhaps your estate is insufficient and you have only a small number of souls?'
'Oh no. My brother and I have thirty thousand acres of land and a thousand souls of peasants on them.'
'And with all that to be bored, it is incomprehensible! But perhaps your estate is in disorder? Perhaps your crops have failed, or a great many of your serfs have died?'
'No, on the contrary, everything is in the best of order and my brother is an excellent manager.'
'I don't understand it,' said Tchitchikov, and shrugged his shoulders.
'Well, we'll drive away his boredom directly,' said their host. 'Run quickly to the kitchen, Alexasha, and tell the cook to send in the fish pies as soon as he can. But where's that sluggard Emelyan and that thief Antoshka? Why don't they bring the savouries?'
But the door opened. The sluggard Emelyan and the thief Antoshka made their appearance with table napkins, laid the table, set a tray with six decanters of various coloured home-made wines; soon round the trays and decanters there was a necklace of plates—caviare, cheese, salted mushrooms of different kinds, and something was brought in from the kitchen covered with a plate, under which could be heard the hissing of butter. The sluggard Emelyan and the thief Antoshka were quick and excellent fellows. Their master gave them those titles because to address them without nicknames seemed tame and flat, and he did not like anything to be so; he was a kind-hearted man, but liked to use words of strong flavour. His servants did not resent it, however.
The savouries were followed by dinner. The good-hearted fat gentleman showed himself now a regular ruffian. As soon as he saw one piece on a visitor's plate he would put a second piece beside it, saying: 'It is not good for man or bird to live alone.' If the visitor finished the two pieces, he would foist a third on him, saying: 'What's the good of two, God loves a trinity.' If the guest devoured all three he would say: 'Where's the cart with three wheels? Who built a three-cornered hut?' For four he had another saying and for five, too.
Tchitchikov ate nearly a dozen slices of something and thought: 'Well, our host won't force anything more upon me.' But he was wrong, without a word the master of the house laid upon his plate a piece of ribs of veal roasted on a spit, the best piece of all with the kidney, and what veal it was!
'We kept that calf for two years on milk,' said the fat gentleman. I looked after him as if he were my son!'
'I can't,' said Tchitchikov.
'You try it, and after that say you can't!'
'It won't go in, there's no room for it.'
'Well, you know, there was no room in the church, but when the mayor arrived, room was made; and yet there was such a crush that an apple couldn't have fallen to the floor. You just try it: that morsel's like the mayor.'
Tchitchikov did try it, it certainly might be compared with the mayor; room was made for it though it had seemed that it could not have been got in.
It was the same thing with the wines. When he had received the money from the mortgage of his estate Pyotr Petrovitch had laid in a supply of wine for the next ten years. He kept on filling up the glasses; what the guests would not drink he poured out for Alexasha and Nikolasha, who simply tossed off one glass after another, and yet got up from the table as though nothing had happened, as though they had only drunk a glass of water. It was not the same with the visitors. They could hardly drag themselves to the verandah, and were only just able to sink into armchairs; as soon as the master of the house had settled himself in his, an armchair that would have held four, he dropped asleep. His corpulent person was transformed into a blacksmith's bellows: from his open mouth and from his nose he began to emit sounds such as are not found even in the newest music. All the instruments were represented, the drum, the flute, and a strange abrupt note, like the yap of a dog. …
'Isn't he whistling!' said Platonov. Tchitchikov laughed.
'Of course if one dines like that,' said Platonov, 'how can one be bored, one falls asleep.'
'Yes,' said Tchitchikov languidly. His eyes seemed to be becoming very small. 'All the same, if you will forgive my saying so, I can't understand how you can be bored. There are so many things you can do to keep off boredom.'
'Why there are all sorts of things a young man can do! You can dance, you can play some instrument … or else you can get married.'
'Married! To whom?'
Surely there must be some attractive and wealthy young ladies in the neighbourhood.'
'No, there are not.'
'Well, look for them in other places. Go about.' At this point a happy thought flashed upon Tchitchikov's brain; his eyes grew wider. 'Well, here's a capital remedy,' he said, looking into Platonov's face.
'What do you mean?'
'Where could I go?'
'Why if you are free, come with me,' said Tchitchikov, and to himself he thought, looking at Platonov, 'and that would be a good thing, we could go halves over the expenses; and the repair of the carriage I could put down entirely to him.'
'Why, where are you going then?'
'Oh, how shall I say? I am travelling not so much on my own affairs as on other people's. General Betrishtchev, my intimate friend, and I may say my benefactor, had asked me to visit his relations. … Of course, relations are all very well, but I am partly travelling on my own account too; for seeing the world and what people are doing, is—say what you like—a book of life, a second education.'
Tchitchikov meanwhile reflected: 'It really would be a good thing. I might manage that he should undertake all the expenses. I might even so arrange as to set off with his horses, and to leave mine to be kept in his stables, and to take his carriage for the journey.'
'Well, why not go for a trip,' Platonov was thinking meanwhile; 'maybe it would cheer me up. I have nothing to do at home, my brother looks after everything as it is; so it would not be disarranging things. After all why shouldn't I amuse myself?'
'And would you agree,' he said aloud, 'to stay two days at my brother's? He won't let me go without.'
'With the greatest pleasure, three if you like.'
'In that case here's my hand on it! We'll go,' said Platonov, becoming more animated.
'Bravo!' cried Tchitchikov, clapping his hands, 'we'll go!'
'Where? where?' asked their host, waking up and staring at them with wide-open eyes. 'No, gentlemen, orders have been given for the wheels to be taken off your carriage, and your horse, Platon Mihailovitch, is ten miles away by now. No, to-night you will stay here, and to-morrow you can go home after an early dinner.'
'Upon my soul!' thought Tchitchikov. Platonov made no answer, knowing that Pyetuh had his own ways, and could not be turned from them. They had to remain. They were rewarded however by a marvellous spring evening. Their host arranged a row on the river for them. Twelve rowers with twenty-four oars rowed them, to the accompaniment of singing, over the smooth surface of the mirror-like lake. From the lake they were borne along into an immense river with sloping banks on each side. Not an eddy stirred the surface of the water. They had tea too and rolls on the boat, passing continually under ropes stretched across the river for catching fish. Before tea their host undressed and jumped into the water, where he floundered about for half an hour, and made a great noise with the fishermen, shouting to Big Foma and Kozma, and after having shouted and having fussed about to his heart's content, and got thoroughly chilled in the water, he returned to the boat with an appetite for tea which made the others envious to look at him. Meanwhile the sun had set; the sky remained clear and transparent. There was the sound of shouting. In place of the fishermen there were groups of boys bathing on the banks; splashing and laughter echoed in the distance. The oarsmen after plying their twenty-four oars in unison, suddenly raised them all at once into the air and the long-boat, light as a bird, darted of itself over the motionless, mirror-like surface. A fresh-looking sturdy lad, the third from the stern, began singing in a clear voice; five others caught it up, and the other six joined in and the song flowed on, endless as Russia; and putting their hands to their ears the singers themselves seemed lost in its endlessness. Listening to it one felt free and at ease, and Tchitchikov thought: 'Ah, I really shall have a country place of my own one day.'
'Oh, what is there fine in that dreary song?' thought Platonov, 'it only makes me more depressed than ever.'
It was dusk as they returned. In the dark the oars struck the water which no longer reflected the sky. Lights were faintly visible on both sides of the river. The moon rose just as they were touching the bank. On all sides fishermen were boiling soups of perch and still quivering fish on tripods. Everything was at home. The geese, the cows and the goats had been driven home long before, and the very dust raised by them was laid again by now, and the herdsmen who had driven them were standing by the gates waiting for a jug of milk and an invitation to partake of fish soup. Here and there came the sound of talk and the hum of voices, the loud barking of the dogs of their village and of other villages far away. The moon had risen and had begun to light up the darkness; and at last everything was bathed in light—the lake and the huts; the light of the fires was paler; the smoke from the chimneys could be seen silvery in the moonlight. Alexasha and Nikolasha flew by them, racing after each other on spirited horses; they raised as much dust as a flock of sheep.
'Oh, I really will have an estate of my own one day!' thought Tchitchikov. A buxom wife and little Tchitchikovs rose before his imagination again. Whose heart would not have been warmed by such an evening!
At supper they over-ate themselves again. When Pavel Ivanovitch had retired to the room assigned to him, and had got into bed he felt his stomach: 'It's as tight as a drum!' he said; 'no mayor could possibly get in.' As luck would have it, his host's room was the other side of the wall, the wall was a thin one and everything that was said was audible. On the pretence of an early lunch he was giving the cook directions for a regular dinner, and what directions! It was enough to give a dead man an appetite. He licked and smacked his lips. There were continually such phrases as: 'But roast it well, let it soak well.' While the cook kept saying in a thin high voice: 'Yes sir, I can, I can do that too.'
'And make a four-cornered fish pasty; in one corner put a sturgeon's cheeks and the jelly from its back, in another put buckwheat mush, mushrooms and onions and sweet roe, and brains and something else—you know …'
'Yes sir, I can do it like that.'
'And let it be just a little coloured on one side, you know, and let it be a little less done on the other. And bake the underpart, you understand, that it may be all crumbling, all soaked in juice, so that it will melt in the mouth like snow.'
'Confound him,' thought Tchitchikov, turning over on the other side, 'he won't let me sleep.'
'Make me a haggis and put a piece of ice in the middle, so that it may swell up properly. And let the garnishing for the sturgeon be rich. Garnish it with crayfish and little fried fish, with a stuffing of little smelts, add fine mince, horse radish and mushrooms and turnips, and carrots and beans, and is there any other root?'
'I might put in kohlrabi and beetroot cut in stars,' said the cook.
'Yes, put in kohlrabi, and beetroot, and I'll tell you what garnish to serve with the roast …'
'I shall never get to sleep,' said Tchitchikov. Turning over on the other side, he buried his head in the pillow and pulled the quilt up over it, that he might hear nothing, but through the quilt he heard unceasingly: 'And roast it well,' and 'Bake it thoroughly.' He fell asleep over a turkey.
Next day the guests over-ate themselves to such a degree, that Platonov could not ride home; his horse was taken back by one of Pyetuh's stable-boys. They got into the carriage: Platonov's dog Yarb followed the carriage lazily, he too had over-eaten himself.
'No, it is really too much,' said Tchitchikov, as soon as the carriage had driven out of the yard. 'It's positively piggish. Aren't you uncomfortable, Platon Mihailovitch? The carriage was so very comfortable and now it seems uncomfortable all at once. Petrushka, I suppose you have been stupidly rearranging the luggage? There seem to be baskets sticking up everywhere!'
Platonov laughed, 'I can explain that,' he said, 'Pyotr Petrovitch stuffed them in for the journey.'
'To be sure,' said Petrushka, turning round from the box. 'I was told to put them all in the carriage—pasties and pies.'
'Yes indeed, Pavel Ivanovitch,' said Selifan, looking round from the box in high good humour. 'A most worthy gentleman, and most hospitable! He sent us out a glass of champagne each, and bade them let us have the dishes from the table, very fine dishes, most delicate flavour. There never was such a worthy gentleman.'
'You see he has satisfied every one,' said Platonov. 'But tell me truly, can you spare the time to go out of your way to a village some seven or eight miles from here? I should like to say good-bye to my sister and my brother-in-law.'
'I should be delighted,' said Tchitchikov.
'You will not be the loser by doing so; my brother-in-law is a very remarkable man.'
'In what way?' asked Tchitchikov.
'He is the best manager that has ever been seen in Russia. It's only a little more than ten years since he bought a neglected estate for which he gave barely twenty thousand, and he has brought it into such a condition that now he gets two hundred thousand from it.'
'What a splendid man! The life of a man like that ought to be held up as an example to others. It will be very, very agreeable to make his acquaintance. And what's his name?'
'And his Christian name and father's name?'
'Konstantin Fyodorovitch Skudronzhoglo. Very agreeable to make his acquaintance. One may learn something from knowing such a man.' And Tchitchikov proceeded to ask questions about Skudronzhoglo, and everything he learned about him from Platonov was surprising indeed.
'Look,' said Platonov, pointing to the fields, 'his land begins there. You will see at once how different it is from other people's. Coachman, here you take the road to the left. Do you see that copse of young trees? They were all sown. On another man's land they wouldn't have been that height in fifty years, and they have grown up in eight. Look, there the forest ends and the cornfields begin, and in another one hundred and fifty acres there will be forest again, also raised from seed, and then cornland again. Look at the corn, how much heavier it is than anywhere else.'
'Yes, I see. But how does he do it?'
'Well, you must ask him that. There is nothing he hasn't got. He knows everything, you would never find another man like him. It is not only that he understands what soil suits anything, he knows what ought to be next to what, what grain must be sown near which kind of trees. With all of us the land is cracking through the drought, but his land is not. He calculates how much moisture is needed and plants trees accordingly: with him everything serves two purposes, the forest is timber, and it also improves the fields by its leaves and its shade.'
'A wonderful man!' said Tchitchikov, and he looked with curiosity at the fields.
Everything was in extraordinarily good order. The forest was fenced in; there were cattle-yards, also with good reason enclosed and admirably kept up; the stacks of corn were gigantic. There was abundance and fertility on every side. It could be seen at once that here there was a prince among managers. Going a little up hill they saw a big village facing them, scattered upon three hillsides. Everything in it was prosperous; the roads were well made; the huts were solid; if a cart was standing anywhere, that cart was new and strong; if they met a horse the horse looked well fed and spirited. The horned cattle also looked picked specimens, even a peasant's pig had the air of a nobleman. It was evident that here were living those peasants who dig silver with their spades, as the song says. There were here no English parks, no arbours, no bridges, nothing fantastic, no landscape gardening. From the huts to the big house stretched a row of fishermen's yards. On the roof was a watch-tower, not for the sake of the view, but to see how and where the work was going on.
They drove up to the house. The master was not at home; they were met by his wife, Platonov's sister, fair-haired, white-skinned, with a specially Russian expression, as handsome but also as listless as he. It seemed as though she cared little for the things that were most cared for, either because the all-devouring activity at her side left nothing for her to do, or because by her very nature she belonged to that class of philosophical people, who, having feelings and intelligence only, as it were, half alive, look at life with their eyes half closed and seeing its fierce struggle and agitation, say: 'Let them rave, the fools! So much the worse for them.'
'Good-day, sister,' said Platonov. 'Where is Konstantin?'
'I don't know, he ought to have been here long ago. No doubt he has been kept by something.'
Tchitchikov took little notice of the lady of the house. He was interested in looking at the habitation of this remarkable man. He scrutinised everything in the room; he expected to find traces of its owner's character, as from the shell one can judge what the oyster or the snail that lived in it was like; but there was nothing of the sort. The room was absolutely characterless, it was spacious and nothing else. There were no pictures or frescoes on the walls, nor bronzes on the tables, no what-nots with china and cups on them, no vases, no flowers, no statues—in fact it was somewhat bare, there was simple furniture, and a piano standing on one side, and even that was shut, evidently the lady of the house did not often sit down to it. A door opened from the drawing-room into the master's study, but there too it was as bare—simple and bare. It could be seen that the master of the house came home only to rest and not to live in it, that he did not need a study with well-upholstered easy-chairs and all the comforts in order to think over his plans and ideas, and that his life was not spent in seductive dreams by a glowing fireside but in actual work: his ideas sprang at once from the circumstance itself, at the moment when it arose, and passed at once into action without any need of written records.
'Ah, here he is. Here he comes!' cried Platonov. Tchitchikov too rushed to the window. A man of about forty, with a swarthy face and alert appearance, walked up to the steps. He had on a serge cap. Two men of a lower class were walking with their caps in their hands, one on each side of him, talking and discussing something with him. One appeared to be a simple peasant, the other in a blue Siberian coat, seemed to be a close-fisted and knavish dealer who had come to buy something.
'So you'll bid them take it, sir,' said the peasant, bowing.
'No, my good man, I have said to you twenty times already: don't bring any more, I have so much material already that I don't know where to put it.'
'But it all turns to profit with you, Konstantin Fyodorovitch. One couldn't find another man as clever anywhere. Your honour will find a place for everything. So do bid them take it.'
'I need hands; get me workmen, not material.'
'But you won't have any lack of workmen either. All our village goes out to work: no one remembers our being so short of bread as now. It's only a pity you won't take us on altogether, we'd serve you well and truly, by God we would. One can learn the way to do everything from you, Konstantin Fyodorovitch. So do bid them take it for the last time.'
'But last time you said it was the last time, and here you have brought the stuff again.'
'But this is for the last time, Konstantin Fyodorovitch. If you won't take it no one will. So do tell them to take it, sir.
'Well, listen, this time I will take it, but I am only taking it because I am sorry for you, and don't want you to have carted it here for nothing. But if you bring me any more, I won't take it, not if you go on worrying me for three weeks.'
'Certainly, Konstantin Fyodorovitch; you may be sure I won't bring any more. I most humbly thank you.' The peasant walked away gratified. He was lying however, he would bring some more: 'try your luck' is a saying of great power.
'Then be so good, Konstantin Fyodorovitch, … make it a little less,' said the travelling merchant in the blue Siberian coat, who was walking on the other side of him.
'Why, I told you my price at first, I am not fond of bargaining. I tell you again: I am not like other landowners to whom you go just the day the interest is due on their mortgage. I know you well. You have a list of them and put down when each has to pay his interest. He is pressed for money and he will sell at half price. But what's your money to me? For all I care my things can lie unsold three years; I have no interest to pay.'
'That's the fact, Konstantin Fyodorovitch. But you know I only … so that I may have dealings with you in the future and not from greed. Take three thousand as deposit.' The dealer took out of the bosom of his coat a bundle of greasy notes.
Skudronzhoglo took it coolly, and without counting them, thrust them into the back pocket of his coat.
'H'm,' thought Tchitchikov, 'just as though it were a pocket-handkerchief.'
A minute later Skudronzhoglo appeared at the door of the drawing-room.
'Hullo, brother, you here,' he said on seeing Platonov. They embraced and kissed each other. Platonov introduced Tchitchikov. Tchitchikov went reverently towards him, kissed him on the cheek and received an imprint of a kiss from him.
Skudronzhoglo's face was very striking. It betrayed its southern origin. His hair and his eyebrows were thick and dark, his eyes were speaking and of intense brilliance. Every expression of his face was sparkling with intelligence, and there was nothing drowsy about him. But an element of something choleric and irritable could be detected. He was not of pure Russian descent. There are in Russia numbers of Russians not of Russian descent, but quite Russians in heart. Skudronzhoglo took no interest in his origin, thinking that it made no practical difference, and he knew no language but Russian.
'Do you know, Konstantin, what I am thinking of?' said Platonov.
'I have thought of going for a driving tour in several provinces, perhaps it would cure me of my depression.'
'Well, very likely it will.'
'In company of Pavel Ivanovitch here.'
'Excellent. What districts,' asked Skudronzhoglo, addressing Tchitchikov cordially, 'do you purpose visiting now?'
'I must own,' said Tchitchikov, putting his head on one side and grasping the arm of his chair, 'for the moment I am not travelling so much on my own affairs as upon somebody else's. General Betrishtchev, my intimate friend, and I may say my benefactor, asked me to visit his relations. Relations of course are relations, but to some extent I may say I am going on my own account, for apart from the benefit that may accrue from the point of view of the digestion, the mere fact of seeing the world and what people are doing … say what you will, is a living book, a second education.'
'Yes, to have a look at different places is not a bad thing.'
'Your observation is most just,' replied Tchitchikov, 'it certainly is not a bad thing. You see things that otherwise you would not see, and meet people you would not otherwise meet. Talk with some people is as precious as gold. Teach me, honoured Konstantin Fyodorovitch, teach me, I appeal to you. I await your precious words as heavenly manna.'
Skudronzhoglo was embarrassed. 'But what, teach you what? I have had a very second-rate education myself.'
'Wisdom, honoured sir, wisdom! the wisdom that will enable me to manage an estate as you do, and like you to succeed in making it yield a revenue not in dreams but in real fact; to obtain like you, possessions that are not visionary, but are real and actual, and so performing the duty of a citizen to win the respect of my countrymen.'
'Do you know what?' said Skudronzhoglo, 'stay a day here with me. I will show you all my work and tell you all about it. There is no particular wisdom about it, as you will see.'
'Brother, do stay for the day,' said Madame Skudronzhoglo, turning to Platonov.
'I don't mind,' said the latter indifferently, 'what does Pavel Ivanovitch say?'
'I shall be delighted. … But there is one point. … I must pay a visit to General Betrishtchev's relations. There is a certain Colonel Koshkaryov …'
'But don't you know that he is a fool, a madman?'
'I have heard that; I have nothing to do with him. But since General Betrishtchev is my intimate friend, and so to say my benefactor … it would be awkward not to go.'
'In that case,' said Skudronzhoglo, 'do you know what you had better do; drive over to him now. I have a racing droshky standing ready. It's not more than seven miles to his place, so you will be there in no time. You will be back before supper in fact.'
Tchitchikov gladly availed himself of this suggestion. The droshky was brought round, and he drove off at once to see the colonel, who amazed him more than any one he had seen before. Everything at the colonel's was unusual. The whole village was upside down; building, rebuilding, heaps of mortar, bricks, and beams were about all the streets. Some houses were planned like government buildings. On one was inscribed in golden letters: 'Depot for Agricultural Implements,' on another, 'Principal Counting House,' on the third, 'Committee of Rural Affairs,' 'School of Normal Education for Villagers'; in fact there was no telling what there was. He wondered whether he had not driven into the district town. The colonel himself was a rather stiff individual. His face was somewhat prim-looking and of the shape of a triangle. The whiskers were drawn stiffly down each cheek, his hair, his nose, his lip and his chin all looked as though they had been kept under a press. He began talking like a sensible man. From the first word he began complaining of the lack of culture among the surrounding landowners, of the great difficulties that lay before him. He received Tchitchikov cordially and affably, and quite took him into his confidence, describing with self-complacency what immense labour it had cost him to bring his estate into its present prosperous condition: how difficult it was to make the simple peasant understand that there are higher pleasures which enlightened luxury provides for man, that there is such a thing as art; how necessary it was to struggle with the ignorance of the Russian peasant, to dress him in German breeches and to make him at least to some extent sensible of the higher dignity of man; that in spite of all his efforts he had, so far, been unable to make the peasant women put on corsets, while in Germany, where he had stayed with his regiment in 1814, a miller's daughter could even play on the piano, speak French and make a curtsey. He deplored the terrible lack of culture of the neighbouring landowners, telling him how little they thought about their subjects; how they even laughed when he tried to explain how necessary for the management of an estate it was to establish a secretary's office, counting-houses and even committees, so as to prevent all sorts of stealing, and so that everything should be known; that the clerk, the steward and the book-keeper ought not to be educated just anyhow, but ought to complete their studies at the university; that in spite of all his persuasions he could not convince the landowners of the benefit it would be to their estates if every peasant were so well educated that he could read a treatise on lightning conductors while following the plough.
Upon this, Tchitchikov reflected, 'Well I doubt if there'll ever be such a time. Here I have learnt to read and write but I haven't finished reading the Countess de la Vallière yet.'
'The ignorance is awful,' Colonel Koshkaryov said in conclusion, 'the darkness of the Middle Ages, and there is no possibility of remedying it, believe me there is not! Yet I could remedy it all; I know the one means, the certain means of doing so.'
'What is that?'
'To dress all, every one in Russia, as they are in Germany. Do absolutely nothing but that and I warrant you all will go swimmingly; the level of education will rise, trade will improve, the golden age will come in Russia.'
Tchitchikov looked at him intently and thought: Well, it's no use standing on ceremony with him.' Without putting things off he informed the colonel on the spot that he was in need of certain souls with the completion of purchase and all the formalities.
'As far as I can see from your words this is a request, isn't it?'
'In that case put it in writing, it will go to the Committee for All Sorts of Petitions. The Committee for All Sorts of Petitions, after making a note of it, will bring it to me. From me it will go to the Committee for Rural Affairs, there they will make all sorts of inquiries and investigations concerning the business. The head steward together with the counting-house clerks will pass their resolution in the shortest possible time and the business will be completed.'
Tchitchikov was aghast. 'Excuse me,' he said, 'like that it will take a long time.'
'Ah!' said the colonel with a smile, that is just the advantage of doing everything on paper. It takes a little time certainly, but on the other hand nothing escapes notice, every detail will be seen.'
'But excuse me. … How can one treat of this in writing! You see, it is rather a peculiar business … the souls are … you see … in a certain sense … dead.'
'Very good. So you write then that the souls are in a certain sense dead.'
'But how can I write dead? One can't write it like that, you know, though they are dead, they must seem as though they were alive.'
'Very good. So you write then: "But it is necessary or it is required, that it should seem as though they are alive."'
What was to be done with the colonel? Tchitchikov decided to go himself and see what these various boards and committees were like, and what he found was not merely astonishing, but was really beyond all conception. The Committee for All Sorts of Petitions existed only on its signboard. The president of it, a former valet, had been transferred to the newly formed Board of Rural Affairs. His place was filled by the counting-house clerk, Timoshka, who had been despatched to make an inquiry—to settle a dispute between a drunken clerk and the village elder, who was a rogue and a thief. There were no officials anywhere.
'But where is one to go then? how is one to get at anything sensible?' said Tchitchikov to his companion, a clerk for special commissions, whom the colonel had sent to escort him.
'You won't get any sense anywhere,' said his escort, 'it's all at sixes and sevens. Everything among us is managed, you see, by the Committee of Rural Construction, they take every one from his work and send him where they like. The only ones who are well off are those who are on the Committee of Construction (he was evidently displeased with the Committee of Construction). What happens here is that every one leads the master by the nose. He thinks that everything is as it should be, but it's all only in name.'
'I must tell him that, though,' thought Tchitchikov, and on getting back to the colonel, he told him that everything was in a muddle, and that there was no making head or tail of it, and the Committee was stealing right and left.
The colonel boiled over with righteous indignation; he immediately wrote off eight severe inquiries: on what grounds the Committee of Construction without authorisation disposed of officials who were not in their department? How could the chief steward allow the president to go off to an investigation without giving up his post? And how can the Board of Rural Affairs see with indifference that the Committee for All Sorts of Petitions doesn't even exist?
'Now there will be a fine to-do,' thought Tchitchikov, and he began to take his leave.
'No, I am not going to let you go. In two hours at the utmost you will be satisfied about everything. I will put your business into the hands of a special man who has only just finished his studies at the university. Sit down in my library. Here there is everything you can want, books, papers, pens, and pencils—everything. Make use of them, make use of everything, you are master.'
So said the colonel as he opened the door into his library. It was an immense apartment, the walls of which were lined with books from the floor to the ceiling. There were even stuffed animals in it. There were books on every subject—on forestry, cattle-rearing, pig-breeding, gardening, thousands of all sorts of magazines, handbooks and masses of journals representing the very latest development and perfection in horse-breeding and the natural sciences. There were titles such as Pig-breeding as a Science. Seeing that these were all subjects that did not offer an agreeable way of passing the time, he turned to other bookcases. It was out of the frying-pan into the fire: there all the books were on philosophy. The title of one was Philosophy as a Science. There were six volumes in a row, entitled Preliminary Introduction to the Theory of Thought in its General Aspect as a whole, and in its Application to the Interpretation of the Organic Principles of the Mutual Distribution of Social Productivity. looking at them. That was to his taste. Middle-aged bachelors always like such pictures. It is said that of late years old gentlemen have acquired a taste for them excited by the ballet. There is no help for it. Man is fond of spices. When he had finished looking through this book Tchitchikov was about to pull out another of the same class, when Colonel Koshkaryov made his appearance with a beaming face, holding a paper in his hand.Tchitchikov opened the book, on every page he found 'phenomenon,' 'development,' 'abstract,' 'cohesion and combination,' and the devil only knows what. 'No, all that's not in my line,' thought Tchitchikov, and he turned to the third bookcase, where all the books related to art. Here he pulled out a huge volume of somewhat free mythological pictures, and began
'It is all finished and finished admirably. That man really does understand, he is the one that makes up for all the rest. For this I'll promote him above all the rest: I'll make a special board of control and make him president of it. This is what he writes …'
'Well, thank the Lord,' thought Tchitchikov, and prepared to listen.
'"In reference to the commission that your honour has entrusted to me I have the honour herewith to report as follows: 1. In the very petition of the collegiate councillor and cavalier, Pavel Ivanovitch Tchitchikov, there is some misunderstanding: inasmuch as souls are required that have been assailed by various sudden calamities, and died. Thereby, doubtless, he signifies those on the point of death, not actually dead; seeing that the dead cannot be obtained. How can a thing be purchased if it does not exist. Logic itself tells us that and evidently the gentleman has not gone very far in the study of the humanities."' Here for a moment Koshkaryov stopped and said: 'In this passage the rogue certainly scores off you. But he has a smart pen, hasn't he, the language of a state secretary, and yet he has only been three years at the university, in fact he did not finish his education.' Koshkaryov continued: 'He has not gone far, as is evident, in the study of the humanities … for he has used the expression "dead souls," while every one who has completed a course of humane studies, knows for a fact that the soul is immortal. 2. Of the aforementioned souls, acquired by purchase or otherwise, or, as the gentleman incorrectly expresses it, dead, there are none that have not only been mortgaged, seeing that all without exception have been not only mortgaged but re-mortgaged for an additional hundred and fifty roubles a soul, except the little village of 'Gurmailovka,' which is in a doubtful position owing to the lawsuit with the landowner, Predishtchev, and so cannot be sold or mortgaged."'
'Then why did you not tell me before? Why have you delayed me over these trifles?' said Tchitchikov angrily.
'Why, how could I tell that at first? That's the advantage of putting everything on paper, that everything now is perfectly clear.'
'You are a fool, a silly ass,' thought Tchitchikov to himself. 'He has rummaged about in books, but what has he learned?' Regardless of all the rules of propriety and politeness, he seized his cap and rushed out of the house. The coachman was standing with the racing droshky in readiness: feeding them would have involved a petition in writing, and the resolution to give the horses oats would only have arrived next day. Rude and uncivil as Tchitchikov was, Koshkaryov was nevertheless courteous and refined. He shook his hand warmly and pressed it to his heart (just as the latter was getting on to the droshky) and thanked him for having given him an opportunity of seeing the working of his system in practice, that he certainly must give them a severe reprimand, for everything was apt to be slack and the springs of the rural mechanism to grow rusty and weak; that in consequence of this incident the happy thought had occurred to him to establish a new committee, which would be called the Committee for the Supervision of the Committee of Construction, so that then no one would dare to steal.
'Ass! fool!' thought Tchitchikov, feeling angry and out of humour all the way back. He drove back by starlight. Night had come on. There were lights in the villages. When he arrived at the steps he saw through the windows that the table was already laid for supper.
'Why are you so late?' asked Skudronzhoglo, when he appeared at the door.
'What have you been discussing with him for so long?' asked Platonov.
'He bored me to death!' said Tchitchikov. 'I have never seen such a fool in my life.'
'Oh! that's nothing,' said Skudronzhoglo. 'Koshkaryov is a comforting phenomenon. He is of use because the follies of the intellectual people are reflected and caricatured in him and so are more apparent. They have set up offices, counting-houses and directors and works and factories, and schools and committees, and the devil only knows what, as though they had got an empire to govern! How do you like this, I ask you? A landowner has arable land and not enough peasants to work it, and he goes and sets up a candle factory; he gets candlemakers from London and goes into the trade! Then there is another fool better still: he sets up a silk factory.'
'Well, but you have factories too,' observed Platonov.
'But who set them up? They started themselves: the wool accumulated and I had nowhere to get rid of it, so I began weaving cloth, and stout plain cloth too; it is bought freely at my market here at a low price. The refuse from fish was flung on my bank for six years together; well, what was I to do with it? I began making glue of it and get forty thousand for it. Everything is like that with me, you know.'
'What a devil!' thought Tchitchikov, looking him full in the face. 'What a paw for raking in the roubles!'
'And I don't build edifices for it; I have no grand buildings with columns and façades. I don't send abroad for workmen, and I don't take the peasant off the land for any consideration; all my hands are men who come for the sake of bread in a famine year. I have lots of such factory workers. Only look carefully after the management and you'll see that every rag may be turned to account, every bit of refuse may yield a profit, so that at last you can only reject it and say, I want no more.'
'That's amazing,' said Tchitchikov, full of interest: 'amazing! amazing! What's most amazing is that every bit of refuse yields a profit.'
'H'm, but that's not all.' Skudronzhoglo did not finish his sentence; his spleen was rising, and he wanted to abuse the neighbouring landowners. 'There's another clever fellow, what do you suppose he has started? Almshouses, brick buildings in the village. An act of Christian charity! … If you want to help, help every peasant to do his duty, and don't turn him away from his Christian duty. Help the son to keep his father comfortable in his own home, and don't help him to throw off his responsibility. Give him the possibility of sheltering his brother or his neighbour in his own house, give him money to do that, help him as much as you can, but don't separate him, or he will throw off every Christian duty. There are Don Quixotes simply in every direction. … Every man in the almshouses costs two hundred roubles a year! … Why, I could keep ten men in the village for that.' Skudronzhoglo spat with anger.
Tchitchikov was not interested in almshouses: he wanted to turn the conversation on the way in which every bit of refuse yielded an income. But Skudronzhoglo was thoroughly roused by now, his spleen was excited, and his words flowed freely.
'And here another Don Quixote of enlightenment has founded a school. Well, what can be more useful for a man than to know how to read or write? But this is how he manages things. The peasants from his village come to me, "What's the meaning of this, sir?" they say, "our sons have got completely out of hand, they won't help us on the land, they all want to be clerks, but you know there is only one clerk wanted." So that's what it comes to.'
Tchitchikov had no use for schools either, but Platonov took up the subject.
'But one must not be stopped by the fact that clerks are not wanted now; there will be a need for them hereafter. We must work for posterity.'
'Oh, brother, do you at least be sensible; what do you want with that posterity? Every one seems to think that he is a Peter the Great. But you look at what's under your feet, and don't gaze away at posterity; work to make the peasant competent and well off, and to let him have leisure to study as he likes instead of saying to him, stick in hand: "Learn!" They begin at the wrong end! … Here, listen; come, I ask you to judge …' At this point Skudronzhoglo moved closer to Tchitchikov, and to make him attend more closely to the matter, took possession of him, or, in other words, put his finger through the buttonhole of his coat. 'Come, what could be clearer. You have peasants in order that you may protect them in their peasant existence. And what does it consist of? What is the peasant's occupation? Growing corn. So you must try and make him a good husbandman. Is that clear? There are wiseacres who say: "We can raise him out of that condition. He leads too coarse and simple an existence. We must make him acquainted with objects of luxury." It is not enough for them that through this luxury they have themselves become rags instead of men, and the devil only knows what diseases they have contracted from it, and now there is not a wretched boy of eighteen who hasn't tried everything and has lost all his teeth and is bald,—and so now they want to infect the peasants too. But thank God we have one healthy class left which hasn't got to know these vices. For that we ought simply to thank God. Yes, the man who tills the land is to my mind more worthy of honour than any. God grant that we may all be tillers of the land.'
'So you think that growing corn is the most profitable occupation?' inquired Tchitchikov.
'It's the most righteous, but that's not to say it is the most profitable. "Till the land in the sweat of thy brow"—that is said to all of us, that's not said in vain. The experience of ages has shown that it is in the agricultural class that morals are purest. Where agriculture is the basis of the social structure, there is abundance and plenty. There is neither poverty nor luxury, but there is plenty. "Till the land, labour," man has been told. … What could be plainer? I say to the peasant: "For whomever you are working, whether it is for me, for yourself, or for a neighbour—work. I'll be the first to help you in what you want to do. If you haven't cattle, here's a horse for you, here's a cow for you, here's a cart. I am ready to provide you with whatever you need, but work. It breaks my heart if your land is neglected and I see disorder and poverty in your household, I can't endure idleness: I am over you to make you work." H'm, they think to increase their income by setting up factories and institutions of all sorts. But you ought first to think of making every one of your peasants well off, for then you'll be well off yourself without any factories or works and without foolish whims.'
'The more I listen to you, honoured Konstantin Fyodorovitch,' said Tchitchikov, 'the greater my desire to listen; tell me, my honoured friend, if for instance I formed a design to become a landowner, in this province, let us suppose, what ought I to turn my attention to chiefly, what am I to do, how am I to set to work to get rich as quickly as possible, thereby fulfilling the duty of a citizen to my country.'
'How set to work to get rich? Why, I'll tell you …' said Skudronzhoglo.
'It's supper-time,' said the lady of the house, getting up from the sofa, stepping into the middle of the room, and wrapping her chilled young limbs in a shawl.
Tchitchikov leaped up from his chair with the agility of a military man; he flew up to the lady with a soft expression, with the politeness of a refined civilian made his arm into a loop, offered it to her and led her in state across two rooms to the dining-room, keeping his head agreeably on one side all the time. The servant took the cover off the soup-tureen; they all moved their chairs nearer to the table and began upon the soup.
When he had finished his soup and drunk a glass of home-made cordial (it was excellent cordial), Tchitchikov said to Skudronzhoglo: 'Allow me, honoured sir, to bring you back to the point at which our conversation broke off. I was asking you: what to do, how to proceed, how best to set to work. …'
(Two pages of the manuscript are missing here.)
'If he asked forty thousand for the estate I would pay it him down on the spot.'
'H'm!' Tchitchikov pondered. 'Then why don't you buy it yourself?' he brought out with some diffidence.
'Well, one must know one's limits. I have a great deal to do with my own estates without that. As it is, the gentry of the neighbourhood are all crying out against me, declaring that I take advantage of their difficulties and their ruined position, buying up land for a song. I am sick of it at last.'
'Country gentlemen are fond of backbiting,' said Tchitchikov.
'Yes, especially among us in our province. … You can't imagine what they say about me. They never speak of me except as a skinflint and a money-grubber of the worst kind. They don't blame themselves for anything. "I have run through my money of course," they say, "but that's because I had higher needs. I must have books. I must live luxuriously to encourage trade; one needn't be ruined if one lived the life of a pig like Skudronzhoglo." You see that's how they go on.'
'I should like to be such a pig!' said Tchitchikov.
'And you know all that's because I don't give dinners, and don't lend them money. I don't give dinners because it would bore me, I am not used to them; but if you like to come and see me and eat what I eat, you are very welcome! That I won't lend money is nonsense. If you come to me really in want and tell me your circumstances and what use you will make of my money, if I see from your words that you'll make a sensible use of it and that it will be of some real benefit to you—I would not refuse you, and would not even take interest. But I am not going to throw my money away. No, you must excuse me! He'll give a dinner to his mistress, or furnish his house on an insane scale, and I'm to lend him the money! …'
Here Skudronzhoglo spat and was almost uttering some unseemly and violent language in the presence of his wife. A shade of gloomy melancholy darkened his lively face. Lines that betrayed the wrathful ferment of his rising spleen furrowed his brow vertically and horizontally.
Tchitchikov emptied a glass of raspberry cordial and said: 'Allow me, my honoured friend, to bring you back again to the point where our conversation broke off. Supposing I were to obtain the estate to which you kindly referred, how long a time or how quickly could I grow as rich as——'
'If you want to grow rich quickly,' Skudronzhoglo caught him up suddenly and abruptly, for he was still full of ill-humour, 'you'll never get rich at all: if you want to get rich without caring how long it takes, you'll get rich quickly.'
'You don't say so!' said Tchitchikov.
'Yes,' said Skudronzhoglo abruptly, as though he had been angry with Tchitchikov himself. 'You must have a love for the work: without that you can do nothing. You must like farming. Yes! and believe me it is anything but dull. They have got up an idea that it is depressing in the country … but I should die of depression if I had to spend one day in town as they spend their time. A farmer has no time to be bored. There is no emptiness in his life, it is all fullness. You have only to look at the varied round of the year's work—and what work! Work that does truly elevate the spirit, to say nothing of its variety. In it a man goes hand in hand with nature, with the seasons of the year, and is in touch and in sympathy with everything that is done in creation. Before the spring is here our labours are already beginning: there is carting and getting in timber, and while the roads are impassable, there is the getting ready the seed, the sifting and measuring of the corn in the granaries and the drying of it and distributing the tasks among the peasants. As soon as the snows and floods are over, work begins in earnest; by the river there is loading the boats, then there is thinning trees in the wood and planting trees in the garden, and in every direction the men are turning up the ground. The spade is at work in the vegetable garden, the ploughs and harrows in the fields. And the sowing begins—that's a trifling matter of course: they are sowing the future harvest! When summer has come there's the mowing, the husbandman's first holiday—that's a trifling matter too! One harvest comes after the other, after the rye the wheat, after the barley the oats, and then the pulling of the hemp. They throw the hay into cocks, they build the stacks. And when August is half over there is the carting of it all to the threshing barns. Autumn comes, there is the ploughing and the sowing of the winter corn, the repair of the granaries, the barns and the cattle-sheds, sampling the corn, and the first threshing. Winter comes and even then work does not flag: the first wagon-loads setting off for the town, threshing in all the barns, the carting of the threshed grain from the barns to the granaries; in the woods the chopping and sawing of timber, the carting of bricks and materials for the building in the spring. Why, I am simply incapable of dealing with it all. Such variety of work! One goes here and there to look: to the mill, to the workyard, and to the factory and to the threshing floor; you go to have a look at the peasants, too, how they are working for themselves—that's a trifling matter, too, I suppose! But it's a festival for me to see a carpenter using his axe well; I could stand for a couple of hours watching him, the work delights me so. And if you see too with what object all this is created, how everything around you is multiplying and multiplying, bringing fruit and revenue, why, I can't tell you what a pleasure it is. And not because your money's growing—money is only money—but because it is all the work of your hands; because you see that you are in a way the cause and creator of it all, and you, like some magician, are scattering abundance and welfare on every side. Where will you find me a delight equal to that?' said Skudronzhoglo, and he looked up; all the lines in his face had vanished. He beamed like a triumphant emperor on the day of his coronation. 'Why, you couldn't find anything so delightful in the whole world! It's in this, just in this, that a man imitates God. God chose for Himself the work of creation as the highest delight, and requires the same of man, that he should be the creator of prosperity and the harmonious order of things. And they call that dull work!'
Tchitchikov drank in the sweet sound of his host's words like the singing of a bird of paradise. His mouth positively watered. His eyes shone with sugary sweetness, and he could have listened for ever.
'Konstantin, it is time to get up,' said his wife, getting up from the table. Platonov rose, Skudronzhoglo got up, Tchitchikov got up, though he would have liked to go on sitting still and listening. Making a loop of his arm, Tchitchikov led the lady of the house back. But his head was not ingratiatingly on one side and there was not the same sprightly politeness in his movements. His mind was absorbed in more substantial movements and considerations.
'You can say what you like, but it is dull all the same,' said Platonov, who was walking behind them.
'Our visitor seems quite a sensible fellow,' thought Skudronzhoglo, 'and not a boastful fool.' And upon this reflection he became still more cheerful, as though his own talk had warmed him up, as though he were delighted at having found a man capable of taking good advice.
Afterwards when they were all settled in a snug little room lighted by candles, facing a big glass door into the garden, Tchitchikov felt happier than he had for a very long time, as though after long wandering he had been welcomed home, and to crown it all had gained the object of his desires, and had flung away his pilgrim's staff, saying: 'Enough!' Such was the enchanting state of mind induced in him by his host's sensible words. There are for every heart certain words which are nearer and more akin than any others; and often in some remote, forgotten, out-of-the-way place, in some lonely nook, we unexpectedly meet a man whose warming discourse makes us forget the hardships of the road, the comfortless night lodging and the contemporary world, full of the follies of mankind, and of deceptions that cloud men's vision; and an evening spent in that manner remains with us for ever, and a distinct memory is kept of everything that happened in it, who was present, and at what spot each person was standing, and what was in his hand—the walls, the corners, and every trifle in the room.
So Tchitchikov noticed everything that evening: the little plainly furnished room, and the good-natured expression on the face of his clever host, and the pipe with the amber mouthpiece that was handed to Platonov, and the smoke which he blew in Yarb's broad face and Yarb's snorting, and his pretty hostess's laugh, interrupted by the words, 'That's enough, don't tease him,' and the cheerful candle-light and the cricket in the corner, and the glass door and the spring night which looked in at them from without, over the tops of the trees among which the nightingales were singing.
'Your words are sweet to me, honoured Konstantin Fyodorovitch,' Tchitchikov brought out. 'I may say that in all Russia I have not met your equal in intelligence.'
Skudronzhoglo smiled. 'No, Pavel Ivanovitch,' he said, 'if you want to know an intelligent man, we really have one man whom one might call an intelligent man, and I am not worth the sole of his old shoe.'
'Who is that?' Tchitchikov asked with surprise.
'It is our government contractor, Murazov.'
'This is the second time I have heard of him.'
'He is a man who could administer not merely an estate but a whole kingdom. If I had a kingdom I should immediately make him the minister of finance.'
'I have heard it said that he is a man of abilities beyond all belief: he has made ten millions.'
'Ten millions, it must be more than forty. Soon half Russia will be in his hands.'
'What do you mean?' cried Tchitchikov, amazed.
'It certainly will be. His wealth must be increasing now at a terrible rate. That's evident. A man gets rich slowly if he has a few hundred thousands; but when a man has a million he has a wide range: whatever he takes up is soon doubled and trebled. His field of action is so wide. And he has no rivals in it either: there is no one to compete with him. Whatever price he fixes stands: there is no one to knock it down.'
Tchitchikov gazed into Skudronzhoglo's face with his mouth open and his eyes starting out of his head as though he were moonstruck. He held his breath.
'Inconceivable,' he said, when he had recovered himself a little, 'the mind is petrified with awe. People are amazed at the wisdom of Providence as they scrutinise a beetle; to my mind it is even more overwhelming that such vast sums can find their way into a mortal's hands! Allow me to put a question to you in regard to one point: tell me, all this was surely not obtained in the first place quite honestly, was it?'
'Absolutely irreproachably and by the most straightforward means!'
'I can't believe you, most honoured friend, I really can't believe you. If it were a case of thousands perhaps, but millions … no, pardon me, but I can't believe it.'
'On the contrary, it is difficult to get thousands honestly, but millions are easily piled up. A millionaire has no need to resort to crooked ways. The road is straight, you have but to go along it and take whatever lies before you. Another man would not pick it up, not every one has the capacity.'
'It's incredible! And what is most incredible is, that it all started from a farthing.'
'That's how it always is. That's the natural order of things,' said Skudronzhoglo. 'A man who has been brought up on thousands will never make money; he will have already formed luxurious habits and goodness knows what. One must start from the beginning and not from the middle. One must begin from the bottom, quite from the bottom. It is only there that one gets a thorough knowledge of life and men with whom you have to deal later on. When you have to put up with this and that in your own person, and when you find out that you must take care of the kopecks before you can get to the roubles, and when you have been through all sorts of ups and downs, it does train you and teach you sense, so that you are not likely to make a false move and come to grief in any enterprise. Believe me, that's the truth. One must start from the beginning and not from the middle. If any one were to say to me: "Give me a hundred thousand and I'll get rich directly," I shouldn't believe him: he is counting on luck and not on a certainty. One must begin with a farthing.'
'In that case I shall get rich,' said Tchitchikov, 'because I am beginning almost, so to say, from nothing.' He meant, of course, his dead souls.
'Konstantin, it is time for Pavel Ivanovitch to rest and sleep,' said his wife, 'and you keep chattering.'
'And you will certainly get rich,' said Skudronzhoglo, not heeding his wife. 'Rivers and rivers of gold will flow into your hands. You won't know what to do with your income.'
Pavel Ivanovitch sat spellbound in the golden realm of mounting visions and daydreams. His thoughts were in a whirl. …
'Really, Konstantin, it is time to let Pavel Ivanovitch go to bed.'
'Why, what is it? Well, go to bed yourself if you want to,' said her husband, and he stopped; there came the loud sound of Platonov's snoring, and after him Yarb snored still more loudly. The far-away tap of the watchman on a sheet of iron had been audible for a long while past. It was past midnight. Skudronzhoglo realised that it really was bedtime. They separated, wishing each other sound sleep, and their wishes were quickly realised.
Only Tchitchikov could not sleep. His thoughts were wide awake. He kept pondering how to become the owner, not of an imaginary, but of a real estate. After his conversation with Skudronzhoglo, everything had become so clear; the possibility of becoming rich seemed so evident, the difficult work of managing an estate seemed to have become so easy and intelligible, and seemed so well suited to his temperament, that he began to think seriously of obtaining not an imaginary but a real estate. He at once determined with the money he would get by mortgaging the imaginary souls to obtain an estate that would not be imaginary. He already saw himself managing his estate and doing everything as Skudronzhoglo had instructed him, promptly, carefully, introducing nothing new until he had thoroughly mastered everything old, looking into everything with his own eyes, getting to know all his peasantry, rejecting all superfluities, devoting himself to nothing but work, and looking after his land. … He had already a foretaste of the delight that he would feel when he had introduced harmonious order, when every part of the organisation was moving briskly and working well together. The work would go merrily, and just as the flour is swiftly ground out of the grain in the mill, it would grind all sorts of rubbish and refuse into ready money. His marvellous host rose before his imagination every moment. He was the first man in all Russia for whom he had felt a personal respect: hitherto he had always respected men either for their high rank in the service, or for their great possessions; simply for his brains he had never respected any man; Skudronzhoglo was the first. Tchitchikov realised that it was useless to talk about dead souls with a man like this, and that the very mention of them would be out of place. He was absorbed now by another project—that of buying Hlobuev's estate. He had ten thousand, another ten thousand he purposed borrowing from Skudronzhoglo, since he had said he was ready to help any one who wanted to grow rich and to take up farming. The remaining ten thousand it might be possible to put off paying till after he had mortgaged the souls. It was not possible yet to mortgage all the souls he had bought, because he had not yet the land on which he must settle them. Though he did assert that he had land in the Kherson province, its existence was somewhat hypothetical. He had proposed to buy the estate in the Kherson province because land was sold there for a mere song, and was even given away on condition that peasants were settled upon it. He thought, too, he ought to make haste to buy what runaway and dead souls any one had left, for the landowners were one after another hurrying to mortgage their estates, and soon there would not be a spot left in Russia that was not mortgaged to the Government. All these ideas one after another filled his mind and prevented him from sleeping. At last slumber, which had, as the saying is, held all the household in its embrace for the last four hours, embraced Tchitchikov also. He slept soundly. …