When Chichikov awoke he stretched himself and realised that he had slept well. For a moment or two he lay on his back, and then suddenly clapped his hands at the recollection that he was now owner of nearly four hundred souls. At once he leapt out of bed without so much as glancing at his face in the mirror, though, as a rule, he had much solicitude for his features, and especially for his chin, of which he would make the most when in company with friends, and more particularly should any one happen to enter while he was engaged in the process of shaving. “Look how round my chin is!” was his usual formula. On the present occasion, however, he looked neither at chin nor at any other feature, but at once donned his flower-embroidered slippers of morroco leather (the kind of slippers in which, thanks to the Russian love for a dressing-gowned existence, the town of Torzhok does such a huge trade), and, clad only in a meagre shirt, so far forgot his elderliness and dignity as to cut a couple of capers after the fashion of a Scottish highlander—alighting neatly, each time, on the flat of his heels. Only when he had done that did he proceed to business. Planting himself before his dispatch-box, he rubbed his hands with a satisfaction worthy of an incorruptible rural magistrate when adjourning for luncheon; after which he extracted from the receptacle a bundle of papers. These he had decided not to deposit with a lawyer, for the reason that he would hasten matters, as well as save expense, by himself framing and fair-copying the necessary deeds of indenture; and since he was thoroughly acquainted with the necessary terminology, he proceeded to inscribe in large characters the date, and then in smaller ones, his name and rank. By two o’clock the whole was finished, and as he looked at the sheets of names representing bygone peasants who had ploughed, worked at handicrafts, cheated their masters, fetched, carried, and got drunk (though SOME of them may have behaved well), there came over him a strange, unaccountable sensation. To his eye each list of names seemed to possess a character of its own; and even individual peasants therein seemed to have taken on certain qualities peculiar to themselves. For instance, to the majority of Madame Korobotchka’s serfs there were appended nicknames and other additions; Plushkin’s list was distinguished by a conciseness of exposition which had led to certain of the items being represented merely by Christian name, patronymic, and a couple of dots; and Sobakevitch’s list was remarkable for its amplitude and circumstantiality, in that not a single peasant had such of his peculiar characteristics omitted as that the deceased had been “excellent at joinery,” or “sober and ready to pay attention to his work.” Also, in Sobakevitch’s list there was recorded who had been the father and the mother of each of the deceased, and how those parents had behaved themselves. Only against the name of a certain Thedotov was there inscribed: “Father unknown, Mother the maidservant Kapitolina, Morals and Honesty good.” These details communicated to the document a certain air of freshness, they seemed to connote that the peasants in question had lived but yesterday. As Chichikov scanned the list he felt softened in spirit, and said with a sigh:
“My friends, what a concourse of you is here! How did you all pass your lives, my brethren? And how did you all come to depart hence?”
As he spoke his eyes halted at one name in particular—that of the same Peter Saveliev Neuvazhai Korito who had once been the property of the window Korobotchka. Once more he could not help exclaiming:
“What a series of titles! They occupy a whole line! Peter Saveliev, I wonder whether you were an artisan or a plain muzhik. Also, I wonder how you came to meet your end; whether in a tavern, or whether through going to sleep in the middle of the road and being run over by a train of waggons. Again, I see the name, ‘Probka Stepan, carpenter, very sober.’ That must be the hero of whom the Guards would have been so glad to get hold. How well I can imagine him tramping the country with an axe in his belt and his boots on his shoulder, and living on a few groats’-worth of bread and dried fish per day, and taking home a couple of half-rouble pieces in his purse, and sewing the notes into his breeches, or stuffing them into his boots! In what manner came you by your end, Probka Stepan? Did you, for good wages, mount a scaffold around the cupola of the village church, and, climbing thence to the cross above, miss your footing on a beam, and fall headlong with none at hand but Uncle Michai—the good uncle who, scratching the back of his neck, and muttering, ‘Ah, Vania, for once you have been too clever!’ straightway lashed himself to a rope, and took your place? ‘Maksim Teliatnikov, shoemaker.’ A shoemaker, indeed? ‘As drunk as a shoemaker,’ says the proverb. I know what you were like, my friend. If you wish, I will tell you your whole history. You were apprenticed to a German, who fed you and your fellows at a common table, thrashed you with a strap, kept you indoors whenever you had made a mistake, and spoke of you in uncomplimentary terms to his wife and friends. At length, when your apprenticeship was over, you said to yourself, ‘I am going to set up on my own account, and not just to scrape together a kopeck here and a kopeck there, as the Germans do, but to grow rich quick.’ Hence you took a shop at a high rent, bespoke a few orders, and set to work to buy up some rotten leather out of which you could make, on each pair of boots, a double profit. But those boots split within a fortnight, and brought down upon your head dire showers of maledictions; with the result that gradually your shop grew empty of customers, and you fell to roaming the streets and exclaiming, ‘The world is a very poor place indeed! A Russian cannot make a living for German competition.’ Well, well! ‘Elizabeta Vorobei!’ But that is a WOMAN’S name! How comes SHE to be on the list? That villain Sobakevitch must have sneaked her in without my knowing it.”
“‘Grigori Goiezhai-ne-Doiedesh,’” he went on. “What sort of a man were YOU, I wonder? Were you a carrier who, having set up a team of three horses and a tilt waggon, left your home, your native hovel, for ever, and departed to cart merchandise to market? Was it on the highway that you surrendered your soul to God, or did your friends first marry you to some fat, red-faced soldier’s daughter; after which your harness and team of rough, but sturdy, horses caught a highwayman’s fancy, and you, lying on your pallet, thought things over until, willy-nilly, you felt that you must get up and make for the tavern, thereafter blundering into an icehole? Ah, our peasant of Russia! Never do you welcome death when it comes!”
“And you, my friends?” continued Chichikov, turning to the sheet whereon were inscribed the names of Plushkin’s absconded serfs. “Although you are still alive, what is the good of you? You are practically dead. Whither, I wonder, have your fugitive feet carried you? Did you fare hardly at Plushkin’s, or was it that your natural inclinations led you to prefer roaming the wilds and plundering travellers? Are you, by this time, in gaol, or have you taken service with other masters for the tillage of their lands? ‘Eremei Kariakin, Nikita Volokita and Anton Volokita (son of the foregoing).’ To judge from your surnames, you would seem to have been born gadabouts29. ‘Popov, household serf.’ Probably you are an educated man, good Popov, and go in for polite thieving, as distinguished from the more vulgar cut-throat sort. In my mind’s eye I seem to see a Captain of Rural Police challenging you for being without a passport; whereupon you stake your all upon a single throw. ‘To whom do you belong?’ asks the Captain, probably adding to his question a forcible expletive. ‘To such and such a landowner,’ stoutly you reply. ‘And what are you doing here?’ continues the Captain. ‘I have just received permission to go and earn my obrok,’ is your fluent explanation. ‘Then where is your passport?’ ‘At Miestchanin30 Pimenov’s.’ ‘Pimenov’s? Then are you Pimenov himself?’ ‘Yes, I am Pimenov himself.’ ‘He has given you his passport?’ ‘No, he has not given me his passport.’ ‘Come, come!’ shouts the Captain with another forcible expletive. ‘You are lying!’ ‘No, I am not,’ is your dogged reply. ‘It is only that last night I could not return him his passport, because I came home late; so I handed it to Antip Prochorov, the bell-ringer, for him to take care of.’ ‘Bell-ringer, indeed! Then HE gave you a passport?’ ‘No; I did not receive a passport from him either.’ ‘What?’—and here the Captain shouts another expletive—‘How dare you keep on lying? Where is YOUR OWN passport?’ ‘I had one all right,’ you reply cunningly, ‘but must have dropped it somewhere on the road as I came along.’ ‘And what about that soldier’s coat?’ asks the Captain with an impolite addition. ‘Whence did you get it? And what of the priest’s cashbox and copper money?’’ ‘About them I know nothing,’ you reply doggedly. ‘Never at any time have I committed a theft.’ ‘Then how is it that the coat was found at your place?’ ‘I do not know. Probably some one else put it there.’ ‘You rascal, you rascal!’ shouts the Captain, shaking his head, and closing in upon you. ‘Put the leg-irons upon him, and off with him to prison!’ ‘With pleasure,’ you reply as, taking a snuff-box from your pocket, you offer a pinch to each of the two gendarmes who are manacling you, while also inquiring how long they have been discharged from the army, and in what wars they may have served. And in prison you remain until your case comes on, when the justice orders you to be removed from Tsarev-Kokshaika to such and such another prison, and a second justice orders you to be transferred thence to Vesiegonsk or somewhere else, and you go flitting from gaol to gaol, and saying each time, as you eye your new habitation, ‘The last place was a good deal cleaner than this one is, and one could play babki31 there, and stretch one’s legs, and see a little society.’”
“‘Abakum Thirov,’” Chichikov went on after a pause. “What of YOU, brother? Where, and in what capacity, are YOU disporting yourself? Have you gone to the Volga country, and become bitten with the life of freedom, and joined the fishermen of the river?”
Here, breaking off, Chichikov relapsed into silent meditation. Of what was he thinking as he sat there? Was he thinking of the fortunes of Abakum Thirov, or was he meditating as meditates every Russian when his thoughts once turn to the joys of an emancipated existence?
“Ah, well!” he sighed, looking at his watch. “It has now gone twelve o’clock. Why have I so forgotten myself? There is still much to be done, yet I go shutting myself up and letting my thoughts wander! What a fool I am!”
So saying, he exchanged his Scottish costume (of a shirt and nothing else) for attire of a more European nature; after which he pulled tight the waistcoat over his ample stomach, sprinkled himself with eau-de-Cologne, tucked his papers under his arm, took his fur cap, and set out for the municipal offices, for the purpose of completing the transfer of souls. The fact that he hurried along was not due to a fear of being late (seeing that the President of the Local Council was an intimate acquaintance of his, as well as a functionary who could shorten or prolong an interview at will, even as Homer’s Zeus was able to shorten or to prolong a night or a day, whenever it became necessary to put an end to the fighting of his favourite heroes, or to enable them to join battle), but rather to a feeling that he would like to have the affair concluded as quickly as possible, seeing that, throughout, it had been an anxious and difficult business. Also, he could not get rid of the idea that his souls were unsubstantial things, and that therefore, under the circumstances, his shoulders had better be relieved of their load with the least possible delay. Pulling on his cinnamon-coloured, bear-lined overcoat as he went, he had just stepped thoughtfully into the street when he collided with a gentleman dressed in a similar coat and an ear-lappeted fur cap. Upon that the gentleman uttered an exclamation. Behold, it was Manilov! At once the friends became folded in a strenuous embrace, and remained so locked for fully five minutes. Indeed, the kisses exchanged were so vigorous that both suffered from toothache for the greater portion of the day. Also, Manilov’s delight was such that only his nose and lips remained visible—the eyes completely disappeared. Afterwards he spent about a quarter of an hour in holding Chichikov’s hand and chafing it vigorously. Lastly, he, in the most pleasant and exquisite terms possible, intimated to his friend that he had just been on his way to embrace Paul Ivanovitch; and upon this followed a compliment of the kind which would more fittingly have been addressed to a lady who was being asked to accord a partner the favour of a dance. Chichikov had opened his mouth to reply—though even HE felt at a loss how to acknowledge what had just been said—when Manilov cut him short by producing from under his coat a roll of paper tied with red riband.
“What have you there?” asked Chichikov.
“The list of my souls.”
“Ah!” And as Chichikov unrolled the document and ran his eye over it he could not but marvel at the elegant neatness with which it had been inscribed.
“It is a beautiful piece of writing,” he said. “In fact, there will be no need to make a copy of it. Also, it has a border around its edge! Who worked that exquisite border?”
“Do not ask me,” said Manilov.
“Did YOU do it?”
“No; my wife.”
“Dear, dear!” Chichikov cried. “To think that I should have put her to so much trouble!”
“NOTHING could be too much trouble where Paul Ivanovitch is concerned.
Chichikov bowed his acknowledgements. Next, on learning that he was on his way to the municipal offices for the purpose of completing the transfer, Manilov expressed his readiness to accompany him; wherefore the pair linked arm in arm and proceeded together. Whenever they encountered a slight rise in the ground—even the smallest unevenness or difference of level—Manilov supported Chichikov with such energy as almost to lift him off his feet, while accompanying the service with a smiling implication that not if HE could help it should Paul Ivanovitch slip or fall. Nevertheless this conduct appeared to embarrass Chichikov, either because he could not find any fitting words of gratitude or because he considered the proceeding tiresome; and it was with a sense of relief that he debouched upon the square where the municipal offices—a large, three-storied building of a chalky whiteness which probably symbolised the purity of the souls engaged within—were situated. No other building in the square could vie with them in size, seeing that the remaining edifices consisted only of a sentry-box, a shelter for two or three cabmen, and a long hoarding—the latter adorned with the usual bills, posters, and scrawls in chalk and charcoal. At intervals, from the windows of the second and third stories of the municipal offices, the incorruptible heads of certain of the attendant priests of Themis would peer quickly forth, and as quickly disappear again—probably for the reason that a superior official had just entered the room. Meanwhile the two friends ascended the staircase—nay, almost flew up it, since, longing to get rid of Manilov’s ever-supporting arm, Chichikov hastened his steps, and Manilov kept darting forward to anticipate any possible failure on the part of his companion’s legs. Consequently the pair were breathless when they reached the first corridor. In passing it may be remarked that neither corridors nor rooms evinced any of that cleanliness and purity which marked the exterior of the building, for such attributes were not troubled about within, and anything that was dirty remained so, and donned no meritricious, purely external, disguise. It was as though Themis received her visitors in neglige and a dressing-gown. The author would also give a description of the various offices through which our hero passed, were it not that he (the author) stands in awe of such legal haunts.
Approaching the first desk which he happened to encounter, Chichikov inquired of the two young officials who were seated at it whether they would kindly tell him where business relating to serf-indenture was transacted.
“Of what nature, precisely, IS your business?” countered one of the youthful officials as he turned himself round.
“I desire to make an application.”
“In connection with a purchase?”
“Yes. But, as I say, I should like first to know where I can find the desk devoted to such business. Is it here or elsewhere?”
“You must state what it is you have bought, and for how much. THEN we shall be happy to give you the information.”
Chichikov perceived that the officials’ motive was merely one of curiosity, as often happens when young tchinovniks desire to cut a more important and imposing figure than is rightfully theirs.
“Look here, young sirs,” he said. “I know for a fact that all serf business, no matter to what value, is transacted at one desk alone. Consequently I again request you to direct me to that desk. Of course, if you do not know your business I can easily ask some one else.”
To this the tchinovniks made no reply beyond pointing towards a corner of the room where an elderly man appeared to be engaged in sorting some papers. Accordingly Chichikov and Manilov threaded their way in his direction through the desks; whereupon the elderly man became violently busy.
“Would you mind telling me,” said Chichikov, bowing, “whether this is the desk for serf affairs?”
The elderly man raised his eyes, and said stiffly:
“This is NOT the desk for serf affairs.”
“Where is it, then?”
“In the Serf Department.”
“And where might the Serf Department be?”
“In charge of Ivan Antonovitch.”
“And where is Ivan Antonovitch?”
The elderly man pointed to another corner of the room; whither Chichikov and Manilov next directed their steps. As they advanced, Ivan Antonovitch cast an eye backwards and viewed them askance. Then, with renewed ardour, he resumed his work of writing.
“Would you mind telling me,” said Chichikov, bowing, “whether this is the desk for serf affairs?”
It appeared as though Ivan Antonovitch had not heard, so completely did he bury himself in his papers and return no reply. Instantly it became plain that HE at least was of an age of discretion, and not one of your jejune chatterboxes and harum-scarums; for, although his hair was still thick and black, he had long ago passed his fortieth year. His whole face tended towards the nose—it was what, in common parlance, is known as a “pitcher-mug.”
“Would you mind telling me,” repeated Chichikov, “whether this is the desk for serf affairs?”
“It is that,” said Ivan Antonovitch, again lowering his jug-shaped jowl, and resuming his writing.
“Then I should like to transact the following business. From various landowners in this canton I have purchased a number of peasants for transfer. Here is the purchase list, and it needs but to be registered.”
“Have you also the vendors here?”
“Some of them, and from the rest I have obtained powers of attorney.”
“And have you your statement of application?”
“Yes. I desire—indeed, it is necessary for me so to do—to hasten matters a little. Could the affair, therefore, be carried through to-day?”
“To-day? Oh, dear no!” said Ivan Antonovitch. “Before that can be done you must furnish me with further proofs that no impediments exist.”
“Then, to expedite matters, let me say that Ivan Grigorievitch, the President of the Council, is a very intimate friend of mine.”
“Possibly,” said Ivan Antonovitch without enthusiasm. “But Ivan Grigorievitch alone will not do—it is customary to have others as well.”
“Yes, but the absence of others will not altogether invalidate the transaction. I too have been in the service, and know how things can be done.”
“You had better go and see Ivan Grigorievitch,” said Ivan Antonovitch more mildly. “Should he give you an order addressed to whom it may concern, we shall soon be able to settle the matter.”
Upon that Chichikov pulled from his pocket a paper, and laid it before Ivan Antonovitch. At once the latter covered it with a book. Chichikov again attempted to show it to him, but, with a movement of his head, Ivan Antonovitch signified that that was unnecessary.
“A clerk,” he added, “will now conduct you to Ivan Grigorievitch’s room.”
Upon that one of the toilers in the service of Themis—a zealot who had offered her such heartfelt sacrifice that his coat had burst at the elbows and lacked a lining—escorted our friends (even as Virgil had once escorted Dante) to the apartment of the Presence. In this sanctum were some massive armchairs, a table laden with two or three fat books, and a large looking-glass. Lastly, in (apparently) sunlike isolation, there was seated at the table the President. On arriving at the door of the apartment, our modern Virgil seemed to have become so overwhelmed with awe that, without daring even to intrude a foot, he turned back, and, in so doing, once more exhibited a back as shiny as a mat, and having adhering to it, in one spot, a chicken’s feather. As soon as the two friends had entered the hall of the Presence they perceived that the President was NOT alone, but, on the contrary, had seated by his side Sobakevitch, whose form had hitherto been concealed by the intervening mirror. The newcomers’ entry evoked sundry exclamations and the pushing back of a pair of Government chairs as the voluminous-sleeved Sobakevitch rose into view from behind the looking-glass. Chichikov the President received with an embrace, and for a while the hall of the Presence resounded with osculatory salutations as mutually the pair inquired after one another’s health. It seemed that both had lately had a touch of that pain under the waistband which comes of a sedentary life. Also, it seemed that the President had just been conversing with Sobakevitch on the subject of sales of souls, since he now proceeded to congratulate Chichikov on the same—a proceeding which rather embarrassed our hero, seeing that Manilov and Sobakevitch, two of the vendors, and persons with whom he had bargained in the strictest privacy, were now confronting one another direct. However, Chichikov duly thanked the President, and then, turning to Sobakevitch, inquired after HIS health.
“Thank God, I have nothing to complain of,” replied Sobakevitch: which was true enough, seeing that a piece of iron would have caught cold and taken to sneezing sooner than would that uncouthly fashioned landowner.
“Ah, yes; you have always had good health, have you not?” put in the President. “Your late father was equally strong.”
“Yes, he even went out bear hunting alone,” replied Sobakevitch.
“I should think that you too could worst a bear if you were to try a tussle with him,” rejoined the President.
“Oh no,” said Sobakevitch. “My father was a stronger man than I am.” Then with a sigh the speaker added: “But nowadays there are no such men as he. What is even a life like mine worth?”
“Then you do not have a comfortable time of it?” exclaimed the President.
“No; far from it,” rejoined Sobakevitch, shaking his head. “Judge for yourself, Ivan Grigorievitch. I am fifty years old, yet never in my life had been ill, except for an occasional carbuncle or boil. That is not a good sign. Sooner or later I shall have to pay for it.” And he relapsed into melancholy.
“Just listen to the fellow!” was Chichikov’s and the President’s joint inward comment. “What on earth has HE to complain of?”
“I have a letter for you, Ivan Grigorievitch,” went on Chichikov aloud as he produced from his pocket Plushkin’s epistle.
“From whom?” inquired the President. Having broken the seal, he exclaimed: “Why, it is from Plushkin! To think that HE is still alive! What a strange world it is! He used to be such a nice fellow, and now—”
“And now he is a cur,” concluded Sobakevitch, “as well as a miser who starves his serfs to death.”
“Allow me a moment,” said the President. Then he read the letter through. When he had finished he added: “Yes, I am quite ready to act as Plushkin’s attorney. When do you wish the purchase deeds to be registered, Monsieur Chichikov—now or later?”
“Now, if you please,” replied Chichikov. “Indeed, I beg that, if possible, the affair may be concluded to-day, since to-morrow I wish to leave the town. I have brought with me both the forms of indenture and my statement of application.”
“Very well. Nevertheless we cannot let you depart so soon. The indentures shall be completed to-day, but you must continue your sojourn in our midst. I will issue the necessary orders at once.”
So saying, he opened the door into the general office, where the clerks looked like a swarm of bees around a honeycomb (if I may liken affairs of Government to such an article?).
“Is Ivan Antonovitch here?” asked the President.
“Yes,” replied a voice from within.
“Then send him here.”
Upon that the pitcher-faced Ivan Antonovitch made his appearance in the doorway, and bowed.
“Take these indentures, Ivan Antonovitch,” said the President, “and see that they—”
“But first I would ask you to remember,” put in Sobakevitch, “that witnesses ought to be in attendance—not less than two on behalf of either party. Let us, therefore, send for the Public Prosecutor, who has little to do, and has even that little done for him by his chief clerk, Zolotucha. The Inspector of the Medical Department is also a man of leisure, and likely to be at home—if he has not gone out to a card party. Others also there are—all men who cumber the ground for nothing.”
“Quite so, quite so,” agreed the President, and at once dispatched a clerk to fetch the persons named.
“Also,” requested Chichikov, “I should be glad if you would send for the accredited representative of a certain lady landowner with whom I have done business. He is the son of a Father Cyril, and a clerk in your offices.”
“Certainly we shall call him here,” replied the President. “Everything shall be done to meet your convenience, and I forbid you to present any of our officials with a gratuity. That is a special request on my part. No friend of mine ever pays a copper.”
With that he gave Ivan Antonovitch the necessary instructions; and though they scarcely seemed to meet with that functionary’s approval, upon the President the purchase deeds had evidently produced an excellent impression, more especially since the moment when he had perceived the sum total to amount to nearly a hundred thousand roubles. For a moment or two he gazed into Chichikov’s eyes with an expression of profound satisfaction. Then he said:
“Well done, Paul Ivanovitch! You have indeed made a nice haul!”
“That is so,” replied Chichikov.
“Excellent business! Yes, excellent business!”
“I, too, conceive that I could not well have done better. The truth is that never until a man has driven home the piles of his life’s structure upon a lasting bottom, instead of upon the wayward chimeras of youth, will his aims in life assume a definite end.” And, that said, Chichikov went on to deliver himself of a very telling indictment of Liberalism and our modern young men. Yet in his words there seemed to lurk a certain lack of conviction. Somehow he seemed secretly to be saying to himself, “My good sir, you are talking the most absolute rubbish, and nothing but rubbish.” Nor did he even throw a glance at Sobakevitch and Manilov. It was as though he were uncertain what he might not encounter in their expression. Yet he need not have been afraid. Never once did Sobakevitch’s face move a muscle, and, as for Manilov, he was too much under the spell of Chichikov’s eloquence to do aught beyond nod his approval at intervals, and strike the kind of attitude which is assumed by lovers of music when a lady singer has, in rivalry of an accompanying violin, produced a note whereof the shrillness would exceed even the capacity of a bird’s throstle.
“But why not tell Ivan Grigorievitch precisely what you have bought?” inquired Sobakevitch of Chichikov. “And why, Ivan Grigorievitch, do YOU not ask Monsieur Chichikov precisely what his purchases have consisted of? What a splendid lot of serfs, to be sure! I myself have sold him my wheelwright, Michiev.”
“What? You have sold him Michiev?” exclaimed the President. “I know the man well. He is a splendid craftsman, and, on one occasion, made me a drozhki32. Only, only—well, lately didn’t you tell me that he is dead?”
“That Michiev is dead?” re-echoed Sobakevitch, coming perilously near to laughing. “Oh dear no! That was his brother. Michiev himself is very much alive, and in even better health than he used to be. Any day he could knock you up a britchka such as you could not procure even in Moscow. However, he is now bound to work for only one master.”
“Indeed a splendid craftsman!” repeated the President. “My only wonder is that you can have brought yourself to part with him.”
“Then think you that Michiev is the ONLY serf with whom I have parted? Nay, for I have parted also with Probka Stepan, my carpenter, with Milushkin, my bricklayer, and with Teliatnikov, my bootmaker. Yes, the whole lot I have sold.”
And to the President’s inquiry why he had so acted, seeing that the serfs named were all skilled workers and indispensable to a household, Sobakevitch replied that a mere whim had led him to do so, and thus the sale had owed its origin to a piece of folly. Then he hung his head as though already repenting of his rash act, and added:
“Although a man of grey hairs, I have not yet learned wisdom.”
“But,” inquired the President further, “how comes it about, Paul Ivanovitch, that you have purchased peasants apart from land? Is it for transferment elsewhere that you need them?”
“Very well, then. That is quite another matter. To what province of the country?”
“To the province of Kherson.”
“Indeed? That region contains some splendid land,” said the President; whereupon he proceeded to expatiate on the fertility of the Kherson pastures.
“And have you MUCH land there?” he continued.
“Yes; quite sufficient to accommodate the serfs whom I have purchased.”
“And is there a river on the estate or a lake?”
After this reply Chichikov involuntarily threw a glance at Sobakevitch; and though that landowner’s face was as motionless as every, the other seemed to detect in it: “You liar! Don’t tell ME that you own both a river and a lake, as well as the land which you say you do.”
Whilst the foregoing conversation had been in progress, various witnesses had been arriving on the scene. They consisted of the constantly blinking Public Prosecutor, the Inspector of the Medical Department, and others—all, to quote Sobakevitch, “men who cumbered the ground for nothing.” With some of them, however, Chichikov was altogether unacquainted, since certain substitutes and supernumeraries had to be pressed into the service from among the ranks of the subordinate staff. There also arrived, in answer to the summons, not only the son of Father Cyril before mentioned, but also Father Cyril himself. Each such witness appended to his signature a full list of his dignities and qualifications: one man in printed characters, another in a flowing hand, a third in topsy-turvy characters of a kind never before seen in the Russian alphabet, and so forth. Meanwhile our friend Ivan Antonovitch comported himself with not a little address; and after the indentures had been signed, docketed, and registered, Chichikov found himself called upon to pay only the merest trifle in the way of Government percentage and fees for publishing the transaction in the Official Gazette. The reason of this was that the President had given orders that only half the usual charges were to be exacted from the present purchaser—the remaining half being somehow debited to the account of another applicant for serf registration.
“And now,” said Ivan Grigorievitch when all was completed, “we need only to wet the bargain.”
“For that too I am ready,” said Chichikov. “Do you but name the hour. If, in return for your most agreeable company, I were not to set a few champagne corks flying, I should be indeed in default.”
“But we are not going to let you charge yourself with anything whatsoever. WE must provide the champagne, for you are our guest, and it is for us—it is our duty, it is our bounden obligation—to entertain you. Look here, gentlemen. Let us adjourn to the house of the Chief of Police. He is the magician who needs but to wink when passing a fishmonger’s or a wine merchant’s. Not only shall we fare well at his place, but also we shall get a game of whist.”
To this proposal no one had any objection to offer, for the mere mention of the fish shop aroused the witnesses’ appetite. Consequently, the ceremony being over, there was a general reaching for hats and caps. As the party were passing through the general office, Ivan Antonovitch whispered in Chichikov’s ear, with a courteous inclination of his jug-shaped physiognomy:
“You have given a hundred thousand roubles for the serfs, but have paid ME only a trifle for my trouble.”
“Yes,” replied Chichikov with a similar whisper, “but what sort of serfs do you suppose them to be? They are a poor, useless lot, and not worth even half the purchase money.”
This gave Ivan Antonovitch to understand that the visitor was a man of strong character—a man from whom nothing more was to be expected.
“Why have you gone and purchased souls from Plushkin?” whispered Sobakevitch in Chichikov’s other ear.
“Why did YOU go and add the woman Vorobei to your list?” retorted Chichikov.
“Vorobei? Who is Vorobei?”
“The woman ‘Elizabet’ Vorobei—‘Elizabet,’ not ‘Elizabeta?’”
“I added no such name,” replied Sobakevitch, and straightway joined the other guests.
At length the party arrived at the residence of the Chief of Police. The latter proved indeed a man of spells, for no sooner had he learnt what was afoot than he summoned a brisk young constable, whispered in his ear, adding laconically, “You understand, do you not?” and brought it about that, during the time that the guests were cutting for partners at whist in an adjoining room, the dining-table became laden with sturgeon, caviare, salmon, herrings, cheese, smoked tongue, fresh roe, and a potted variety of the same—all procured from the local fish market, and reinforced with additions from the host’s own kitchen. The fact was that the worthy Chief of Police filled the office of a sort of father and general benefactor to the town, and that he moved among the citizens as though they constituted part and parcel of his own family, and watched over their shops and markets as though those establishments were merely his own private larder. Indeed, it would be difficult to say—so thoroughly did he perform his duties in this respect—whether the post most fitted him, or he the post. Matters were also so arranged that though his income more than doubled that of his predecessors, he had never lost the affection of his fellow townsmen. In particular did the tradesmen love him, since he was never above standing godfather to their children or dining at their tables. True, he had differences of opinion with them, and serious differences at that; but always these were skilfully adjusted by his slapping the offended ones jovially on the shoulder, drinking a glass of tea with them, promising to call at their houses and play a game of chess, asking after their belongings, and, should he learn that a child of theirs was ill, prescribing the proper medicine. In short, he bore the reputation of being a very good fellow.
On perceiving the feast to be ready, the host proposed that his guests should finish their whist after luncheon; whereupon all proceeded to the room whence for some time past an agreeable odour had been tickling the nostrils of those present, and towards the door of which Sobakevitch in particular had been glancing since the moment when he had caught sight of a huge sturgeon reposing on the sideboard. After a glassful of warm, olive-coloured vodka apiece—vodka of the tint to be seen only in the species of Siberian stone whereof seals are cut—the company applied themselves to knife-and-fork work, and, in so doing, evinced their several characteristics and tastes. For instance, Sobakevitch, disdaining lesser trifles, tackled the large sturgeon, and, during the time that his fellow guests were eating minor comestibles, and drinking and talking, contrived to consume more than a quarter of the whole fish; so that, on the host remembering the creature, and, with fork in hand, leading the way in its direction and saying, “What, gentlemen, think you of this striking product of nature?” there ensued the discovery that of the said product of nature there remained little beyond the tail, while Sobakevitch, with an air as though at least HE had not eaten it, was engaged in plunging his fork into a much more diminutive piece of fish which happened to be resting on an adjacent platter. After his divorce from the sturgeon, Sobakevitch ate and drank no more, but sat frowning and blinking in an armchair.
Apparently the host was not a man who believed in sparing the wine, for the toasts drunk were innumerable. The first toast (as the reader may guess) was quaffed to the health of the new landowner of Kherson; the second to the prosperity of his peasants and their safe transferment; and the third to the beauty of his future wife—a compliment which brought to our hero’s lips a flickering smile. Lastly, he received from the company a pressing, as well as an unanimous, invitation to extend his stay in town for at least another fortnight, and, in the meanwhile, to allow a wife to be found for him.
“Quite so,” agreed the President. “Fight us tooth and nail though you may, we intend to have you married. You have happened upon us by chance, and you shall have no reason to repent of it. We are in earnest on this subject.”
“But why should I fight you tooth and nail?” said Chichikov, smiling. “Marriage would not come amiss to me, were I but provided with a betrothed.”
“Then a betrothed you shall have. Why not? We will do as you wish.”
“Very well,” assented Chichikov.
“Bravo, bravo!” the company shouted. “Long live Paul Ivanovitch! Hurrah! Hurrah!” And with that every one approached to clink glasses with him, and he readily accepted the compliment, and accepted it many times in succession. Indeed, as the hours passed on, the hilarity of the company increased yet further, and more than once the President (a man of great urbanity when thoroughly in his cups) embraced the chief guest of the day with the heartfelt words, “My dearest fellow! My own most precious of friends!” Nay, he even started to crack his fingers, to dance around Chichikov’s chair, and to sing snatches of a popular song. To the champagne succeeded Hungarian wine, which had the effect of still further heartening and enlivening the company. By this time every one had forgotten about whist, and given himself up to shouting and disputing. Every conceivable subject was discussed, including politics and military affairs; and in this connection guests voiced jejune opinions for the expression of which they would, at any other time, have soundly spanked their offspring. Chichikov, like the rest, had never before felt so gay, and, imagining himself really and truly to be a landowner of Kherson, spoke of various improvements in agriculture, of the three-field system of tillage33, and of the beatific felicity of a union between two kindred souls. Also, he started to recite poetry to Sobakevitch, who blinked as he listened, for he greatly desired to go to sleep. At length the guest of the evening realised that matters had gone far enough, so begged to be given a lift home, and was accommodated with the Public Prosecutor’s drozhki. Luckily the driver of the vehicle was a practised man at his work, for, while driving with one hand, he succeeded in leaning backwards and, with the other, holding Chichikov securely in his place. Arrived at the inn, our hero continued babbling awhile about a flaxen-haired damsel with rosy lips and a dimple in her right cheek, about villages of his in Kherson, and about the amount of his capital. Nay, he even issued seignorial instructions that Selifan should go and muster the peasants about to be transferred, and make a complete and detailed inventory of them. For a while Selifan listened in silence; then he left the room, and instructed Petrushka to help the barin to undress. As it happened, Chichikov’s boots had no sooner been removed than he managed to perform the rest of his toilet without assistance, to roll on to the bed (which creaked terribly as he did so), and to sink into a sleep in every way worthy of a landowner of Kherson. Meanwhile Petrushka had taken his master’s coat and trousers of bilberry-coloured check into the corridor; where, spreading them over a clothes’ horse, he started to flick and to brush them, and to fill the whole corridor with dust. Just as he was about to replace them in his master’s room he happened to glance over the railing of the gallery, and saw Selifan returning from the stable. Glances were exchanged, and in an instant the pair had arrived at an instinctive understanding—an understanding to the effect that the barin was sound asleep, and that therefore one might consider one’s own pleasure a little. Accordingly Petrushka proceeded to restore the coat and trousers to their appointed places, and then descended the stairs; whereafter he and Selifan left the house together. Not a word passed between them as to the object of their expedition. On the contrary, they talked solely of extraneous subjects. Yet their walk did not take them far; it took them only to the other side of the street, and thence into an establishment which immediately confronted the inn. Entering a mean, dirty courtyard covered with glass, they passed thence into a cellar where a number of customers were seated around small wooden tables. What thereafter was done by Selifan and Petrushka God alone knows. At all events, within an hour’s time they issued, arm in arm, and in profound silence, yet remaining markedly assiduous to one another, and ever ready to help one another around an awkward corner. Still linked together—never once releasing their mutual hold—they spent the next quarter of an hour in attempting to negotiate the stairs of the inn; but at length even that ascent had been mastered, and they proceeded further on their way. Halting before his mean little pallet, Petrushka stood awhile in thought. His difficulty was how best to assume a recumbent position. Eventually he lay down on his face, with his legs trailing over the floor; after which Selifan also stretched himself upon the pallet, with his head resting upon Petrushka’s stomach, and his mind wholly oblivious of the fact that he ought not to have been sleeping there at all, but in the servant’s quarters, or in the stable beside his horses. Scarcely a moment had passed before the pair were plunged in slumber and emitting the most raucous snores; to which their master (next door) responded with snores of a whistling and nasal order. Indeed, before long every one in the inn had followed their soothing example, and the hostelry lay plunged in complete restfulness. Only in the window of the room of the newly-arrived lieutenant from Riazan did a light remain burning. Evidently he was a devotee of boots, for he had purchased four pairs, and was now trying on a fifth. Several times he approached the bed with a view to taking off the boots and retiring to rest; but each time he failed, for the reason that the boots were so alluring in their make that he had no choice but to lift up first one foot, and then the other, for the purpose of scanning their elegant welts.