Dead Souls—A Poem/Book Two/Chapter IV
The next day everything was arranged most successfully. Skudronzhoglo was delighted to lend ten thousand roubles without interest or security, simply upon a signed receipt: so ready was he to help any one on to the way of prosperity. That was not all: he undertook to accompany Tchitchikov to Hlobuev's, in order to look over the latter's estate with him. After a substantial breakfast they set off all three in Pavel Ivanovitch's carriage; Skudronzhoglo's racing droshky followed empty. Yarb ran on ahead, chasing the birds off the road. They did the twelve miles in a little over an hour and a half and then caught sight of a small village with two houses—a big new one that was unfinished and had remained in the rough for many years, and a little old one. They found the owner very untidy and sleepy, as he was only just awake; there was a patch on his coat and holes in his boots.
He was as delighted at their visit as though it were a great piece of good fortune: as though he were seeing brothers from whom he had long been parted.
'Konstantin Fyodorovitch! Platon Mihailovitch!' he cried. 'My dear friends, it is good of you to come! Just let me rub my eyes. I really thought no one would ever come and see me again. Every one avoids me like the plague: they think I am going to ask them to lend me money. Oh, it's hard, it's hard, Konstantin Fyodorovitch! I see that I am to blame for everything. There's no help for it … I am living like a pig. Excuse me, gentlemen, for receiving you in such an attire; my boots as you see are in holes. But what will you take? Tell me.'
'Please let us come straight to the point. We have come to you on business,' said Skudronzhoglo. 'Here is a purchaser for you, Pavel Ivanovitch Tchitchikov.'
'Sincerely glad to make your acquaintance. Let me shake hands with you.'
Tchitchikov gave him both hands.
'I should be delighted, honoured Pavel Ivanovitch, to show you my estate, which is deserving of attention. … But, gentlemen, allow me to ask you, have you dined?'
'We have, we have,' said Skudronzhoglo, anxious to get off at once.
'In that case, let us start.'
Hlobuev picked up his cap. The visitors put on their caps too, and they all set off to look at the estate.
'Come and look at my disorder and neglect,' said Hlobuev. 'Of course you did well to have your dinner. Would you believe it, Konstantin Fyodorovitch, I haven't a hen in the place—that's what I've come to. I'm behaving like a pig, a regular pig!'
He heaved a deep sigh, and apparently thinking that he would not get much sympathy from Konstantin Fyodorovitch, and that his heart was rather hard, took Platonov's arm and went on ahead with him, pressing closely up to him. Skudronzhoglo and Tchitchikov remained behind and followed them at some distance, arm in arm.
'It's hard, Platon Mihailovitch, it is hard,' said Hlobuev to Platonov. 'You can't imagine how hard it is! No money, no bread, no boots! I should snap my fingers at all that if I were young and alone. But when all these hardships come upon one in old age and with a wife and five children at one's side, one is distressed, one can't help being distressed. …'
Platonov felt sorry for him. 'Well, if you sell the estate won't that set you right?' he asked.
'Set me right indeed,' said Hlobuev, with a gesture of despair. 'It will all go to pay pressing debts, and I shan't have a single thousand left for myself.'
'Well, what will you do then?'
'God knows,' said Hlobuev, shrugging his shoulders.
Platonov was amazed. 'How is it you are not taking steps to extricate yourself from such a position?'
'What steps could I take?'
'Haven't you any other means?'
'None at all.'
'Well, try and get some work, take a post.'
'Why, you know I am provincial secretary. What sort of good job could be given me? They would pay me a wretched salary, and you see I have a wife and five children.'
'Well, take some private situation. Go in for being a steward.'
'Who would trust me with his estates? I have squandered my own.'
'Yes, but if one is threatened with hunger and death one must take some steps. I'll ask whether my brother could not get you a place through some one in the town.'
'No, Platon Mihailovitch,' said Hlobuev, sighing and pressing his hand warmly, 'I am no use for anything now. I have grown decrepit before I am old, and I am paying for my weakness in the past by a pain in my back and rheumatism in my shoulders. What could I do? Why should I plunder the government? Without me there are plenty of men in the government service who are there simply to make money. God forbid that to get myself a salary I should help to increase the taxes for the poorer class: it's hard enough for them to live as it is with such masses of blood-suckers. No, Platon Mihailovitch, I'll have nothing to do with them.'
'Here's a position,' thought Platonov, 'it's worse than my ennui!'
Meanwhile Skudronzhoglo and Tchitchikov, walking at a considerable distance behind, were talking together.
'He has neglected the place beyond everything,' said Skudronzhoglo. 'He has brought his peasants to such poverty! When the cattle plague comes it is no use thinking of what belongs to you. You must sell everything you have to get your peasants cattle so that they shouldn't be left a single day without the means of going on with their work. Now it would take years to reform them; the peasants have grown lazy and taken to drink.'
'So it is not very profitable to buy this estate now,' inquired Tchitchikov.
At that point Skudronzhoglo looked at Tchitchikov, as though he would have said: 'What an ignoramus you are; must one teach you everything from the A B C?'
'Not profitable? Why, in three years I would get an income of twenty thousand from that estate—that's how unprofitable it is. Ten miles across—is a trifle, it seems! And the land, look what the land's like! It's all water meadows. I'd sow flax, and for flax alone I'd get five thousand; I'd sow turnip, and get four thousand for turnip. And now look, the rye has come up; it was all self sown. He did not sow any corn, I know that. Why, that estate is worth a hundred and fifty thousand, not forty.'
Tchitchikov began to be afraid that Hlobuev might overhear, and so dropped even further behind.
'You see how much land has run to waste,' said Skudronzhoglo, beginning to get angry. 'If he had only let people know beforehand, some one might have been glad to cultivate it. If he has nothing to plough with, he might dig it up and turn it into a market garden; he would have got something for the vegetables! He has made his peasants sit idle for four years—that's no matter, of course! Why, by that alone you have corrupted them and ruined them for ever; they have grown used to rags and vagrancy!'
Skudronzhoglo spat with anger as he said this, and his features were overshadowed by a cloud of gloom.
'I can't stay here any longer: it makes me ill to see this neglect and waste! You can settle with him without me now. Get this treasure away from that fool as soon as you can. He simply dishonours God's gifts.' Saying this Skudronzhoglo said good-bye to Tchitchikov, and overtaking Hlobuev, began saying good-bye to him too.
'Upon my word, Konstantin Fyodorovitch!' cried Hlobuev in astonishment, 'you have only just come and you are going!'
'I can't stay, it is very urgent for me to be at home,' said Skudronzhoglo, and taking leave, got on his racing droshky and went off.
It seemed as though Hlobuev understood the reason of his departure. 'Konstantin Fyodorovitch couldn't endure it,' he said. I feel that it can't be cheering for a farmer such as he is, to look at such senseless mismanagement. Would you believe it, Pavel Ivanovitch, that I cannot, that I am not able … that I have hardly sown any wheat at all this year! As I am an honest man I had no seed, let alone the fact that I have nothing to plough with. Your brother is an extraordinary manager I am told, Platon Mihailovitch; but Konstantin Fyodorovitch, there is no denying it, is a Napoleon in that line. I often think indeed: "Why is it that there is so much sense in one head? if only there were one drop of it in my silly brain, just enough to know how to manage my household! I don't know how to do anything: I am no use for anything. Oh, Pavel Ivanovitch, take my land under your care! I feel most sorry for my poor peasants, I feel that I am incapable. … I don't know how to be strict and exacting. And, indeed, how could I train them in order and regularity when I am so disorderly and irregular myself! I should like to give them all their freedom at once, but a Russian's so made that he can't do without a purchaser. … As he drowses so he drowns.'
'Why, that is really strange,' said Platonov. 'Why is it in Russia that if you don't look sharply after the peasant he becomes a drunkard and good-for-nothing?'
'From lack of culture,' said Tchitchikov.
'Well, God knows why. Here we are cultured, and see how we live. I have been to the university and have listened to lectures on all sorts of subjects, but I did not learn the art and right way of living, and what's more I did, so to say, learn the art of spending more money on all sorts of new refinements and comforts, and became more familiar with the objects for which money is necessary. Was that because I did not study sensibly? No, my comrades were all the same. Two or three of them perhaps did get real benefit from the lectures and that was perhaps because they were intelligent anyway, but the others did nothing but try to learn what spoils health and wastes money. Yes, indeed! They came to the lectures simply to applaud the professors, to bestow laurels upon them, and not to gain anything from them, so that we take from culture only its worst side; we snatch at the surface of it, but don't take the thing itself. No, Pavel Ivanovitch, it's from some other cause that we don't know how to live, but what it is, upon my word I don't know.'
'There must be a cause,' said Tchitchikov.
Poor Hlobuev heaved a deep sigh and said: 'It sometimes seems to me that the Russian is a lost man. He has no strength of will, no courage to persevere. One wants to do everything and one can do nothing, one is always thinking that from to-morrow one will begin a new life, that from to-morrow one will set to work as one ought, that from to-morrow one will put oneself on a diet; but not a bit of it, on the evening of that very day one will over-eat oneself, so that one can only blink one's eyes and can't say a word—yes really; and it's always like that.'
'One must keep a store of common sense,' said Tchitchikov, 'and consult one's common sense at every minute, have a friendly conversation with it.'
'Well!' said Hlobuev. 'Really it seems to me that we are not created for common sense. I don't believe any one of us is sensible. If I do see that some one is actually living respectably and making and saving money I don't trust even him: the devil will confound him in his old age, he will suddenly let it all go! And every one is like that among us, the gentry and the peasants, the cultured and the uncultured. There was a clever peasant who, starting from nothing, made a hundred thousand, and when he had made a hundred thousand he took a silly craze into his head to have a bath of champagne, and he did bathe in champagne. But now I believe we have looked over everything. There is nothing more. I don't know whether you would like to look at the mill. It has no wheel, though, and its works are good for nothing.'
'What's the use of looking at it then?' said Tchitchikov.
'In that case let us go home.'
And they all turned their steps homeward.
The sights that met them on their way back were of the same nature. Slovenliness and disorder seemed to show their ugliness on every side. Everything was neglected and had run to waste. An angry peasant woman in greasy rags was beating a poor little girl till the child was half dead, and was calling on all the devils. One philosophic bearded peasant gazed out of window with stoical indifference at the wrath of the drunken woman; another bearded one was yawning. Another was scratching the lower part of his back, while yet another yawned. Yawning was visible in the buildings and in everything: the roofs too gaped. Platonov looking at them gave a yawn. 'My future property—the peasants,' thought Tchitchikov, 'hole upon hole, and patch upon patch.'
And in fact a whole gate had been put bodily on the top of one hut instead of a roof; the falling windows were propped up with beams dragged out of the master's barn. Indeed, the system of Trishka's coat seemed to prevail; the cuffs and the tails were cut off to patch the elbows.
They went indoors. Tchitchikov was somewhat surprised by the mingling of poverty with some splendid nicknacks of the latest fashion in luxury. In the middle of broken ornaments and furniture there were new bronzes. A Shakespeare sat on the inkstand, an ivory hand for scratching the back lay on the table. Hlobuev introduced his wife. She was a fine specimen; she could have held her own in Moscow. She was tastefully and fashionably dressed. She liked talking about the town and the theatre that was being set up in it. It was evident that she liked the country even less than her husband did, and that she yawned more even than Platonov when she was left alone. The room was soon filled with children, charming girls and boys. There were five of them, the sixth was still a baby in arms. They were all delightful: the boys and girls were a joy to look at. They were dressed prettily and with taste, they were full of play and gaiety, and that made it all the sadder to look at them. It would have been better if they had been badly dressed, in simple homespun skirts and smocks, if they had been running about the yard and had been in no way different from peasant children! A friend came to call on the lady of the house. The ladies went off to their own domain. The children ran after them and the gentlemen were left alone.
Tchitchikov approached the subject of the purchase. Like all purchasers he began depreciating the estate he wanted to buy, and after running it down on all sides, said: 'What price are you asking for it?'
'You see,' said Hlobuev, 'I don't ask too much and I don't like to do so: it would be shameful on my part. I won't conceal from you either that on my estate out of every hundred souls reckoned on the census list only fifty are left, the rest have either died of an epidemic or have run away without a passport, so that you may reckon them as dead. So I only ask you thirty thousand.'
'Oh, thirty thousand! A neglected estate, dead peasants and thirty thousand! Take twenty-five.'
'Pavel Ivanovitch, I could mortgage it for twenty-five thousand: do you understand that? Then I should get twenty-five thousand and the estate would still be mine. I am selling it simply because I need money at once, and there would be a lot of delay over mortgaging it; I should have to pay the clerks, and I haven't the money to do it.'
'Oh well, but you might let me have it for twenty-five thousand!'
Platonov felt ashamed of Tchitchikov. 'Buy it, Pavel Ivanovitch,' he said. 'Any one would give that price for the estate. If you won't give thirty thousand for it my brother and I will club together and buy it.'
Tchitchikov was frightened. 'Very well,' he said, 'I will give thirty thousand. Here, I will give you a deposit of two thousand at once, eight thousand in a week's time, and the remaining twenty thousand in a month.'
'No, Pavel Ivanovitch, I only sell it on condition of receiving the money as soon as possible. Give me now fifteen thousand at least, and the rest not later than in a fortnight's time.'
'But I haven't got fifteen thousand! Ten thousand is all I have with me now. Let me get the money together.' This was a lie: he had twenty thousand.
'No, please, Pavel Ivanovitch! I tell you that I absolutely must have fifteen thousand at once.'
'But I really have not got the five thousand and I don't know where to get it.'
'I will lend it to you,' put in Platonov.
'Well, perhaps, if you will!' said Tchitchikov, and thought to himself, 'well, it really is very handy that he should lend it me: in that case it will be possible to bring the money to-morrow.'
The writing-case was brought from the carriage for Hlobuev, and ten thousand was at once taken from it; the other five thousand was promised for the next day. It was promised, but Tchitchikov inwardly proposed to bring three thousand; the rest later, in two or three days, or if possible to put off the payment somewhat longer. Pavel Ivanovitch had a peculiar dislike for letting money go out of his hands. If it were absolutely inevitable to make a payment it still seemed to him better to pay the money to-morrow and not to-day. In fact he behaved as we all do: we all like to keep a man dangling about when he is asking for his money. Let him hang about in the passage! As though he could not wait a little! What does it matter to us that every hour may be precious to him and that his business is suffering from his absence!
'Come to-morrow, my good man,' we say. 'I have no time to attend to you to-day.'
'Where are you going to live?' Platonov asked Hlobuev. 'Have you some other estate?'
'No, I haven't, but I am going to move to the town. I should have had to do that in any case, not on my own account, but for the children. They must have teachers for scripture, music, and dancing. You can't get that in the country, you know.'
'Hasn't a crust of bread, but wants his children to be taught dancing!' thought Tchitchikov.
'Queer!' thought Platonov.
'Well, we must have something to sprinkle the bargain with,' said Hlobuev. 'Hey, Kiryushka! bring us a bottle of champagne, my lad.'
'Hasn't a crust of bread, but has champagne!' thought Tchitchikov.
Platonov did not know what to think.
The champagne was brought in. They drank three glasses each and grew livelier. Hlobuev unbent and became clever and charming; witticisms and anecdotes were continually dropping from him. Much knowledge of men and the world was apparent in his talk! He had seen many things so well and so truly; he sketched in a few words the neighbouring landowners so aptly and smartly; he saw the failings and mistakes of all of them so clearly; he knew so well the history of the spendthrift gentry—and why and how and through what they had come to ruin; he could reproduce their most trifling habits with such originality and insight, that they were both fascinated by his talk and were prepared to declare that he was a very intelligent man.
'Listen,' said Platonov, taking him by the hand, 'how is it that with your cleverness, your experience, and your knowledge of life, you can't find some way of escape from your difficult position?'
'But I can,' answered Hlobuev, and thereupon he poured out a perfect avalanche of projects. They were all so absurd, so odd, and were so little the result of a knowledge of men and the world that there was nothing for it but to shrug one's shoulders and say: 'Good Lord, what a fathomless gulf there is between knowledge of the world and the capacity for making use of it!' Almost all his projects rested upon the possibility of obtaining at once by some means a hundred or even two hundred thousand roubles. Then, so he fancied, everything could be settled satisfactorily and the estate would be properly run and the rents would be patched, and the revenues would be quadrupled, and it would be in his power to pay all his debts. And he ended his talk by saying: 'But what would you have me do? There isn't any benefactor who would venture to lend me two hundred or even one hundred thousand roubles! It seems it is not God's will.'
'As though God would send two hundred thousand roubles to such a fool!' thought Tchitchikov.
'I have got an aunt, indeed, who is worth three million,' said Hlobuev, 'a devout old lady, she gives to churches and monasteries, but is stingy about helping relations. She is a remarkable old woman—an aunt of the old-fashioned type who is well worth seeing. She has four hundred canaries; she has pug dogs and lady companions and servants such as can't be found nowadays. The youngest of her servants must be sixty, though she always calls to him: "Hey, boy!" If a visitor does not behave himself, she will tell the servant to leave him out when handing the dishes at dinner. And they actually do miss him out.'
'And what is her name, and where does she live?' asked Tchitchikov.
'She lives in our town, Alexandra Ivanovna Hanasarov.'
'Why don't you apply to her?' Platonov asked sympathetically. 'I think if she were to get a closer insight into the position of your family, she would not be capable of refusing you, however stingy she may be.'
'Oh no, she is capable! My aunt has a tough character. She is one of those old women that are like flint, Platon Mihailovitch! Besides there are other people making up to her apart from me. Among them there is one who is aiming at being a governor. He claims to be a relation. God bless him, perhaps he will succeed. God bless the lot of them! I never have been able to make up to people, and less than ever now; I can't stoop to it.'
'Idiot!' thought Tchitchikov. 'Why, I'd look after an aunt like that like a nurse looking after a baby!
'Well, talking like this is dry work,' said Hlobuev. 'Hey, Kiryushka! bring us another bottle of champagne.'
'No, no, I can't drink any more,' said Platonov.
'Nor can I,' said Tchitchikov, and both refused resolutely.
'Well, anyway you must give me your word that you will come and see me in town: on the 8th of June I am giving a little dinner to our local magnates.'
'Upon my word!' cried Platonov. 'In such a position, completely ruined, and now a dinner-party.'
'There's no help for it, it must be: it's a debt,' said Hlobuev. 'They have entertained me too.'
'What is to be done with him?' thought Platonov. He was not aware that in Russia, in Moscow and many other towns, there are numbers of these clever people whose life is an enigma. A man has lost everything it seems, he is in debt all round, he has no means whatever and the dinner he gives, one would think, must be the last; and those who dine with him imagine that next day their host will be hauled off to prison. Ten years pass and he is still extant; he is more deeply in debt than ever, and again he gives a dinner and every one believes it is his last and every one is convinced that their host will be hauled off to prison next day.
Hlobuev was almost one of these wonderful people. It is only in Russia that one can exist in that way. Though he had nothing he entertained and kept open house, and was even a patron of the fine arts, encouraging artists of all sorts who visited the town, giving them board and lodging in his house. If any one had looked into the house he had in town, he could not have told who was the master of it. One day a priest in a chasuble would be holding a service in it; next day some French actors would be having a rehearsal; on one occasion some one who was a complete stranger to almost every one in the house installed himself with his papers in the drawing-room of all places, and turned it into an office for himself, and no one in the house was troubled by this, but seemed to regard it as in the ordinary course of events. Sometimes for days together there was not a crumb in the house, sometimes they gave a dinner that would have satisfied the most refined gourmand, and the master of the house appeared festive and lively, with the deportment of a wealthy nobleman, and the carriage of a man whose life has been spent in the midst of plenty and prosperity. On the other hand, at times there were moments so bitter that another man in his place would have hanged or shot himself. But he was saved by a religious temperament which in him was strangely combined with his reckless manner of life. In these bitter painful moments he would turn over the pages of a book and read the lives of the saints and martyrs, who disciplined their souls to be superior to misfortunes and sufferings. His soul at such times completely melted, his spirit was softened and his eyes were filled with tears. And, strange to say, unexpected help almost always came to him from one quarter or another at these times; either some of his old friends would think of him and send him some money; or a wealthy lady, a generous Christian soul, a stranger to him personally, casually heard his story on a visit to the town, and with the impulsive generosity of the female heart, sent him a handsome present; or some law-suit of which he had never even heard would be settled to his advantage. Reverently and gratefully he recognised at such times the incomprehensible mercy of Providence, had a thanksgiving service celebrated, and began the same reckless life as before.
'I am sorry for him, I am really sorry for him!' said Platonov to Tchitchikov, as they were driving away.
'A prodigal son!' said Tchitchikov. 'It is no use being sorry for people like that.'
And soon they both left off thinking about him: Platonov, because he took an indolent and apathetic view of every one's position as of everything in the world, indeed. His heart was touched and ached at the sight of the sufferings of others, but his impressions did not cut deeply into his heart. He did not think of Hlobuev for he did not think even of himself. Tchitchikov did not think of Hlobuev because all his thoughts were absorbed in his new purchase. He was reckoning and calculating and considering all the advantages of the estate he had bought. And however he looked at it, from every point of view he saw that it was a profitable purchase. He might mortgage the estate. Or he might merely mortgage the dead and runaway serfs. Or he might first sell the best pieces of land and then mortgage the remainder. Or he might decide to manage the land himself, and become a landowner after the pattern of Skudronzhoglo, profiting by his advice, as Konstantin Fyodorovitch would be his neighbour and benefactor. Or he might even adopt the course of selling the estate into private hands (always supposing that he did not himself care to undertake the management of it), while keeping the dead and runaway serfs for his own purposes. Then other advantages presented themselves; he might disappear from these parts altogether without repaying Skudronzhoglo the money he had lent him. In fact, however he looked at the matter, it was evident that it was a profitable one. He felt delighted, delighted because he had now become a landowner, an owner not of an imaginary but of a real estate with land and all appurtenances and serfs—serfs not creatures of a dream, existing only in imagination, but real and substantial. And at last he began prancing up and down and rubbing his hands, and humming and murmuring, and putting his fist to his mouth blew a march on it as on a trumpet, and even uttered aloud a few encouraging words and nicknames addressed to himself, such as 'bulldog' and 'little cockerel.' But then remembering that he was not alone he subsided and tried to suppress his untimely outburst of delight, and when Platonov, mistaking these vague sounds for words addressed to him, asked him, 'What?' he answered, 'Nothing.'
Only then looking about him he noticed that they were driving through a beautiful copse. An enclosure of charming birch-trees stretched to left and to right. Between the trees a white brick-built church appeared. At the end of the road a gentleman came into sight walking towards them, wearing a cap and carrying a gnarled stick in his hand. A long-legged English hound was running ahead of him.
'Stop!' cried Platonov to the coachman, and he jumped out of the carriage. Tchitchikov did the same. They walked to meet the gentleman. Yarb had already succeeded in greeting the English dog who was evidently an old acquaintance, for he received on his thick nose the eager licking of Azor (that was the name of the English dog) with complete indifference. The agile dog called Azor, after licking Yarb ran up to Platonov and jumped up with the intention of licking him on the lips, but did not succeed in doing so and, repulsed by him, bounded off to Tchitchikov and licking his ear, dashed back to Platonov again, hoping to lick at least his ear.
Platonov and the gentleman coming towards them met at this moment and kissed each other.
'Upon my word, Platon! What do you mean by treating me like this?' the gentleman asked quickly.
'Like what?' Platonov answered apathetically.
'Why, it's too bad really! For three days there has been no sight or sound of you! Pyetuh's groom brought your horse. "He has driven away with a gentleman," he said. But he didn't say a word as to where, with what object, or for how long. Upon my word, brother, how can you go on like this? Goodness knows what I have been imagining these days!'
'Well, I can't help it. I forgot,' said Platonov. 'We went to see Konstantin Fyodorovitch. He sends you his greetings and so does sister. Let me introduce Pavel Ivanovitch Tchitchikov. Pavel Ivanovitch, brother Vassily: I beg you to like him as you do me.'
'Brother Vassily' and Tchitchikov taking off their caps kissed each other.
'What sort of man is this Tchitchikov?' thought 'brother Vassily.' 'Brother Platon is not very discriminating in his acquaintances, and probably has not found out what sort of a man he is.' He scrutinised Tchitchikov so far as was consistent with good manners. Meanwhile Tchitchikov stood with his head a little on one side, and maintained an agreeable expression on his countenance.
Tchitchikov for his part scrutinised 'brother Vassily' so far as good manners would permit. He was shorter than Platonov, had darker hair, and was altogether far less handsome; but there was a great deal of life and animation in his face. It was evident that he did not spend his time in lethargy and depression.
'Do you know what I am going to do?' said Platonov.
'What?' asked Vassily.
'Going for a tour about holy Russia with Pavel Ivanovitch here, and perhaps it will rouse me and distract me from my depression.'
'How did you come to settle it so quickly?' Vassily was beginning, genuinely puzzled at such a decision, and he was almost adding: 'And settled to go too with a man you have never seen before, who may be a rascal, and goodness knows what!' And filled with mistrust he looked askance at Tchitchikov, and saw that he was still standing with perfect decorum, still politely holding his head a little on one side and still maintaining the respectfully affable expression on his face, so that it was impossible to say what kind of a man he was.
In silence the three gentlemen walked along the road, on the left of which was the white church of which they had caught glimpses between the trees, and on the right, the buildings of a gentleman's homestead began to come into sight through the trees. At last the gates too came into view. They walked into the yard where there was an old-fashioned high-roofed house. Two immense lime-trees standing in the middle of the yard wrapped almost half of it in their shade. The walls of the house could scarcely be seen through their luxuriant drooping branches. Under the lime-trees there were several long seats. Vassily Platonov asked Tchitchikov to sit down. Tchitchikov sat down and so did the younger brother. The whole yard was flooded with the fragrance of flowering lilacs and bird-cherries, which hanging over the pretty birch hedge from the garden on all sides into the yard looked like a flowery chain or a bead necklace wreathed about it.
A smart deft youth of seventeen in a handsome pink cotton shirt brought a decanter of water and bottles of kvass of various kinds and colours, fizzing like effervescent lemonade. After setting the decanters before them he went up to a tree and, picking up a spade that was leaning against it, went off into the garden. At the Platonovs' all the house-serfs worked in the garden, all the servants were gardeners, or to put it more correctly, there were no servants, but the gardeners sometimes performed their duties. Vassily Platonov always maintained that one could do without servants at all: any one, he said, could hand things, and it was not necessary to have a separate class of people to do it; and that a Russian is only nice and alert and handsome and unconstrained and works well so long as he wears a shirt and a jerkin, but that as soon as he gets into a German coat he becomes ungainly and ugly and lazy and dawdling. He even declared that the peasants' cleanliness was only preserved so long as they wore the Russian shirt and jerkin, and that as soon as they got into a German coat they gave up changing their shirts and going to the bath, and took to sleeping in their coats and that bugs, fleas and God knows what besides began to breed under their coats. Perhaps he was right in this. In their village the peasants dressed with peculiar neatness and smartness, and one might have looked far to find such handsome shirts and jerkins.
'Won't you take a little refreshment?' said Vassily Mihailovitch to Tchitchikov, indicating the decanters. 'The kvass is our own make; our house has long been famous for it.'
Tchitchikov poured out a glass from the first decanter. It was like the effervescent beverage he had sometimes drunk in Poland, fizzing like champagne, and the gas mounted with an agreeable stinging sensation from the mouth into the nose. 'Nectar,' said Tchitchikov. He drank a glass from another decanter, it was better still.
'In what direction and into what parts do you propose to make your tour?' asked Vassily Mihailovitch.
'I am going,' said Tchitchikov, rubbing his knee with his hand, while he gently swayed his whole person and leaned his head affably on one side, 'not so much on my own affairs as on other people's. General Betrishtchev, my intimate friend, and I may say benefactor, asked me to visit his relations. Relations of course are relations, but in a sense I am going for my own sake too—since apart from the advantages from the point of view of digestion—to see the world and what people are doing is, so to say, the book of life and a second education. …'
Vassily Mihailovitch pondered. 'The man speaks in rather a stilted way,' he thought, 'but there is a great deal of truth in what he says. My brother Platon has no knowledge of the world or of men or of life.' After a brief silence he said aloud: 'Do you know what, Platon? Travelling really may shake you up a bit. You are suffering from a lethargy of the soul. You are simply asleep, and not asleep from satiety or fatigue, but from lack of vivid impressions or sensations. Now I am quite the opposite. I should be very glad not to feel so keenly and not to take everything that happens so much to heart.'
'Well, why do you take things so much to heart?' said Platonov. 'You are only asking for trouble and you make worries for yourself.'
'How can I help it when there is something unpleasant at every turn?' said Vassily. 'Have you heard the trick that Lyenitsyn has played on us while you have been away? He has seized our waste land up by the Red Hill.'
'He doesn't know, that's why he has taken it,' said Platonov. 'He is a new man, he has only just come from Petersburg. We must talk with him and explain.'
'He knows, he knows perfectly well; I sent to tell him but he answered with rudeness.'
'You ought to have gone and explained it to him yourself. Talk it over with him.'
'Well, no. He is too stuck up. I'm not going to see him. You can go yourself if you like.'
'I would go; but I am of no use. He may take me in and deceive me.'
'Well, if you like, I will drive over,' said Tchitchikov.
Vassily glanced at him and thought: 'He is fond of driving about!'
'You must only give me an idea what sort of man he is,' said Tchitchikov, 'and what the business is about.'
'I am ashamed really to impose such a disagreeable commission on you, for even an interview with such a man is to me an unpleasant commission. I must tell you that he comes of a simple family of small landowners of our province, has risen in the service in Petersburg, has managed to get into aristocratic society by marrying somebody's illegitimate daughter and has begun to give himself airs. He behaves like a grand gentleman. In our province, thank God, people have some sense. Fashion is not the law for us, and Petersburg is not our holy place.'
'Of course not,' said Tchitchikov. 'But what's the point at issue?'
'Well, it is really a nonsensical business. He hasn't got land enough, so—well he has seized our waste land, that is, he reckoned on the land being of no use, and the owners … and as luck would have it the peasants have from time immemorial assembled there to celebrate the "Red Hill." On that account I would rather sacrifice other better lands than give it up. Tradition is for me sacred.'
'So you are ready to let him have other land?'
'Yes, if he hadn't behaved like this; but as far as I can see, he wants to bring it into court. Very well, we shall see which wins the case. Though it is not very clear on the map, there are old men still living who know about it.'
'H'm,' thought Tchitchikov, 'they are both a bit touchy.' But aloud he said: 'It seems to me that the business might be arranged amicably. Everything depends on the arbitrator. By letter …'
(Here two pages of the manuscript are lost.)
… 'that for you too it will be very advantageous to transfer, for instance, to my name all the dead souls that are still reckoned on the old census lists as belonging to your estates, so that I should pay the taxes for them. And to avoid giving any cause of offence, you would make the transfer by means of a regular deed of purchase as though the souls were living.'
'Well, upon my word!' thought Lyenitsyn, 'this is something very queer,' and he drew a little back, chair and all, for he was completely nonplussed.
'I have no doubt you will readily agree to this,' said Tchitchikov, 'for it is a transaction of precisely the class of which you have been speaking. It will be a private affair between thoroughly trustworthy people, and there will be no harm to any one.'
What was to be done? Lyenitsyn found himself in a difficult position. He could not have foreseen that the views he had just expressed would expose him to carrying them into action so quickly. The proposition was utterly unexpected. Of course there was nothing calculated to injure any one about this proceeding: landowners would in any case mortgage those dead souls together with their living ones; so that there could be no loss to the Treasury from it; the only difference was that they would all be in one man's hands, instead of being in the hands of several different persons. But, nevertheless, he was troubled. He was a law-abiding man and a business man, in a good sense. He would never have decided any case unjustly for the sake of a bribe, however large. But on this occasion he stood uncertain what to call this action, just or unjust. If any one else had come to him with such a proposition he might have said: 'That's nonsense, ridiculous! I don't care for playing with dolls or any other sort of foolery.' But his guest had made such a good impression on him already, they were so thoroughly in agreement in their views on the progress of science and enlightenment—how could he refuse? Lyenitsyn found himself in a very difficult position.
But at that moment, as though to relieve his distress, his wife, a young woman with a turn-up nose, thin and pale like all Petersburg ladies, and tastefully dressed like all Petersburg ladies, came into the room. She was followed by a nurse carrying in her arms a baby, the first fruits of the tender passion of the young married couple. Tchitchikov, of course, went up to the lady at once, and the agreeable way in which he held his head on one side was enough alone, even apart from his courteous greeting, to dispose her in his favour. Then he ran up to the baby, who was on the point of breaking into a howl. Tchitchikov, however, succeeded by the words, 'Agoo, agoo, little darling!', by snapping his fingers and dangling the sardonyx seal on his watch-chain, in luring him into his arms. As soon as he had him in his arms, he began tossing him up in the air and succeeded in evoking a gleeful smile on the baby's face, which delighted both his parents. But either from delight or from some other motive, the baby suddenly misbehaved himself. Madame Lyenitsyn cried out: 'Oh good gracious! he has ruined your coat!'
Tchitchikov looked: the sleeve of his quite new dress-coat was completely spoilt. 'Plague take you, you confounded little imp!' he muttered to himself in his wrath.
Lyenitsyn, his wife and the nurse all ran for eau-de-Cologne; they began wiping him down on all sides.
'It's of no consequence,' said Tchitchikov, 'it is absolutely of no consequence. As though an innocent babe could do harm.' And at the same time he was thinking to himself, 'But how well he aimed, the confounded little beast!' 'It's the golden age!' he said, when he had been thoroughly cleansed and the agreeable smile had come back into his face.
'Yes, indeed,' said Lyenitsyn, turning to Tchitchikov also with an agreeable smile, 'what is more to be envied than the age of infancy? No anxieties, no thought of the future.'
'A state into which one would willingly change at any moment,' said Tchitchikov.
'Without thinking twice about it,' said Lyenitsyn.
But I fancy both were lying; if such a transformation had been offered them, they would have changed their views pretty quickly. And indeed what fun is there in sitting in a nurse's arms and spoiling people's coats!
The young wife retired with her firstborn and the nurse, for he too needed a little setting to rights: though he had been so liberal to Tchitchikov he had not spared himself.
This insignificant circumstance disposed Lyenitsyn still more favourably to Tchitchikov. Indeed, how could he refuse such an agreeable and tactful guest, who had lavished such caresses on his little one, and who had so magnanimously paid for it with his coat?
Lyenitsyn thought: 'After all why should I not grant his request if that is what he wants …'
(Here there is a considerable hiatus
in the manuscript.)