Next day, with Platon and Constantine, Chichikov set forth to interview Khlobuev, the owner whose estate Constantine had consented to help Chichikov to purchase with a non-interest-bearing, uncovenanted loan of ten thousand roubles. Naturally, our hero was in the highest of spirits. For the first fifteen versts or so the road led through forest land and tillage belonging to Platon and his brother-in-law; but directly the limit of these domains was reached, forest land began to be replaced with swamp, and tillage with waste. Also, the village in Khlobuev's estate had about it a deserted air, and as for the proprietor himself, he was discovered in a state of drowsy dishevelment, having not long left his bed. A man of about forty, he had his cravat crooked, his frockcoat adorned with a large stain, and one of his boots worn through. Nevertheless he seemed delighted to see his visitors.
"What?" he exclaimed. "Constantine Thedorovitch and Platon Mikhalitch? Really I must rub my eyes! Never again in this world did I look to see callers arriving. As a rule, folk avoid me like the devil, for they cannot disabuse their minds of the idea that I am going to ask them for a loan. Yes, it is my own fault, I know, but what would you? To the end will swine cheat swine. Pray excuse my costume. You will observe that my boots are in holes. But how can I afford to get them mended?"
"Never mind," said Constantine. "We have come on business only. May I present to you a possible purchaser of your estate, in the person of Paul Ivanovitch Chichikov?"
"I am indeed glad to meet you!" was Khlobuev's response. "Pray shake hands with me, Paul Ivanovitch."
Chichikov offered one hand, but not both.
"I can show you a property worth your attention," went on the master of the estate. "May I ask if you have yet dined?"
"Yes, we have," put in Constantine, desirous of escaping as soon as possible. "To save you further trouble, let us go and view the estate at once."
"Very well," replied Khlobuev. "Pray come and inspect my irregularities and futilities. You have done well to dine beforehand, for not so much as a fowl is left in the place, so dire are the extremities to which you see me reduced."
Sighing deeply, he took Platon by the arm (it was clear that he did not look for any sympathy from Constantine) and walked ahead, while Constantine and Chichikov followed.
"Things are going hard with me, Platon Mikhalitch," continued Khlobuev. "How hard you cannot imagine. No money have I, no food, no boots. Were I still young and a bachelor, it would have come easy to me to live on bread and cheese; but when a man is growing old, and has got a wife and five children, such trials press heavily upon him, and, in spite of himself, his spirits sink."
"But, should you succeed in selling the estate, that would help to put you right, would it not?" said Platon.
"How could it do so?" replied Khlobuev with a despairing gesture. "What I might get for the property would have to go towards discharging my debts, and I should find myself left with less than a thousand roubles besides."
"Then what do you intend to do?"
"But is there NOTHING to which you could set your hand in order to clear yourself of your difficulties?"
"How could there be?"
"Well, you might accept a Government post."
"Become a provincial secretary, you mean? How could I obtain such a post? They would not offer me one of the meanest possible kind. Even supposing that they did, how could I live on a salary of five hundred roubles—I who have a wife and five children?"
"Then try and obtain a bailiff's post."
"Who would entrust their property to a man who has squandered his own estate?"
"Nevertheless, when death and destitution threaten, a man must either do something or starve. Shall I ask my brother to use his influence to procure you a post?"
"No, no, Platon Mikhalitch," sighed Khlobuev, gripping the other's hand. "I am no longer serviceable—I am grown old before my time, and find that liver and rheumatism are paying me for the sins of my youth. Why should the Government be put to a loss on my account?—not to speak of the fact that for every salaried post there are countless numbers of applicants. God forbid that, in order to provide me with a livelihood further burdens should be imposed upon an impoverished public!"
"Such are the results of improvident management!" thought Platon to himself. "The disease is even worse than my slothfulness."
Meanwhile Kostanzhoglo, walking by Chichikov's side, was almost taking leave of his senses.
"Look at it!" he cried with a wave of his hand. "See to what wretchedness the peasant has become reduced! Should cattle disease come, Khlobuev will have nothing to fall back upon, but will be forced to sell his all—to leave the peasant without a horse, and therefore without the means to labour, even though the loss of a single day's work may take years of labour to rectify. Meanwhile it is plain that the local peasant has become a mere dissolute, lazy drunkard. Give a muzhik enough to live upon for twelve months without working, and you will corrupt him for ever, so inured to rags and vagrancy will he grow. And what is the good of that piece of pasture there—of that piece on the further side of those huts? It is a mere flooded tract. Were it mine, I should put it under flax, and clear five thousand roubles, or else sow it with turnips, and clear, perhaps, four thousand. And see how the rye is drooping, and nearly laid. As for wheat, I am pretty sure that he has not sown any. Look, too, at those ravines! Were they mine, they would be standing under timber which even a rook could not top. To think of wasting such quantities of land! Where land wouldn't bear corn, I should dig it up, and plant it with vegetables. What ought to be done is that Khlobuev ought to take a spade into his own hands, and to set his wife and children and servants to do the same; and even if they died of the exertion, they would at least die doing their duty, and not through guzzling at the dinner table."
This said, Kostanzhoglo spat, and his brow flushed with grim indignation.
Presently they reached an elevation whence the distant flashing of a river, with its flood waters and subsidiary streams, caught the eye, while, further off, a portion of General Betristchev's homestead could be discerned among the trees, and, over it, a blue, densely wooded hill which Chichikov guessed to be the spot where Tientietnikov's mansion was situated.
"This is where I should plant timber," said Chichikov. "And, regarded as a site for a manor house, the situation could scarcely be beaten for beauty of view."
"You seem to get great store upon views and beauty," remarked Kostanzhoglo with reproof in his tone. "Should you pay too much attention to those things, you might find yourself without crops or view. Utility should be placed first, not beauty. Beauty will come of itself. Take, for example, towns. The fairest and most beautiful towns are those which have built themselves—those in which each man has built to suit his own exclusive circumstances and needs; whereas towns which men have constructed on regular, string-taut lines are no better than collections of barracks. Put beauty aside, and look only to what is NECESSARY."
"Yes, but to me it would always be irksome to have to wait. All the time that I was doing so I should be hungering to see in front of the me the sort of prospect which I prefer."
"Come, come! Are you a man of twenty-five—you who have served as a tchinovnik in St. Petersburg? Have patience, have patience. For six years work, and work hard. Plant, sow, and dig the earth without taking a moment's rest. It will be difficult, I know—yes, difficult indeed; but at the end of that time, if you have thoroughly stirred the soil, the land will begin to help you as nothing else can do. That is to say, over and above your seventy or so pairs of hands, there will begin to assist in the work seven hundred pairs of hands which you cannot see. Thus everything will be multiplied tenfold. I myself have ceased even to have to lift a finger, for whatsoever needs to be done gets done of itself. Nature loves patience: always remember that. It is a law given her of God Himself, who has blessed all those who are strong to endure."
"To hear your words is to be both encouraged and strengthened," said Chichikov. To this Kostanzhoglo made no reply, but presently went on:
"And see how that piece of land has been ploughed! To stay here longer is more than I can do. For me, to have to look upon such want of orderliness and foresight is death. Finish your business with Khlobuev without me, and whatsoever you do, get this treasure out of that fool's hands as quickly as possible, for he is dishonouring God's gifts."
And Kostanzhoglo, his face dark with the rage that was seething in his excitable soul, left Chichikov, and caught up the owner of the establishment.
"What, Constantine Thedorovitch?" cried Khlobuev in astonishment. "Just arrived, you are going already?"
"Yes; I cannot help it; urgent business requires me at home." And entering his gig, Kostanzhoglo drove rapidly away. Somehow Khlobuev seemed to divine the cause of his sudden departure.
"It was too much for him," he remarked. "An agriculturist of that kind does not like to have to look upon the results of such feckless management as mine. Would you believe it, Paul Ivanovitch, but this year I have been unable to sow any wheat! Am I not a fine husbandman? There was no seed for the purpose, nor yet anything with which to prepare the ground. No, I am not like Constantine Thedorovitch, who, I hear, is a perfect Napoleon in his particular line. Again and again the thought occurs to me, 'Why has so much intellect been put into that head, and only a drop or two into my own dull pate?' Take care of that puddle, gentlemen. I have told my peasants to lay down planks for the spring, but they have not done so. Nevertheless my heart aches for the poor fellows, for they need a good example, and what sort of an example am I? How am I to give them orders? Pray take them under your charge, Paul Ivanovitch, for I cannot teach them orderliness and method when I myself lack both. As a matter of fact, I should have given them their freedom long ago, had there been any use in my doing so; for even I can see that peasants must first be afforded the means of earning a livelihood before they can live. What they need is a stern, yet just, master who shall live with them, day in, day out, and set them an example of tireless energy. The present-day Russian—I know of it myself—is helpless without a driver. Without one he falls asleep, and the mould grows over him."
"Yet I cannot understand WHY he should fall asleep and grow mouldy in that fashion," said Platon. "Why should he need continual surveillance to keep him from degenerating into a drunkard and a good-for-nothing?"
"The cause is lack of enlightenment," said Chichikov.
"Possibly—only God knows. Yet enlightenment has reached us right enough. Do we not attend university lectures and everything else that is befitting? Take my own education. I learnt not only the usual things, but also the art of spending money upon the latest refinement, the latest amenity—the art of familiarising oneself with whatsoever money can buy. How, then, can it be said that I was educated foolishly? And my comrades' education was the same. A few of them succeeded in annexing the cream of things, for the reason that they had the wit to do so, and the rest spent their time in doing their best to ruin their health and squander their money. Often I think there is no hope for the present-day Russian. While desiring to do everything, he accomplishes nothing. One day he will scheme to begin a new mode of existence, a new dietary; yet before evening he will have so over-eaten himself as to be unable to speak or do aught but sit staring like an owl. The same with every one."
"Quite so," agreed Chichikov with a smile. "'Tis everywhere the same story."
"To tell the truth, we are not born to common sense. I doubt whether Russia has ever produced a really sensible man. For my own part, if I see my neighbour living a regular life, and making money, and saving it, I begin to distrust him, and to feel certain that in old age, if not before, he too will be led astray by the devil—led astray in a moment. Yes, whether or not we be educated, there is something we lack. But what that something is passes my understanding."
On the return journey the prospect was the same as before. Everywhere the same slovenliness, the same disorder, was displaying itself unadorned: the only difference being that a fresh puddle had formed in the middle of the village street. This want and neglect was noticeable in the peasants' quarters equally with the quarters of the barin. In the village a furious woman in greasy sackcloth was beating a poor young wench within an ace of her life, and at the same time devoting some third person to the care of all the devils in hell; further away a couple of peasants were stoically contemplating the virago—one scratching his rump as he did so, and the other yawning. The same yawn was discernible in the buildings, for not a roof was there but had a gaping hole in it. As he gazed at the scene Platon himself yawned. Patch was superimposed upon patch, and, in place of a roof, one hut had a piece of wooden fencing, while its crumbling window-frames were stayed with sticks purloined from the barin's barn. Evidently the system of upkeep in vogue was the system employed in the case of Trishkin's coat—the system of cutting up the cuffs and the collar into mendings for the elbows.
"No, I do not admire your way of doing things," was Chichikov's unspoken comment when the inspection had been concluded and the party had re-entered the house. Everywhere in the latter the visitors were struck with the way in which poverty went with glittering, fashionable profusion. On a writing-table lay a volume of Shakespeare, and, on an occasional table, a carved ivory back-scratcher. The hostess, too, was elegantly and fashionably attired, and devoted her whole conversation to the town and the local theatre. Lastly, the children—bright, merry little things—were well-dressed both as regards boys and girls. Yet far better would it have been for them if they had been clad in plain striped smocks, and running about the courtyard like peasant children. Presently a visitor arrived in the shape of a chattering, gossiping woman; whereupon the hostess carried her off to her own portion of the house, and, the children following them, the men found themselves alone.
"How much do you want for the property?" asked Chichikov of Khlobuev. "I am afraid I must request you to name the lowest possible sum, since I find the estate in a far worse condition than I had expected to do."
"Yes, it IS in a terrible state," agreed Khlobuev. "Nor is that the whole of the story. That is to say, I will not conceal from you the fact that, out of a hundred souls registered at the last revision, only fifty survive, so terrible have been the ravages of cholera. And of these, again, some have absconded; wherefore they too must be reckoned as dead, seeing that, were one to enter process against them, the costs would end in the property having to pass en bloc to the legal authorities. For these reasons I am asking only thirty-five thousand roubles for the estate."
Chichikov (it need hardly be said) started to haggle.
"Thirty-five thousand?" he cried. "Come, come! Surely you will accept TWENTY-five thousand?"
This was too much for Platon's conscience.
"Now, now, Paul Ivanovitch!" he exclaimed. "Take the property at the price named, and have done with it. The estate is worth at least that amount—so much so that, should you not be willing to give it, my brother-in-law and I will club together to effect the purchase."
"That being so," said Chichikov, taken aback, "I beg to agree to the price in question. At the same time, I must ask you to allow me to defer payment of one-half of the purchase money until a year from now."
"No, no, Paul Ivanovitch. Under no circumstances could I do that. Pay me half now, and the rest in... 50 You see, I need the money for the redemption of the mortgage."
"That places me in a difficulty," remarked Chichikov. "Ten thousand roubles is all that at the moment I have available." As a matter of fact, this was not true, seeing that, counting also the money which he had borrowed of Kostanzhoglo, he had at his disposal TWENTY thousand. His real reason for hesitating was that he disliked the idea of making so large a payment in a lump sum.
"I must repeat my request, Paul Ivanovitch," said Khlobuev, "—namely, that you pay me at least fifteen thousand immediately."
"The odd five thousand I will lend you," put in Platon to Chichikov.
"Indeed?" exclaimed Chichikov as he reflected: "So he also lends money!"
In the end Chichikov's dispatch-box was brought from the koliaska, and Khlobuev received thence ten thousand roubles, together with a promise that the remaining five thousand should be forthcoming on the morrow; though the promise was given only after Chichikov had first proposed that THREE thousand should be brought on the day named, and the rest be left over for two or three days longer, if not for a still more protracted period. The truth was that Paul Ivanovitch hated parting with money. No matter how urgent a situation might have been, he would still have preferred to pay a sum to-morrow rather than to-day. In other words, he acted as we all do, for we all like keeping a petitioner waiting. "Let him rub his back in the hall for a while," we say. "Surely he can bide his time a little?" Yet of the fact that every hour may be precious to the poor wretch, and that his business may suffer from the delay, we take no account. "Good sir," we say, "pray come again to-morrow. To-day I have no time to spare you."
"Where do you intend henceforth to live?" inquired Platon. "Have you any other property to which you can retire?"
"No," replied Khlobuev. "I shall remove to the town, where I possess a small villa. That would have been necessary, in any case, for the children's sake. You see, they must have instruction in God's word, and also lessons in music and dancing; and not for love or money can these things be procured in the country.
"Nothing to eat, yet dancing lessons for his children!" reflected Chichikov.
"An extraordinary man!" was Platon's unspoken comment.
"However, we must contrive to wet our bargain somehow," continued Khlobuev. "Hi, Kirushka! Bring that bottle of champagne."
"Nothing to eat, yet champagne to drink!" reflected Chichikov. As for Platon, he did not know WHAT to think.
In Khlobuev's eyes it was de rigueur that he should provide a guest with champagne; but, though he had sent to the town for some, he had been met with a blank refusal to forward even a bottle of kvass on credit. Only the discovery of a French dealer who had recently transferred his business from St. Petersburg, and opened a connection on a system of general credit, saved the situation by placing Khlobuev under the obligation of patronising him.
The company drank three glassfuls apiece, and so grew more cheerful. In particular did Khlobuev expand, and wax full of civility and friendliness, and scatter witticisms and anecdotes to right and left. What knowledge of men and the world did his utterances display! How well and accurately could he divine things! With what appositeness did he sketch the neighbouring landowners! How clearly he exposed their faults and failings! How thoroughly he knew the story of certain ruined gentry—the story of how, why, and through what cause they had fallen upon evil days! With what comic originality could he describe their little habits and customs!
In short, his guests found themselves charmed with his discourse, and felt inclined to vote him a man of first-rate intellect.
"What most surprises me," said Chichikov, "is how, in view of your ability, you come to be so destitute of means or resources."
"But I have plenty of both," said Khlobuev, and with that went on to deliver himself of a perfect avalanche of projects. Yet those projects proved to be so uncouth, so clumsy, so little the outcome of a knowledge of men and things, that his hearers could only shrug their shoulders and mentally exclaim: "Good Lord! What a difference between worldly wisdom and the capacity to use it!" In every case the projects in question were based upon the imperative necessity of at once procuring from somewhere two hundred—or at least one hundred—thousand roubles. That done (so Khlobuev averred), everything would fall into its proper place, the holes in his pockets would become stopped, his income would be quadrupled, and he would find himself in a position to liquidate his debts in full. Nevertheless he ended by saying: "What would you advise me to do? I fear that the philanthropist who would lend me two hundred thousand roubles or even a hundred thousand, does not exist. It is not God's will that he should."
"Good gracious!" inwardly ejaculated Chichikov. "To suppose that God would send such a fool two hundred thousand roubles!"
"However," went on Khlobuev, "I possess an aunt worth three millions—a pious old woman who gives freely to churches and monasteries, but finds a difficulty in helping her neighbour. At the same time, she is a lady of the old school, and worth having a peep at. Her canaries alone number four hundred, and, in addition, there is an army of pug-dogs, hangers-on, and servants. Even the youngest of the servants is sixty, but she calls them all 'young fellows,' and if a guest happens to offend her during dinner, she orders them to leave him out when handing out the dishes. THERE'S a woman for you!"
"And what may her family name be?" asked Chichikov. "And where does she live?"
"She lives in the county town, and her name is Alexandra Ivanovna Khanasarov."
"Then why do you not apply to her?" asked Platon earnestly. "It seems to me that, once she realised the position of your family, she could not possibly refuse you."
"Alas! nothing is to be looked for from that quarter," replied Khlobuev. "My aunt is of a very stubborn disposition—a perfect stone of a woman. Moreover, she has around her a sufficient band of favourites already. In particular is there a fellow who is aiming for a Governorship, and to that end has managed to insinuate himself into the circle of her kinsfolk. By the way," the speaker added, turning to Platon, "would you do me a favour? Next week I am giving a dinner to the associated guilds of the town."
Platon stared. He had been unaware that both in our capitals and in our provincial towns there exists a class of men whose lives are an enigma—men who, though they will seem to have exhausted their substance, and to have become enmeshed in debt, will suddenly be reported as in funds, and on the point of giving a dinner! And though, at this dinner, the guests will declare that the festival is bound to be their host's last fling, and that for a certainty he will be haled to prison on the morrow, ten years or more will elapse, and the rascal will still be at liberty, even though, in the meanwhile, his debts will have increased!
In the same way did the conduct of Khlobuev's menage afford a curious phenomenon, for one day the house would be the scene of a solemn Te Deum, performed by a priest in vestments, and the next of a stage play performed by a troupe of French actors in theatrical costume. Again, one day would see not a morsel of bread in the house, and the next day a banquet and generous largesse given to a party of artists and sculptors. During these seasons of scarcity (sufficiently severe to have led any one but Khlobuev to seek suicide by hanging or shooting), the master of the house would be preserved from rash action by his strongly religious disposition, which, contriving in some curious way to conform with his irregular mode of life, enabled him to fall back upon reading the lives of saints, ascetics, and others of the type which has risen superior to its misfortunes. And at such times his spirit would become softened, his thoughts full of gentleness, and his eyes wet with tears; he would fall to saying his prayers, and invariably some strange coincidence would bring an answer thereto in the shape of an unexpected measure of assistance. That is to say, some former friend of his would remember him, and send him a trifle in the way of money; or else some female visitor would be moved by his story to let her impulsive, generous heart proffer him a handsome gift; or else a suit whereof tidings had never even reached his ears would end by being decided in his favour. And when that happened he would reverently acknowledge the immensity of the mercy of Providence, gratefully tender thanksgiving for the same, and betake himself again to his irregular mode of existence.
"Somehow I feel sorry for the man," said Platon when he and Chichikov had taken leave of their host, and left the house.
"Perhaps so, but he is a hopeless prodigal," replied the other. "Personally I find it impossible to compassionate such fellows."
And with that the pair ceased to devote another thought to Khlobuev. In the case of Platon, this was because he contemplated the fortunes of his fellows with the lethargic, half-somnolent eye which he turned upon all the rest of the world; for though the sight of distress of others would cause his heart to contract and feel full of sympathy, the impression thus produced never sank into the depths of his being. Accordingly, before many minutes were over he had ceased to bestow a single thought upon his late host. With Chichikov, however, things were different. Whereas Platon had ceased to think of Khlobuev no more than he had ceased to think of himself, Chichikov's mind had strayed elsewhere, for the reason that it had become taken up with grave meditation on the subject of the purchase just made. Suddenly finding himself no longer a fictitious proprietor, but the owner of a real, an actually existing, estate, he became contemplative, and his plans and ideas assumed such a serious vein as imparted to his features an unconsciously important air.
"Patience and hard work!" he muttered to himself. "The thing will not be difficult, for with those two requisites I have been familiar from the days of my swaddling clothes. Yes, no novelty will they be to me. Yet, in middle age, shall I be able to compass the patience whereof I was capable in my youth?"
However, no matter how he regarded the future, and no matter from what point of view he considered his recent acquisition, he could see nothing but advantage likely to accrue from the bargain. For one thing, he might be able to proceed so that, first the whole of the estate should be mortgaged, and then the better portions of land sold outright. Or he might so contrive matters as to manage the property for a while (and thus become a landowner like Kostanzhoglo, whose advice, as his neighbour and his benefactor, he intended always to follow), and then to dispose of the property by private treaty (provided he did not wish to continue his ownership), and still to retain in his hands the dead and abandoned souls. And another possible coup occurred to his mind. That is to say, he might contrive to withdraw from the district without having repaid Kostanzhoglo at all! Truly a splendid idea! Yet it is only fair to say that the idea was not one of Chichikov's own conception. Rather, it had presented itself—mocking, laughing, and winking—unbidden. Yet the impudent, the wanton thing! Who is the procreator of suddenly born ideas of the kind? The thought that he was now a real, an actual, proprietor instead of a fictitious—that he was now a proprietor of real land, real rights of timber and pasture, and real serfs who existed not only in the imagination, but also in veritable actuality—greatly elated our hero. So he took to dancing up and down in his seat, to rubbing his hands together, to winking at himself, to holding his fist, trumpet-wise, to his mouth (while making believe to execute a march), and even to uttering aloud such encouraging nicknames and phrases as "bulldog" and "little fat capon." Then suddenly recollecting that he was not alone, he hastened to moderate his behaviour and endeavoured to stifle the endless flow of his good spirits; with the result that when Platon, mistaking certain sounds for utterances addressed to himself, inquired what his companion had said, the latter retained the presence of mind to reply "Nothing."
Presently, as Chichikov gazed about him, he saw that for some time past the koliaska had been skirting a beautiful wood, and that on either side the road was bordered with an edging of birch trees, the tenderly-green, recently-opened leaves of which caused their tall, slender trunks to show up with the whiteness of a snowdrift. Likewise nightingales were warbling from the recesses of the foliage, and some wood tulips were glowing yellow in the grass. Next (and almost before Chichikov had realised how he came to be in such a beautiful spot when, but a moment before, there had been visible only open fields) there glimmered among the trees the stony whiteness of a church, with, on the further side of it, the intermittent, foliage-buried line of a fence; while from the upper end of a village street there was advancing to meet the vehicle a gentleman with a cap on his head, a knotted cudgel in his hands, and a slender-limbed English dog by his side.
"This is my brother," said Platon. "Stop, coachman." And he descended from the koliaska, while Chichikov followed his example. Yarb and the strange dog saluted one another, and then the active, thin-legged, slender-tongued Azor relinquished his licking of Yarb's blunt jowl, licked Platon's hands instead, and, leaping upon Chichikov, slobbered right into his ear.
The two brothers embraced.
"Really, Platon," said the gentleman (whose name was Vassili), "what do you mean by treating me like this?"
"How so?" said Platon indifferently.
"What? For three days past I have seen and heard nothing of you! A groom from Pietukh's brought your cob home, and told me you had departed on an expedition with some barin. At least you might have sent me word as to your destination and the probable length of your absence. What made you act so? God knows what I have not been wondering!"
"Does it matter?" rejoined Platon. "I forgot to send you word, and we have been no further than Constantine's (who, with our sister, sends you his greeting). By the way, may I introduce Paul Ivanovitch Chichikov?"
The pair shook hands with one another. Then, doffing their caps, they embraced.
"What sort of man is this Chichikov?" thought Vassili. "As a rule my brother Platon is not over-nice in his choice of acquaintances." And, eyeing our hero as narrowly as civility permitted, he saw that his appearance was that of a perfectly respectable individual.
Chichikov returned Vassili's scrutiny with a similar observance of the dictates of civility, and perceived that he was shorter than Platon, that his hair was of a darker shade, and that his features, though less handsome, contained far more life, animation, and kindliness than did his brother's. Clearly he indulged in less dreaming, though that was an aspect which Chichikov little regarded.
"I have made up my mind to go touring our Holy Russia with Paul Ivanovitch," said Platon. "Perhaps it will rid me of my melancholy."
"What has made you come to such a sudden decision?" asked the perplexed Vassili (very nearly he added: "Fancy going travelling with a man whose acquaintance you have just made, and who may turn out to be a rascal or the devil knows what!" But, in spite of his distrust, he contented himself with another covert scrutiny of Chichikov, and this time came to the conclusion that there was no fault to be found with his exterior).
The party turned to the right, and entered the gates of an ancient courtyard attached to an old-fashioned house of a type no longer built—the type which has huge gables supporting a high-pitched roof. In the centre of the courtyard two great lime trees covered half the surrounding space with shade, while beneath them were ranged a number of wooden benches, and the whole was encircled with a ring of blossoming lilacs and cherry trees which, like a beaded necklace, reinforced the wooden fence, and almost buried it beneath their clusters of leaves and flowers. The house, too, stood almost concealed by this greenery, except that the front door and the windows peered pleasantly through the foliage, and that here and there between the stems of the trees there could be caught glimpses of the kitchen regions, the storehouses, and the cellar. Lastly, around the whole stood a grove, from the recesses of which came the echoing songs of nightingales.
Involuntarily the place communicated to the soul a sort of quiet, restful feeling, so eloquently did it speak of that care-free period when every one lived on good terms with his neighbour, and all was simple and unsophisticated. Vassili invited Chichikov to seat himself, and the party approached, for that purpose, the benches under the lime trees; after which a youth of about seventeen, and clad in a red shirt, brought decanters containing various kinds of kvass (some of them as thick as syrup, and others hissing like aerated lemonade), deposited the same upon the table, and, taking up a spade which he had left leaning against a tree, moved away towards the garden. The reason of this was that in the brothers' household, as in that of Kostanzhoglo, no servants were kept, since the whole staff were rated as gardeners, and performed that duty in rotation—Vassili holding that domestic service was not a specialised calling, but one to which any one might contribute a hand, and therefore one which did not require special menials to be kept for the purpose. Moreover, he held that the average Russian peasant remains active and willing (rather than lazy) only so long as he wears a shirt and a peasant's smock; but that as soon as ever he finds himself put into a German tailcoat, he becomes awkward, sluggish, indolent, disinclined to change his vest or take a bath, fond of sleeping in his clothes, and certain to breed fleas and bugs under the German apparel. And it may be that Vassili was right. At all events, the brothers' peasantry were exceedingly well clad—the women, in particular, having their head-dresses spangled with gold, and the sleeves of their blouses embroidered after the fashion of a Turkish shawl.
"You see here the species of kvass for which our house has long been famous," said Vassili to Chichikov. The latter poured himself out a glassful from the first decanter which he lighted upon, and found the contents to be linden honey of a kind never tasted by him even in Poland, seeing that it had a sparkle like that of champagne, and also an effervescence which sent a pleasant spray from the mouth into the nose.
"Nectar!" he proclaimed. Then he took some from a second decanter. It proved to be even better than the first. "A beverage of beverages!" he exclaimed. "At your respected brother-in-law's I tasted the finest syrup which has ever come my way, but here I have tasted the very finest kvass."
"Yet the recipe for the syrup also came from here," said Vassili, "seeing that my sister took it with her. By the way, to what part of the country, and to what places, are you thinking of travelling?"
"To tell the truth," replied Chichikov, rocking himself to and fro on the bench, and smoothing his knee with his hand, and gently inclining his head, "I am travelling less on my own affairs than on the affairs of others. That is to say, General Betristchev, an intimate friend, and, I might add, a generous benefactor of mine, has charged me with commissions to some of his relatives. Nevertheless, though relatives are relatives, I may say that I am travelling on my own account as well, in that, in addition to possible benefit to my health, I desire to see the world and the whirligig of humanity, which constitute, to so speak, a living book, a second course of education."
Vassili took thought. "The man speaks floridly," he reflected, "yet his words contain a certain element of truth." After a moment's silence he added to Platon: "I am beginning to think that the tour might help you to bestir yourself. At present you are in a condition of mental slumber. You have fallen asleep, not so much from weariness or satiety, as through a lack of vivid perceptions and impressions. For myself, I am your complete antithesis. I should be only too glad if I could feel less acutely, if I could take things less to heart."
"Emotion has become a disease with you," said Platon. "You seek your own troubles, and make your own anxieties."
"How can you say that when ready-made anxieties greet one at every step?" exclaimed Vassili. "For example, have you heard of the trick which Lienitsin has just played us—of his seizing the piece of vacant land whither our peasants resort for their sports? That piece I would not sell for all the money in the world. It has long been our peasants' play-ground, and all the traditions of our village are bound up with it. Moreover, for me, old custom is a sacred thing for which I would gladly sacrifice everything else."
"Lienitsin cannot have known of this, or he would not have seized the land," said Platon. "He is a newcomer, just arrived from St. Petersburg. A few words of explanation ought to meet the case."
"But he DOES know of what I have stated; he DOES know of it. Purposely I sent him word to that affect, yet he has returned me the rudest of answers."
"Then go yourself and explain matters to him."
"No, I will not do that; he has tried to carry off things with too high a hand. But YOU can go if you like."
"I would certainly go were it not that I scarcely like to interfere. Also, I am a man whom he could easily hoodwink and outwit."
"Would it help you if I were to go?" put in Chichikov. "Pray enlighten me as to the matter."
Vassili glanced at the speaker, and thought to himself: "What a passion the man has for travelling!"
"Yes, pray give me an idea of the kind of fellow," repeated Chichikov, "and also outline to me the affair."
"I should be ashamed to trouble you with such an unpleasant commission," replied Vassili. "He is a man whom I take to be an utter rascal. Originally a member of a family of plain dvoriane in this province, he entered the Civil Service in St. Petersburg, then married some one's natural daughter in that city, and has returned to lord it with a high hand. I cannot bear the tone he adopts. Our folk are by no means fools. They do not look upon the current fashion as the Tsar's ukaz any more than they look upon St. Petersburg as the Church."
"Naturally," said Chichikov. "But tell me more of the particulars of the quarrel."
"They are these. He needs additional land and, had he not acted as he has done, I would have given him some land elsewhere for nothing; but, as it is, the pestilent fellow has taken it into his head to—"
"I think I had better go and have a talk with him. That might settle the affair. Several times have people charged me with similar commissions, and never have they repented of it. General Betristchev is an example."
"Nevertheless I am ashamed that you should be put to the annoyance of having to converse with such a fellow."
[At this point there occurs a long hiatus.]
"And above all things, such a transaction would need to be carried through in secret," said Chichikov. "True, the law does not forbid such things, but there is always the risk of a scandal."
"Quite so, quite so," said Lienitsin with head bent down.
"Then we agree!" exclaimed Chichikov. "How charming! As I say, my business is both legal and illegal. Though needing to effect a mortgage, I desire to put no one to the risk of having to pay the two roubles on each living soul; wherefore I have conceived the idea of relieving landowners of that distasteful obligation by acquiring dead and absconded souls who have failed to disappear from the revision list. This enables me at once to perform an act of Christian charity and to remove from the shoulders of our more impoverished proprietors the burden of tax-payment upon souls of the kind specified. Should you yourself care to do business with me, we will draw up a formal purchase agreement as though the souls in question were still alive."
"But it would be such a curious arrangement," muttered Lienitsin, moving his chair and himself a little further away. "It would be an arrangement which, er—er—"
"Would involve you in no scandal whatever, seeing that the affair would be carried through in secret. Moreover, between friends who are well-disposed towards one another—"
Chichikov adopted a firmer and more decided tone. "I repeat that there would be no scandal," he said. "The transaction would take place as between good friends, and as between friends of mature age, and as between friends of good status, and as between friends who know how to keep their own counsel." And, so saying, he looked his interlocutor frankly and generously in the eyes.
Nevertheless Lienitsin's resourcefulness and acumen in business matters failed to relieve his mind of a certain perplexity—and the less so since he had contrived to become caught in his own net. Yet, in general, he possessed neither a love for nor a talent for underhand dealings, and, had not fate and circumstances favoured Chichikov by causing Lienitsin's wife to enter the room at that moment, things might have turned out very differently from what they did. Madame was a pale, thin, insignificant-looking young lady, but none the less a lady who wore her clothes a la St. Petersburg, and cultivated the society of persons who were unimpeachably comme il faut. Behind her, borne in a nurse's arms, came the first fruits of the love of husband and wife. Adopting his most telling method of approach (the method accompanied with a sidelong inclination of the head and a sort of hop), Chichikov hastened to greet the lady from the metropolis, and then the baby. At first the latter started to bellow disapproval, but the words "Agoo, agoo, my pet!" added to a little cracking of the fingers and a sight of a beautiful seal on a watch chain, enabled Chichikov to weedle the infant into his arms; after which he fell to swinging it up and down until he had contrived to raise a smile on its face—a circumstance which greatly delighted the parents, and finally inclined the father in his visitor's favour. Suddenly, however—whether from pleasure or from some other cause—the infant misbehaved itself!
"My God!" cried Madame. "He has gone and spoilt your frockcoat!"
True enough, on glancing downwards, Chichikov saw that the sleeve of his brand-new garment had indeed suffered a hurt. "If I could catch you alone, you little devil," he muttered to himself, "I'd shoot you!"
Host, hostess and nurse all ran for eau-de-Cologne, and from three sides set themselves to rub the spot affected.
"Never mind, never mind; it is nothing," said Chichikov as he strove to communicate to his features as cheerful an expression as possible. "What does it matter what a child may spoil during the golden age of its infancy?"
To himself he remarked: "The little brute! Would it could be devoured by wolves. It has made only too good a shot, the cussed young ragamuffin!"
How, after this—after the guest had shown such innocent affection for the little one, and magnanimously paid for his so doing with a brand-new suit—could the father remain obdurate? Nevertheless, to avoid setting a bad example to the countryside, he and Chichikov agreed to carry through the transaction PRIVATELY, lest, otherwise, a scandal should arise.
"In return," said Chichikov, "would you mind doing me the following favour? I desire to mediate in the matter of your difference with the Brothers Platonov. I believe that you wish to acquire some additional land? Is not that so?"
[Here there occurs a hiatus in the original.]
Everything in life fulfils its function, and Chichikov's tour in search of a fortune was carried out so successfully that not a little money passed into his pockets. The system employed was a good one: he did not steal, he merely used. And every one of us at times does the same: one man with regard to Government timber, and another with regard to a sum belonging to his employer, while a third defrauds his children for the sake of an actress, and a fourth robs his peasantry for the sake of smart furniture or a carriage. What can one do when one is surrounded on every side with roguery, and everywhere there are insanely expensive restaurants, masked balls, and dances to the music of gipsy bands? To abstain when every one else is indulging in these things, and fashion commands, is difficult indeed!
Chichikov was for setting forth again, but the roads had now got into a bad state, and, in addition, there was in preparation a second fair—one for the dvoriane only. The former fair had been held for the sale of horses, cattle, cheese, and other peasant produce, and the buyers had been merely cattle-jobbers and kulaks; but this time the function was to be one for the sale of manorial produce which had been bought up by wholesale dealers at Nizhni Novgorod, and then transferred hither. To the fair, of course, came those ravishers of the Russian purse who, in the shape of Frenchmen with pomades and Frenchwomen with hats, make away with money earned by blood and hard work, and, like the locusts of Egypt (to use Kostanzhoglo's term) not only devour their prey, but also dig holes in the ground and leave behind their eggs.
Although, unfortunately, the occurrence of a bad harvest retained many landowners at their country houses, the local tchinovniks (whom the failure of the harvest did NOT touch) proceeded to let themselves go—as also, to their undoing, did their wives. The reading of books of the type diffused, in these modern days, for the inoculation of humanity with a craving for new and superior amenities of life had caused every one to conceive a passion for experimenting with the latest luxury; and to meet this want the French wine merchant opened a new establishment in the shape of a restaurant as had never before been heard of in the province—a restaurant where supper could be procured on credit as regarded one-half, and for an unprecedentedly low sum as regarded the other. This exactly suited both heads of boards and clerks who were living in hope of being able some day to resume their bribes-taking from suitors. There also developed a tendency to compete in the matter of horses and liveried flunkeys; with the result that despite the damp and snowy weather exceedingly elegant turnouts took to parading backwards and forwards. Whence these equipages had come God only knows, but at least they would not have disgraced St. Petersburg. From within them merchants and attorneys doffed their caps to ladies, and inquired after their health, and likewise it became a rare sight to see a bearded man in a rough fur cap, since every one now went about clean-shaven and with dirty teeth, after the European fashion.
"Sir, I beg of you to inspect my goods," said a tradesman as Chichikov was passing his establishment. "Within my doors you will find a large variety of clothing."
"Have you a cloth of bilberry-coloured check?" inquired the person addressed.
"I have cloths of the finest kind," replied the tradesman, raising his cap with one hand, and pointing to his shop with the other. Chichikov entered, and in a trice the proprietor had dived beneath the counter, and appeared on the other side of it, with his back to his wares and his face towards the customer. Leaning forward on the tips of his fingers, and indicating his merchandise with just the suspicion of a nod, he requested the gentleman to specify exactly the species of cloth which he required.
"A cloth with an olive-coloured or a bottle-tinted spot in its pattern—anything in the nature of bilberry," explained Chichikov.
"That being so, sir, I may say that I am about to show you clothes of a quality which even our illustrious capitals could not surpass. Hi, boy! Reach down that roll up there—number 34. No, NOT that one, fool! Such fellows as you are always too good for your job. There—hand it to me. This is indeed a nice pattern!"
Unfolding the garment, the tradesman thrust it close to Chichikov's nose in order that he might not only handle, but also smell it.
"Excellent, but not what I want," pronounced Chichikov. "Formerly I was in the Custom's Department, and therefore wear none but cloth of the latest make. What I want is of a ruddier pattern than this—not exactly a bottle-tinted pattern, but something approaching bilberry."
"I understand, sir. Of course you require only the very newest thing. A cloth of that kind I DO possess, sir, and though excessive in price, it is of a quality to match."
Carrying the roll of stuff to the light—even stepping into the street for the purpose—the shopman unfolded his prize with the words, "A truly beautiful shade! A cloth of smoked grey, shot with flame colour!"
The material met with the customer's approval, a price was agreed upon, and with incredible celerity the vendor made up the purchase into a brown-paper parcel, and stowed it away in Chichikov's koliaska.
At this moment a voice asked to be shown a black frockcoat.
"The devil take me if it isn't Khlobuev!" muttered our hero, turning his back upon the newcomer. Unfortunately the other had seen him.
"Come, come, Paul Ivanovitch!" he expostulated. "Surely you do not intend to overlook me? I have been searching for you everywhere, for I have something important to say to you."
"My dear sir, my very dear sir," said Chichikov as he pressed Khlobuev's hand, "I can assure you that, had I the necessary leisure, I should at all times be charmed to converse with you." And mentally he added: "Would that the Evil One would fly away with you!"
Almost at the same time Murazov, the great landowner, entered the shop. As he did so our hero hastened to exclaim: "Why, it is Athanasi Vassilievitch! How ARE you, my very dear sir?"
"Well enough," replied Murazov, removing his cap (Khlobuev and the shopman had already done the same). "How, may I ask, are YOU?"
"But poorly," replied Chichikov, "for of late I have been troubled with indigestion, and my sleep is bad. I do not get sufficient exercise."
However, instead of probing deeper into the subject of Chichikov's ailments, Murazov turned to Khlobuev.
"I saw you enter the shop," he said, "and therefore followed you, for I have something important for your ear. Could you spare me a minute or two?"
"Certainly, certainly," said Khlobuev, and the pair left the shop together.
"I wonder what is afoot between them," said Chichikov to himself.
"A wise and noble gentleman, Athanasi Vassilievitch!" remarked the tradesman. Chichikov made no reply save a gesture.
"Paul Ivanovitch, I have been looking for you everywhere," Lienitsin's voice said from behind him, while again the tradesman hastened to remove his cap. "Pray come home with me, for I have something to say to you."
Chichikov scanned the speaker's face, but could make nothing of it. Paying the tradesman for the cloth, he left the shop.
Meanwhile Murazov had conveyed Khlobuev to his rooms.
"Tell me," he said to his guest, "exactly how your affairs stand. I take it that, after all, your aunt left you something?"
"It would be difficult to say whether or not my affairs are improved," replied Khlobuev. "True, fifty souls and thirty thousand roubles came to me from Madame Khanasarova, but I had to pay them away to satisfy my debts. Consequently I am once more destitute. But the important point is that there was trickery connected with the legacy, and shameful trickery at that. Yes, though it may surprise you, it is a fact that that fellow Chichikov—"
"Yes, Semen Semenovitch, but, before you go on to speak of Chichikov, pray tell me something about yourself, and how much, in your opinion, would be sufficient to clear you of your difficulties?"
"My difficulties are grievous," replied Khlobuev. "To rid myself of them, and also to have enough to go on with, I should need to acquire at least a hundred thousand roubles, if not more. In short, things are becoming impossible for me."
"And, had you the money, what should you do with it?"
"I should rent a tenement, and devote myself to the education of my children. Not a thought should I give to myself, for my career is over, seeing that it is impossible for me to re-enter the Civil Service and I am good for nothing else."
"Nevertheless, when a man is leading an idle life he is apt to incur temptations which shun his better-employed brother."
"Yes, but beyond question I am good for nothing, so broken is my health, and such a martyr I am to dyspepsia."
"But how to you propose to live without working? How can a man like you exist without a post or a position of any kind? Look around you at the works of God. Everything has its proper function, and pursues its proper course. Even a stone can be used for one purpose or another. How, then, can it be right for a man who is a thinking being to remain a drone?"
"But I should not be a drone, for I should employ myself with the education of my children."
"No, Semen Semenovitch—no: THAT you would find the hardest task of all. For how can a man educate his children who has never even educated himself? Instruction can be imparted to children only through the medium of example; and would a life like yours furnish them with a profitable example—a life which has been spent in idleness and the playing of cards? No, Semen Semenovitch. You had far better hand your children over to me. Otherwise they will be ruined. Do not think that I am jesting. Idleness has wrecked your life, and you must flee from it. Can a man live with nothing to keep him in place? Even a journeyman labourer who earns the barest pittance may take an interest in his occupation."
"Athanasi Vassilievitch, I have tried to overcome myself, but what further resource lies open to me? Can I who am old and incapable re-enter the Civil Service and spend year after year at a desk with youths who are just starting their careers? Moreover, I have lost the trick of taking bribes; I should only hinder both myself and others; while, as you know, it is a department which has an established caste of its own. Therefore, though I have considered, and even attempted to obtain, every conceivable post, I find myself incompetent for them all. Only in a monastery should I—"
"Nay, nay. Monasteries, again, are only for those who have worked. To those who have spent their youth in dissipation such havens say what the ant said to the dragonfly—namely, 'Go you away, and return to your dancing.' Yes, even in a monastery do folk toil and toil—they do not sit playing whist." Murazov looked at Khlobuev, and added: "Semen Semenovitch, you are deceiving both yourself and me."
Poor Khlobuev could not utter a word in reply, and Murazov began to feel sorry for him.
"Listen, Semen Semenovitch," he went on. "I know that you say your prayers, and that you go to church, and that you observe both Matins and Vespers, and that, though averse to early rising, you leave your bed at four o'clock in the morning before the household fires have been lit."
"Ah, Athanasi Vassilievitch," said Khlobuev, "that is another matter altogether. That I do, not for man's sake, but for the sake of Him who has ordered all things here on earth. Yes, I believe that He at least can feel compassion for me, that He at least, though I be foul and lowly, will pardon me and receive me when all men have cast me out, and my best friend has betrayed me and boasted that he has done it for a good end."
Khlobuev's face was glowing with emotion, and from the older man's eyes also a tear had started.
"You will do well to hearken unto Him who is merciful," he said. "But remember also that, in the eyes of the All-Merciful, honest toil is of equal merit with a prayer. Therefore take unto yourself whatsoever task you may, and do it as though you were doing it, not unto man, but unto God. Even though to your lot there should fall but the cleaning of a floor, clean that floor as though it were being cleaned for Him alone. And thence at least this good you will reap: that there will remain to you no time for what is evil—for card playing, for feasting, for all the life of this gay world. Are you acquainted with Ivan Potapitch?"
"Yes, not only am I acquainted with him, but I also greatly respect him."
"Time was when Ivan Potapitch was a merchant worth half a million roubles. In everything did he look but for gain, and his affairs prospered exceedingly, so much so that he was able to send his son to be educated in France, and to marry his daughter to a General. And whether in his office or at the Exchange, he would stop any friend whom he encountered and carry him off to a tavern to drink, and spend whole days thus employed. But at last he became bankrupt, and God sent him other misfortunes also. His son! Ah, well! Ivan Potapitch is now my steward, for he had to begin life over again. Yet once more his affairs are in order, and, had it been his wish, he could have restarted in business with a capital of half a million roubles. 'But no,' he said. 'A steward am I, and a steward will I remain to the end; for, from being full-stomached and heavy with dropsy, I have become strong and well.' Not a drop of liquor passes his lips, but only cabbage soup and gruel. And he prays as none of the rest of us pray, and he helps the poor as none of the rest of us help them; and to this he would add yet further charity if his means permitted him to do so."
Poor Khlobuev remained silent, as before.
The elder man took his two hands in his.
"Semen Semenovitch," he said, "you cannot think how much I pity you, or how much I have had you in my thoughts. Listen to me. In the monastery there is a recluse who never looks upon a human face. Of all men whom I know he has the broadest mind, and he breaks not his silence save to give advice. To him I went and said that I had a friend (though I did not actually mention your name) who was in great trouble of soul. Suddenly the recluse interrupted me with the words: 'God's work first, and our own last. There is need for a church to be built, but no money wherewith to build it. Money must be collected to that end.' Then he shut to the wicket. I wondered to myself what this could mean, and concluded that the recluse had been unwilling to accord me his counsel. Next I repaired to the Archimandrite, and had scarce reached his door when he inquired of me whether I could commend to him a man meet to be entrusted with the collection of alms for a church—a man who should belong to the dvoriane or to the more lettered merchants, but who would guard the trust as he would guard the salvation of his soul. On the instant thought I to myself: 'Why should not the Holy Father appoint my friend Semen Semenovitch? For the way of suffering would benefit him greatly; and as he passed with his ledger from landowner to peasant, and from peasant to townsman, he would learn where folk dwell, and who stands in need of aught, and thus would become better acquainted with the countryside than folk who dwell in cities. And, thus become, he would find that his services were always in demand.' Only of late did the Governor-General say to me that, could he but be furnished with the name of a secretary who should know his work not only by the book but also by experience, he would give him a great sum, since nothing is to be learned by the former means, and, through it, much confusion arises."
"You confound me, you overwhelm me!" said Khlobuev, staring at his companion in open-eyed astonishment. "I can scarcely believe that your words are true, seeing that for such a trust an active, indefatigable man would be necessary. Moreover, how could I leave my wife and children unprovided for?"
"Have no fear," said Murazov, "I myself will take them under my care, as well as procure for the children a tutor. Far better and nobler were it for you to be travelling with a wallet, and asking alms on behalf of God, then to be remaining here and asking alms for yourself alone. Likewise, I will furnish you with a tilt-waggon, so that you may be saved some of the hardships of the journey, and thus be preserved in good health. Also, I will give you some money for the journey, in order that, as you pass on your way, you may give to those who stand in greater need than their fellows. Thus, if, before giving, you assure yourself that the recipient of the alms is worthy of the same, you will do much good; and as you travel you will become acquainted with all men and sundry, and they will treat you, not as a tchinovnik to be feared, but as one to whom, as a petitioner on behalf of the Church, they may unloose their tongues without peril."
"I feel that the scheme is a splendid one, and would gladly bear my part in it were it not likely to exceed my strength."
"What is there that does NOT exceed your strength?" said Murazov. "Nothing is wholly proportionate to it—everything surpasses it. Help from above is necessary: otherwise we are all powerless. Strength comes of prayer, and of prayer alone. When a man crosses himself, and cries, 'Lord, have mercy upon me!' he soon stems the current and wins to the shore. Nor need you take any prolonged thought concerning this matter. All that you need do is to accept it as a commission sent of God. The tilt-waggon can be prepared for you immediately; and then, as soon as you have been to the Archimandrite for your book of accounts and his blessing, you will be free to start on your journey."
"I submit myself to you, and accept the commission as a divine trust."
And even as Khlobuev spoke he felt renewed vigour and confidence arise in his soul, and his mind begin to awake to a sense of hopefulness of eventually being able to put to flight his troubles. And even as it was, the world seemed to be growing dim to his eyes....
Meanwhile, plea after plea had been presented to the legal authorities, and daily were relatives whom no one had before heard of putting in an appearance. Yes, like vultures to a corpse did these good folk come flocking to the immense property which Madam Khanasarov had left behind her. Everywhere were heard rumours against Chichikov, rumours with regard to the validity of the second will, rumours with regard to will number one, and rumours of larceny and concealment of funds. Also, there came to hand information with regard both to Chichikov's purchase of dead souls and to his conniving at contraband goods during his service in the Customs Department. In short, every possible item of evidence was exhumed, and the whole of his previous history investigated. How the authorities had come to suspect and to ascertain all this God only knows, but the fact remains that there had fallen into the hands of those authorities information concerning matters of which Chichikov had believed only himself and the four walls to be aware. True, for a time these matters remained within the cognisance of none but the functionaries concerned, and failed to reach Chichikov's ears; but at length a letter from a confidential friend gave him reason to think that the fat was about to fall into the fire. Said the letter briefly: "Dear sir, I beg to advise you that possibly legal trouble is pending, but that you have no cause for uneasiness, seeing that everything will be attended to by yours very truly." Yet, in spite of its tenor, the epistle reassured its recipient. "What a genius the fellow is!" thought Chichikov to himself. Next, to complete his satisfaction, his tailor arrived with the new suit which he had ordered. Not without a certain sense of pride did our hero inspect the frockcoat of smoked grey shot with flame colour and look at it from every point of view, and then try on the breeches—the latter fitting him like a picture, and quite concealing any deficiencies in the matter of his thighs and calves (though, when buckled behind, they left his stomach projecting like a drum). True, the customer remarked that there appeared to be a slight tightness under the right armpit, but the smiling tailor only rejoined that that would cause the waist to fit all the better. "Sir," he said triumphantly, "you may rest assured that the work has been executed exactly as it ought to have been executed. No one, except in St. Petersburg, could have done it better." As a matter of fact, the tailor himself hailed from St. Petersburg, but called himself on his signboard "Foreign Costumier from London and Paris"—the truth being that by the use of a double-barrelled flourish of cities superior to mere "Karlsruhe" and "Copenhagen" he designed to acquire business and cut out his local rivals.
Chichikov graciously settled the man's account, and, as soon as he had gone, paraded at leisure, and con amore, and after the manner of an artist of aesthetic taste, before the mirror. Somehow he seemed to look better than ever in the suit, for his cheeks had now taken on a still more interesting air, and his chin an added seductiveness, while his white collar lent tone to his neck, the blue satin tie heightened the effect of the collar, the fashionable dickey set off the tie, the rich satin waistcoat emphasised the dickey, and the smoked-grey-shot-with-flame-colour frockcoat, shining like silk, splendidly rounded off the whole. When he turned to the right he looked well: when he turned to the left he looked even better. In short, it was a costume worthy of a Lord Chamberlain or the species of dandy who shrinks from swearing in the Russian language, but amply relieves his feelings in the language of France. Next, inclining his head slightly to one side, our hero endeavoured to pose as though he were addressing a middle-aged lady of exquisite refinement; and the result of these efforts was a picture which any artist might have yearned to portray. Next, his delight led him gracefully to execute a hop in ballet fashion, so that the wardrobe trembled and a bottle of eau-de-Cologne came crashing to the floor. Yet even this contretemps did not upset him; he merely called the offending bottle a fool, and then debated whom first he should visit in his attractive guise.
Suddenly there resounded through the hall a clatter of spurred heels, and then the voice of a gendarme saying: "You are commanded to present yourself before the Governor-General!" Turning round, Chichikov stared in horror at the spectacle presented; for in the doorway there was standing an apparition wearing a huge moustache, a helmet surmounted with a horsehair plume, a pair of crossed shoulder-belts, and a gigantic sword! A whole army might have been combined into a single individual! And when Chichikov opened his mouth to speak the apparition repeated, "You are commanded to present yourself before the Governor-General," and at the same moment our hero caught sight both of a second apparition outside the door and of a coach waiting beneath the window. What was to be done? Nothing whatever was possible. Just as he stood—in his smoked-grey-shot-with-flame-colour suit—he had then and there to enter the vehicle, and, shaking in every limb, and with a gendarme seated by his side, to start for the residence of the Governor-General.
And even in the hall of that establishment no time was given him to pull himself together, for at once an aide-de-camp said: "Go inside immediately, for the Prince is awaiting you." And as in a dream did our hero see a vestibule where couriers were being handed dispatches, and then a salon which he crossed with the thought, "I suppose I am not to be allowed a trial, but shall be sent straight to Siberia!" And at the thought his heart started beating in a manner which the most jealous of lovers could not have rivalled. At length there opened a door, and before him he saw a study full of portfolios, ledgers, and dispatch-boxes, with, standing behind them, the gravely menacing figure of the Prince.
"There stands my executioner," thought Chichikov to himself. "He is about to tear me to pieces as a wolf tears a lamb."
Indeed, the Prince's lips were simply quivering with rage.
"Once before did I spare you," he said, "and allow you to remain in the town when you ought to have been in prison: yet your only return for my clemency has been to revert to a career of fraud—and of fraud as dishonourable as ever a man engaged in."
"To what dishonourable fraud do you refer, your Highness?" asked Chichikov, trembling from head to foot.
The Prince approached, and looked him straight in the eyes.
"Let me tell you," he said, "that the woman whom you induced to witness a certain will has been arrested, and that you will be confronted with her."
The world seemed suddenly to grow dim before Chichikov's sight.
"Your Highness," he gasped, "I will tell you the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I am guilty—yes, I am guilty; but I am not so guilty as you think, for I was led away by rascals."
"That any one can have led you away is impossible," retorted the Prince. "Recorded against your name there stand more felonies than even the most hardened liar could have invented. I believe that never in your life have you done a deed not innately dishonourable—that not a kopeck have you ever obtained by aught but shameful methods of trickery and theft, the penalty for which is Siberia and the knut. But enough of this! From this room you will be conveyed to prison, where, with other rogues and thieves, you will be confined until your trial may come on. And this is lenient treatment on my part, for you are worse, far worse, than the felons who will be your companions. THEY are but poor men in smocks and sheepskins, whereas YOU—" Without concluding his words, the Prince shot a glance at Chichikov's smoked-grey-shot-with-flame-colour apparel.
Then he touched a bell.
"Your Highness," cried Chichikov, "have mercy upon me! You are the father of a family! Spare me for the sake of my aged mother!"
"Rubbish!" exclaimed the Prince. "Even as before you besought me for the sake of a wife and children whom you did not even possess, so now you would speak to me of an aged mother!"
"Your Highness," protested Chichikov, "though I am a wretch and the lowest of rascals, and though it is true that I lied when I told you that I possessed a wife and children, I swear that, as God is my witness, it has always been my DESIRE to possess a wife, and to fulfil all the duties of a man and a citizen, and to earn the respect of my fellows and the authorities. But what could be done against the force of circumstances? By hook or by crook I have ever been forced to win a living, though confronted at every step by wiles and temptations and traitorous enemies and despoilers. So much has this been so that my life has, throughout, resembled a barque tossed by tempestuous waves, a barque driven at the mercy of the winds. Ah, I am only a man, your Highness!"
And in a moment the tears had gushed in torrents from his eyes, and he had fallen forward at the Prince's feet—fallen forward just as he was, in his smoked-grey-shot-with-flame-colour frockcoat, his velvet waistcoat, his satin tie, and his exquisitely fitting breeches, while from his neatly brushed pate, as again and again he struck his hand against his forehead, there came an odorous whiff of best-quality eau-de-Cologne.
"Away with him!" exclaimed the Prince to the gendarme who had just entered. "Summon the escort to remove him."
"Your Highness!" Chichikov cried again as he clasped the Prince's knees; but, shuddering all over, and struggling to free himself, the Prince repeated his order for the prisoner's removal.
"Your Highness, I say that I will not leave this room until you have accorded me mercy!" cried Chichikov as he clung to the Prince's leg with such tenacity that, frockcoat and all, he began to be dragged along the floor.
"Away with him, I say!" once more the Prince exclaimed with the sort of indefinable aversion which one feels at the sight of a repulsive insect which he cannot summon up the courage to crush with his boot. So convulsively did the Prince shudder that Chichikov, clinging to his leg, received a kick on the nose. Yet still the prisoner retained his hold; until at length a couple of burly gendarmes tore him away and, grasping his arms, hurried him—pale, dishevelled, and in that strange, half-conscious condition into which a man sinks when he sees before him only the dark, terrible figure of death, the phantom which is so abhorrent to all our natures—from the building. But on the threshold the party came face to face with Murazov, and in Chichikov's heart the circumstance revived a ray of hope. Wresting himself with almost supernatural strength from the grasp of the escorting gendarmes, he threw himself at the feet of the horror-stricken old man.
"Paul Ivanovitch," Murazov exclaimed, "what has happened to you?"
"Save me!" gasped Chichikov. "They are taking me away to prison and death!"
Yet almost as he spoke the gendarmes seized him again, and hurried him away so swiftly that Murazov's reply escaped his ears.
A damp, mouldy cell which reeked of soldiers' boots and leggings, an unvarnished table, two sorry chairs, a window closed with a grating, a crazy stove which, while letting the smoke emerge through its cracks, gave out no heat—such was the den to which the man who had just begun to taste the sweets of life, and to attract the attention of his fellows with his new suit of smoked-grey-shot-with-flame-colour, now found himself consigned. Not even necessaries had he been allowed to bring away with him, nor his dispatch-box which contained all his booty. No, with the indenture deeds of the dead souls, it was lodged in the hands of a tchinovnik; and as he thought of these things Chichikov rolled about the floor, and felt the cankerous worm of remorse seize upon and gnaw at his heart, and bite its way ever further and further into that heart so defenceless against its ravages, until he made up his mind that, should he have to suffer another twenty-four hours of this misery, there would no longer be a Chichikov in the world. Yet over him, as over every one, there hung poised the All-Saving Hand; and, an hour after his arrival at the prison, the doors of the gaol opened to admit Murazov.
Compared with poor Chichikov's sense of relief when the old man entered his cell, even the pleasure experienced by a thirsty, dusty traveller when he is given a drink of clear spring water to cool his dry, parched throat fades into insignificance.
"Ah, my deliverer!" he cried as he rose from the floor, where he had been grovelling in heartrending paroxysms of grief. Seizing the old man's hand, he kissed it and pressed it to his bosom. Then, bursting into tears, he added: "God Himself will reward you for having come to visit an unfortunate wretch!"
Murazov looked at him sorrowfully, and said no more than "Ah, Paul Ivanovitch, Paul Ivanovitch! What has happened?"
"What has happened?" cried Chichikov. "I have been ruined by an accursed woman. That was because I could not do things in moderation—I was powerless to stop myself in time, Satan tempted me, and drove me from my senses, and bereft me of human prudence. Yes, truly I have sinned, I have sinned! Yet how came I so to sin? To think that a dvorianin—yes, a dvorianin—should be thrown into prison without process or trial! I repeat, a dvorianin! Why was I not given time to go home and collect my effects? Whereas now they are left with no one to look after them! My dispatch-box, my dispatch-box! It contained my whole property, all that my heart's blood and years of toil and want have been needed to acquire. And now everything will be stolen, Athanasi Vassilievitch—everything will be taken from me! My God!"
And, unable to stand against the torrent of grief which came rushing over his heart once more, he sobbed aloud in tones which penetrated even the thickness of the prison walls, and made dull echoes awake behind them. Then, tearing off his satin tie, and seizing by the collar, the smoked-grey-shot-with-flame-colour frockcoat, he stripped the latter from his shoulders.
"Ah, Paul Ivanovitch," said the old man, "how even now the property which you have acquired is blinding your eyes, and causing you to fail to realise your terrible position!"
"Yes, my good friend and benefactor," wailed poor Chichikov despairingly, and clasping Murazov by the knees. "Yet save me if you can! The Prince is fond of you, and would do anything for your sake."
"No, Paul Ivanovitch; however much I might wish to save you, and however much I might try to do so, I could not help you as you desire; for it is to the power of an inexorable law, and not to the authority of any one man, that you have rendered yourself subject."
"Satan tempted me, and has ended by making of me an outcast from the human race!" Chichikov beat his head against the wall and struck the table with his fist until the blood spurted from his hand. Yet neither his head nor his hand seemed to be conscious of the least pain.
"Calm yourself, Paul Ivanovitch," said Murazov. "Calm yourself, and consider how best you can make your peace with God. Think of your miserable soul, and not of the judgment of man."
"I will, Athanasi Vassilievitch, I will. But what a fate is mine! Did ever such a fate befall a man? To think of all the patience with which I have gathered my kopecks, of all the toil and trouble which I have endured! Yet what I have done has not been done with the intention of robbing any one, nor of cheating the Treasury. Why, then, did I gather those kopecks? I gathered them to the end that one day I might be able to live in plenty, and also to have something to leave to the wife and children whom, for the benefit and welfare of my country, I hoped eventually to win and maintain. That was why I gathered those kopecks. True, I worked by devious methods—that I fully admit; but what else could I do? And even devious methods I employed only when I saw that the straight road would not serve my purpose so well as a crooked. Moreover, as I toiled, the appetite for those methods grew upon me. Yet what I took I took only from the rich; whereas villains exist who, while drawing thousands a year from the Treasury, despoil the poor, and take from the man with nothing even that which he has. Is it not the cruelty of fate, therefore, that, just when I was beginning to reap the harvest of my toil—to touch it, so to speak, with the tip of one finger—there should have arisen a sudden storm which has sent my barque to pieces on a rock? My capital had nearly reached the sum of three hundred thousand roubles, and a three-storied house was as good as mine, and twice over I could have bought a country estate. Why, then, should such a tempest have burst upon me? Why should I have sustained such a blow? Was not my life already like a barque tossed to and fro by the billows? Where is Heaven's justice—where is the reward for all my patience, for my boundless perseverance? Three times did I have to begin life afresh, and each time that I lost my all I began with a single kopeck at a moment when other men would have given themselves up to despair and drink. How much did I not have to overcome. How much did I not have to bear! Every kopeck which I gained I had to make with my whole strength; for though, to others, wealth may come easily, every coin of mine had to be 'forged with a nail worth three kopecks' as the proverb has it. With such a nail—with the nail of an iron, unwearying perseverance—did I forge my kopecks."
Convulsively sobbing with a grief which he could not repress, Chichikov sank upon a chair, tore from his shoulders the last ragged, trailing remnants of his frockcoat, and hurled them from him. Then, thrusting his fingers into the hair which he had once been so careful to preserve, he pulled it out by handfuls at a time, as though he hoped through physical pain to deaden the mental agony which he was suffering.
Meanwhile Murazov sat gazing in silence at the unwonted spectacle of a man who had lately been mincing with the gait of a worldling or a military fop now writhing in dishevelment and despair as he poured out upon the hostile forces by which human ingenuity so often finds itself outwitted a flood of invective.
"Paul Ivanovitch, Paul Ivanovitch," at length said Murazov, "what could not each of us rise to be did we but devote to good ends the same measure of energy and of patience which we bestow upon unworthy objects! How much good would not you yourself have effected! Yet I do not grieve so much for the fact that you have sinned against your fellow as I grieve for the fact that you have sinned against yourself and the rich store of gifts and opportunities which has been committed to your care. Though originally destined to rise, you have wandered from the path and fallen."
"Ah, Athanasi Vassilievitch," cried poor Chichikov, clasping his friends hands, "I swear to you that, if you would but restore me my freedom, and recover for me my lost property, I would lead a different life from this time forth. Save me, you who alone can work my deliverance! Save me!"
"How can I do that? So to do I should need to procure the setting aside of a law. Again, even if I were to make the attempt, the Prince is a strict administrator, and would refuse on any consideration to release you."
"Yes, but for you all things are possible. It is not the law that troubles me: with that I could find a means to deal. It is the fact that for no offence at all I have been cast into prison, and treated like a dog, and deprived of my papers and dispatch-box and all my property. Save me if you can."
Again clasping the old man's knees, he bedewed them with his tears.
"Paul Ivanovitch," said Murazov, shaking his head, "how that property of yours still seals your eyes and ears, so that you cannot so much as listen to the promptings of your own soul!"
"Ah, I will think of my soul, too, if only you will save me."
"Paul Ivanovitch," the old man began again, and then stopped. For a little while there was a pause.
"Paul Ivanovitch," at length he went on, "to save you does not lie within my power. Surely you yourself see that? But, so far as I can, I will endeavour to, at all events, lighten your lot and procure your eventual release. Whether or not I shall succeed I do not know; but I will make the attempt. And should I, contrary to my expectations, prove successful, I beg of you, in return for these my efforts, to renounce all thought of benefit from the property which you have acquired. Sincerely do I assure you that, were I myself to be deprived of my property (and my property greatly exceeds yours in magnitude), I should not shed a single tear. It is not the property of which men can deprive us that matters, but the property of which no one on earth can deprive or despoil us. You are a man who has seen something of life—to use your own words, you have been a barque tossed hither and thither by tempestuous waves: yet still will there be left to you a remnant of substance on which to live, and therefore I beseech you to settle down in some quiet nook where there is a church, and where none but plain, good-hearted folk abide. Or, should you feel a yearning to leave behind you posterity, take in marriage a good woman who shall bring you, not money, but an aptitude for simple, modest domestic life. But this life—the life of turmoil, with its longings and its temptations—forget, and let it forget YOU; for there is no peace in it. See for yourself how, at every step, it brings one but hatred and treachery and deceit."
"Indeed, yes!" agreed the repentant Chichikov. "Gladly will I do as you wish, since for many a day past have I been longing to amend my life, and to engage in husbandry, and to reorder my affairs. A demon, the tempter Satan himself, has beguiled me and led me from the right path."
Suddenly there had recurred to Chichikov long-unknown, long-unfamiliar feelings. Something seemed to be striving to come to life again in him—something dim and remote, something which had been crushed out of his boyhood by the dreary, deadening education of his youthful days, by his desolate home, by his subsequent lack of family ties, by the poverty and niggardliness of his early impressions, by the grim eye of fate—an eye which had always seemed to be regarding him as through a misty, mournful, frost-encrusted window-pane, and to be mocking at his struggles for freedom. And as these feelings came back to the penitent a groan burst from his lips, and, covering his face with his hands, he moaned: "It is all true, it is all true!"
"Of little avail are knowledge of the world and experience of men unless based upon a secure foundation," observed Murazov. "Though you have fallen, Paul Ivanovitch, awake to better things, for as yet there is time."
"No, no!" groaned Chichikov in a voice which made Murazov's heart bleed. "It is too late, too late. More and more is the conviction gaining upon me that I am powerless, that I have strayed too far ever to be able to do as you bid me. The fact that I have become what I am is due to my early schooling; for, though my father taught me moral lessons, and beat me, and set me to copy maxims into a book, he himself stole land from his neighbours, and forced me to help him. I have even known him to bring an unjust suit, and defraud the orphan whose guardian he was! Consequently I know and feel that, though my life has been different from his, I do not hate roguery as I ought to hate it, and that my nature is coarse, and that in me there is no real love for what is good, no real spark of that beautiful instinct for well-doing which becomes a second nature, a settled habit. Also, never do I yearn to strive for what is right as I yearn to acquire property. This is no more than the truth. What else could I do but confess it?"
The old man sighed.
"Paul Ivanovitch," he said, "I know that you possess will-power, and that you possess also perseverance. A medicine may be bitter, yet the patient will gladly take it when assured that only by its means can he recover. Therefore, if it really be that you have no genuine love for doing good, do good by FORCING yourself to do so. Thus you will benefit yourself even more than you will benefit him for whose sake the act is performed. Only force yourself to do good just once and again, and, behold, you will suddenly conceive the TRUE love for well-doing. That is so, believe me. 'A kingdom is to be won only by striving,' says the proverb. That is to say, things are to be attained only by putting forth one's whole strength, since nothing short of one's whole strength will bring one to the desired goal. Paul Ivanovitch, within you there is a source of strength denied to many another man. I refer to the strength of an iron perseverance. Cannot THAT help you to overcome? Most men are weak and lack will-power, whereas I believe that you possess the power to act a hero's part."
Sinking deep into Chichikov's heart, these words would seem to have aroused in it a faint stirring of ambition, so much so that, if it was not fortitude which shone in his eyes, at all events it was something virile, and of much the same nature.
"Athanasi Vassilievitch," he said firmly, "if you will but petition for my release, as well as for permission for me to leave here with a portion of my property, I swear to you on my word of honour that I will begin a new life, and buy a country estate, and become the head of a household, and save money, nor for myself, but for others, and do good everywhere, and to the best of my ability, and forget alike myself and the feasting and debauchery of town life, and lead, instead, a plain, sober existence."
"In that resolve may God strengthen you!" cried the old man with unbounded joy. "And I, for my part, will do my utmost to procure your release. And though God alone knows whether my efforts will be successful, at all events I hope to bring about a mitigation of your sentence. Come, let me embrace you! How you have filled my heart with gladness! With God's help, I will now go to the Prince."
And the next moment Chichikov found himself alone. His whole nature felt shaken and softened, even as, when the bellows have fanned the furnace to a sufficient heat, a plate compounded even of the hardest and most fire-resisting metal dissolves, glows, and turns to the liquefied state.
"I myself can feel but little," he reflected, "but I intend to use my every faculty to help others to feel. I myself am but bad and worthless, but I intend to do my utmost to set others on the right road. I myself am but an indifferent Christian, but I intend to strive never to yield to temptation, but to work hard, and to till my land with the sweat of my brow, and to engage only in honourable pursuits, and to influence my fellows in the same direction. For, after all, am I so very useless? At least I could maintain a household, for I am frugal and active and intelligent and steadfast. The only thing is to make up my mind to it."
Thus Chichikov pondered; and as he did so his half-awakened energies of soul touched upon something. That is to say, dimly his instinct divined that every man has a duty to perform, and that that duty may be performed here, there, and everywhere, and no matter what the circumstances and the emotions and the difficulties which compass a man about. And with such clearness did Chichikov mentally picture to himself the life of grateful toil which lies removed from the bustle of towns and the temptations which man, forgetful of the obligation of labour, has invented to beguile an hour of idleness that almost our hero forgot his unpleasant position, and even felt ready to thank Providence for the calamity which had befallen him, provided that it should end in his being released, and in his receiving back a portion of his property.
Presently the massive door of the cell opened to admit a tchinovnik named Samosvitov, a robust, sensual individual who was reputed by his comrades to be something of a rake. Had he served in the army, he would have done wonders, for he would have stormed any point, however dangerous and inaccessible, and captured cannon under the very noses of the foe; but, as it was, the lack of a more warlike field for his energies caused him to devote the latter principally to dissipation. Nevertheless he enjoyed great popularity, for he was loyal to the point that, once his word had been given, nothing would ever make him break it. At the same time, some reason or another led him to regard his superiors in the light of a hostile battery which, come what might, he must breach at any weak or unguarded spot or gap which might be capable of being utilised for the purpose.
"We have all heard of your plight," he began as soon as the door had been safely closed behind him. "Yes, every one has heard of it. But never mind. Things will yet come right. We will do our very best for you, and act as your humble servants in everything. Thirty thousand roubles is our price—no more."
"Indeed?" said Chichikov. "And, for that, shall I be completely exonerated?"
"Yes, completely, and also given some compensation for your loss of time."
"And how much am I to pay in return, you say?"
"Thirty thousand roubles, to be divided among ourselves, the Governor-General's staff, and the Governor-General's secretary."
"But how is even that to be managed, for all my effects, including my dispatch-box, will have been sealed up and taken away for examination?"
"In an hour's time they will be within your hands again," said Samosvitov. "Shall we shake hands over the bargain?"
Chichikov did so with a beating heart, for he could scarcely believe his ears.
"For the present, then, farewell," concluded Samosvitov. "I have instructed a certain mutual friend that the important points are silence and presence of mind."
"Hm!" thought Chichikov. "It is to my lawyer that he is referring."
Even when Samosvitov had departed the prisoner found it difficult to credit all that had been said. Yet not an hour had elapsed before a messenger arrived with his dispatch-box and the papers and money therein practically undisturbed and intact! Later it came out that Samosvitov had assumed complete authority in the matter. First, he had rebuked the gendarmes guarding Chichikov's effects for lack of vigilance, and then sent word to the Superintendent that additional men were required for the purpose; after which he had taken the dispatch-box into his own charge, removed from it every paper which could possibly compromise Chichikov, sealed up the rest in a packet, and ordered a gendarme to convey the whole to their owner on the pretence of forwarding him sundry garments necessary for the night. In the result Chichikov received not only his papers, but also some warm clothing for his hypersensitive limbs. Such a swift recovery of his treasures delighted him beyond expression, and, gathering new hope, he began once more to dream of such allurements as theatre-going and the ballet girl after whom he had for some time past been dangling. Gradually did the country estate and the simple life begin to recede into the distance: gradually did the town house and the life of gaiety begin to loom larger and larger in the foreground. Oh, life, life!
Meanwhile in Government offices and chancellories there had been set on foot a boundless volume of work. Clerical pens slaved, and brains skilled in legal casus toiled; for each official had the artist's liking for the curved line in preference to the straight. And all the while, like a hidden magician, Chichikov's lawyer imparted driving power to that machine which caught up a man into its mechanism before he could even look round. And the complexity of it increased and increased, for Samosvitov surpassed himself in importance and daring. On learning of the place of confinement of the woman who had been arrested, he presented himself at the doors, and passed so well for a smart young officer of gendarmery that the sentry saluted and sprang to attention.
"Have you been on duty long?" asked Samosvitov.
"Since this morning, your Excellency."
"And shall you soon be relieved?"
"In three hours from now, your Excellency."
"Presently I shall want you, so I will instruct your officer to have you relieved at once."
"Very good, your Excellency."
Hastening home, thereafter, at top speed, and donning the uniform of a gendarme, with a false moustache and a pair of false whiskers—an ensemble in which the devil himself would not have known him, Samosvitov then made for the gaol where Chichikov was confined, and, en route, impressed into the service the first street woman whom he encountered, and handed her over to the care of two young fellows of like sort with himself. The next step was to hurry back to the prison where the original woman had been interned, and there to intimate to the sentry that he, Samosvitov (with whiskers and rifle complete), had been sent to relieve the said sentry at his post—a proceeding which, of course, enabled the newly-arrived relief to ensure, while performing his self-assumed turn of duty, that for the woman lying under arrest there should be substituted the woman recently recruited to the plot, and that the former should then be conveyed to a place of concealment where she was highly unlikely to be discovered.
Meanwhile, Samosvitov's feats in the military sphere were being rivalled by the wonders worked by Chichikov's lawyer in the civilian field of action. As a first step, the lawyer caused it to be intimated to the local Governor that the Public Prosecutor was engaged in drawing up a report to his, the local Governor's, detriment; whereafter the lawyer caused it to be intimated also to the Chief of Gendarmery that a certain confidential official was engaged in doing the same by HIM; whereafter, again, the lawyer confided to the confidential official in question that, owing to the documentary exertions of an official of a still more confidential nature than the first, he (the confidential official first-mentioned) was in a fair way to find himself in the same boat as both the local Governor and the Chief of Gendarmery: with the result that the whole trio were reduced to a frame of mind in which they were only too glad to turn to him (Samosvitov) for advice. The ultimate and farcical upshot was that report came crowding upon report, and that such alleged doings were brought to light as the sun had never before beheld. In fact, the documents in question employed anything and everything as material, even to announcing that such and such an individual had an illegitimate son, that such and such another kept a paid mistress, and that such and such a third was troubled with a gadabout wife; whereby there became interwoven with and welded into Chichikov's past history and the story of the dead souls such a crop of scandals and innuendoes that by no manner of means could any mortal decide to which of these rubbishy romances to award the palm, since all them presented an equal claim to that honour. Naturally, when, at length, the dossier reached the Governor-General himself it simply flabbergasted the poor man; and even the exceptionally clever and energetic secretary to whom he deputed the making of an abstract of the same very nearly lost his reason with the strain of attempting to lay hold of the tangled end of the skein. It happened that just at that time the Prince had several other important affairs on hand, and affairs of a very unpleasant nature. That is to say, famine had made its appearance in one portion of the province, and the tchinovniks sent to distribute food to the people had done their work badly; in another portion of the province certain Raskolniki 51 were in a state of ferment, owing to the spreading of a report than an Antichrist had arisen who would not even let the dead rest, but was purchasing them wholesale—wherefore the said Raskolniki were summoning folk to prayer and repentance, and, under cover of capturing the Antichrist in question, were bludgeoning non-Antichrists in batches; lastly, the peasants of a third portion of the province had risen against the local landowners and superintendents of police, for the reason that certain rascals had started a rumour that the time was come when the peasants themselves were to become landowners, and to wear frockcoats, while the landowners in being were about to revert to the peasant state, and to take their own wares to market; wherefore one of the local volosts52, oblivious of the fact that an order of things of that kind would lead to a superfluity alike of landowners and of superintendents of police, had refused to pay its taxes, and necessitated recourse to forcible measures. Hence it was in a mood of the greatest possible despondency that the poor Prince was sitting plunged when word was brought to him that the old man who had gone bail for Chichikov was waiting to see him.
"Show him in," said the Prince; and the old man entered.
"A fine fellow your Chichikov!" began the Prince angrily. "You defended him, and went bail for him, even though he had been up to business which even the lowest thief would not have touched!"
"Pardon me, your Highness; I do not understand to what you are referring."
"I am referring to the matter of the fraudulent will. The fellow ought to have been given a public flogging for it."
"Although to exculpate Chichikov is not my intention, might I ask you whether you do not think the case is non-proven? At all events, sufficient evidence against him is still lacking."
"What? We have as chief witness the woman who personated the deceased, and I will have her interrogated in your presence."
Touching a bell, the Prince ordered her to be sent for.
"It is a most disgraceful affair," he went on; "and, ashamed though I am to have to say it, some of our leading tchinovniks, including the local Governor himself, have become implicated in the matter. Yet you tell me that this Chichikov ought not to be confined among thieves and rascals!" Clearly the Governor-General's wrath was very great indeed.
"Your Highness," said Murazov, "the Governor of the town is one of the heirs under the will: wherefore he has a certain right to intervene. Also, the fact that extraneous persons have meddled in the matter is only what is to be expected from human nature. A rich woman dies, and no exact, regular disposition of her property is made. Hence there comes flocking from every side a cloud of fortune hunters. What else could one expect? Such is human nature."
"Yes, but why should such persons go and commit fraud?" asked the Prince irritably. "I feel as though not a single honest tchinovnik were available—as though every one of them were a rogue."
"Your Highness, which of us is altogether beyond reproach? The tchinovniks of our town are human beings, and no more. Some of them are men of worth, and nearly all of them men skilled in business—though also, unfortunately, largely inter-related."
"Now, tell me this, Athanasi Vassilievitch," said the Prince, "for you are about the only honest man of my acquaintance. What has inspired in you such a penchant for defending rascals?"
"This," replied Murazov. "Take any man you like of the persons whom you thus term rascals. That man none the less remains a human being. That being so, how can one refuse to defend him when all the time one knows that half his errors have been committed through ignorance and stupidity? Each of us commits faults with every step that we take; each of us entails unhappiness upon others with every breath that we draw—and that although we may have no evil intention whatever in our minds. Your Highness himself has, before now, committed an injustice of the gravest nature."
"I have?" cried the Prince, taken aback by this unexpected turn given to the conversation.
Murazov remained silent for a moment, as though he were debating something in his thoughts. Then he said:
"Nevertheless it is as I say. You committed the injustice in the case of the lad Dierpiennikov."
"What, Athanasi Vassilievitch? The fellow had infringed one of the Fundamental Laws! He had been found guilty of treason!"
"I am not seeking to justify him; I am only asking you whether you think it right that an inexperienced youth who had been tempted and led away by others should have received the same sentence as the man who had taken the chief part in the affair. That is to say, although Dierpiennikov and the man Voron-Drianni received an equal measure of punishment, their CRIMINALITY was not equal."
"If," exclaimed the Prince excitedly, "you know anything further concerning the case, for God's sake tell it me at once. Only the other day did I forward a recommendation that St. Petersburg should remit a portion of the sentence."
"Your Highness," replied Murazov, "I do not mean that I know of anything which does not lie also within your own cognisance, though one circumstance there was which might have told in the lad's favour had he not refused to admit it, lest another should suffer injury. All that I have in my mind is this. On that occasion were you not a little over-hasty in coming to a conclusion? You will understand, of course, that I am judging only according to my own poor lights, and for the reason that on more than one occasion you have urged me to be frank. In the days when I myself acted as a chief of gendarmery I came in contact with a great number of accused—some of them bad, some of them good; and in each case I found it well also to consider a man's past career, for the reason that, unless one views things calmly, instead of at once decrying a man, he is apt to take alarm, and to make it impossible thereafter to get any real confession from him. If, on the other hand, you question a man as friend might question friend, the result will be that straightway he will tell you everything, nor ask for mitigation of his penalty, nor bear you the least malice, in that he will understand that it is not you who have punished him, but the law."
The Prince relapsed into thought; until presently there entered a young tchinovnik. Portfolio in hand, this official stood waiting respectfully. Care and hard work had already imprinted their insignia upon his fresh young face; for evidently he had not been in the Service for nothing. As a matter of fact, his greatest joy was to labour at a tangled case, and successfully to unravel it.
[At this point a long hiatus occurs in the original.]
"I will send corn to the localities where famine is worst," said Murazov, "for I understand that sort of work better than do the tchinovniks, and will personally see to the needs of each person. Also, if you will allow me, your Highness, I will go and have a talk with the Raskolniki. They are more likely to listen to a plain man than to an official. God knows whether I shall succeed in calming them, but at least no tchinovnik could do so, for officials of the kind merely draw up reports and lose their way among their own documents—with the result that nothing comes of it. Nor will I accept from you any money for these purposes, since I am ashamed to devote as much as a thought to my own pocket at a time when men are dying of hunger. I have a large stock of grain lying in my granaries; in addition to which, I have sent orders to Siberia that a new consignment shall be forwarded me before the coming summer."
"Of a surety will God reward you for your services, Athanasi Vassilievitch! Not another word will I say to you on the subject, for you yourself feel that any words from me would be inadequate. Yet tell me one thing: I refer to the case of which you know. Have I the right to pass over the case? Also, would it be just and honourable on my part to let the offending tchinovniks go unpunished?"
"Your Highness, it is impossible to return a definite answer to those two questions: and the more so because many rascals are at heart men of rectitude. Human problems are difficult things to solve. Sometimes a man may be drawn into a vicious circle, so that, having once entered it, he ceases to be himself."
"But what would the tchinovniks say if I allowed the case to be passed over? Would not some of them turn up their noses at me, and declare that they have effected my intimidation? Surely they would be the last persons in the world to respect me for my action?"
"Your Highness, I think this: that your best course would be to call them together, and to inform them that you know everything, and to explain to them your personal attitude (exactly as you have explained it to me), and to end by at once requesting their advice and asking them what each of them would have done had he been placed in similar circumstances."
"What? You think that those tchinovniks would be so accessible to lofty motives that they would cease thereafter to be venal and meticulous? I should be laughed at for my pains."
"I think not, your Highness. Even the baser section of humanity possesses a certain sense of equity. Your wisest plan, your Highness, would be to conceal nothing and to speak to them as you have just spoken to me. If, at present, they imagine you to be ambitious and proud and unapproachable and self-assured, your action would afford them an opportunity of seeing how the case really stands. Why should you hesitate? You would but be exercising your undoubted right. Speak to them as though delivering not a message of your own, but a message from God."
"I will think it over," the Prince said musingly, "and meanwhile I thank you from my heart for your good advice."
"Also, I should order Chichikov to leave the town," suggested Murazov.
"Yes, I will do so. Tell him from me that he is to depart hence as quickly as possible, and that the further he should remove himself, the better it will be for him. Also, tell him that it is only owing to your efforts that he has received a pardon at my hands."
Murazov bowed, and proceeded from the Prince's presence to that of Chichikov. He found the prisoner cheerfully enjoying a hearty dinner which, under hot covers, had been brought him from an exceedingly excellent kitchen. But almost the first words which he uttered showed Murazov that the prisoner had been having dealings with the army of bribe-takers; as also that in those transactions his lawyer had played the principal part.
"Listen, Paul Ivanovitch," the old man said. "I bring you your freedom, but only on this condition—that you depart out of the town forthwith. Therefore gather together your effects, and waste not a moment, lest worse befall you. Also, of all that a certain person has contrived to do on your behalf I am aware; wherefore let me tell you, as between ourselves, that should the conspiracy come to light, nothing on earth can save him, and in his fall he will involve others rather then be left unaccompanied in the lurch, and not see the guilt shared. How is it that when I left you recently you were in a better frame of mind than you are now? I beg of you not to trifle with the matter. Ah me! what boots that wealth for which men dispute and cut one another's throats? Do they think that it is possible to prosper in this world without thinking of the world to come? Believe me when I say that, until a man shall have renounced all that leads humanity to contend without giving a thought to the ordering of spiritual wealth, he will never set his temporal goods either upon a satisfactory foundation. Yes, even as times of want and scarcity may come upon nations, so may they come upon individuals. No matter what may be said to the contrary, the body can never dispense with the soul. Why, then, will you not try to walk in the right way, and, by thinking no longer of dead souls, but only of your only living one, regain, with God's help, the better road? I too am leaving the town to-morrow. Hasten, therefore, lest, bereft of my assistance, you meet with some dire misfortune."
And the old man departed, leaving Chichikov plunged in thought. Once more had the gravity of life begun to loom large before him.
"Yes, Murazov was right," he said to himself. "It is time that I were moving."
Leaving the prison—a warder carrying his effects in his wake—he found Selifan and Petrushka overjoyed at seeing their master once more at liberty.
"Well, good fellows?" he said kindly. "And now we must pack and be off."
"True, true, Paul Ivanovitch," agreed Selifan. "And by this time the roads will have become firmer, for much snow has fallen. Yes, high time is it that we were clear of the town. So weary of it am I that the sight of it hurts my eyes."
"Go to the coachbuilder's," commanded Chichikov, "and have sledge-runners fitted to the koliaska."
Chichikov then made his way into the town—though not with the object of paying farewell visits (in view of recent events, that might have given rise to some awkwardness), but for the purpose of paying an unobtrusive call at the shop where he had obtained the cloth for his latest suit. There he now purchased four more arshins of the same smoked-grey-shot-with-flame-colour material as he had had before, with the intention of having it made up by the tailor who had fashioned the previous costume; and by promising double remuneration he induced the tailor in question so to hasten the cutting out of the garments that, through sitting up all night over the work, the man might have the whole ready by break of day. True, the goods were delivered a trifle after the appointed hour, yet the following morning saw the coat and breeches completed; and while the horses were being put to, Chichikov tried on the clothes, and found them equal to the previous creation, even though during the process he caught sight of a bald patch on his head, and was led mournfully to reflect: "Alas! Why did I give way to such despair? Surely I need not have torn my hair out so freely?"
Then, when the tailor had been paid, our hero left the town. But no longer was he the old Chichikov—he was only a ruin of what he had been, and his frame of mind might have been compared to a building recently pulled down to make room for a new one, while the new one had not yet been erected owing to the non-receipt of the plans from the architect. Murazov, too, had departed, but at an earlier hour, and in a tilt-waggon with Ivan Potapitch.
An hour later the Governor-General issued to all and sundry officials a notice that, on the occasion of his departure for St. Petersburg, he would be glad to see the corps of tchinovniks at a private meeting. Accordingly all ranks and grades of officialdom repaired to his residence, and there awaited—not without a certain measure of trepidation and of searching of heart—the Governor-General's entry. When that took place he looked neither clear nor dull. Yet his bearing was proud, and his step assured. The tchinovniks bowed—some of them to the waist, and he answered their salutations with a slight inclination of the head. Then he spoke as follows:
"Since I am about to pay a visit to St. Petersburg, I have thought it right to meet you, and to explain to you privately my reasons for doing so. An affair of a most scandalous character has taken place in our midst. To what affair I am referring I think most of those present will guess. Now, an automatic process has led to that affair bringing about the discovery of other matters. Those matters are no less dishonourable than the primary one; and to that I regret to have to add that there stand involved in them certain persons whom I had hitherto believed to be honourable. Of the object aimed at by those who have complicated matters to the point of making their resolution almost impossible by ordinary methods I am aware; as also I am aware of the identity of the ringleader, despite the skill with which he has sought to conceal his share in the scandal. But the principal point is, that I propose to decide these matters, not by formal documentary process, but by the more summary process of court-martial, and that I hope, when the circumstances have been laid before his Imperial Majesty, to receive from him authority to adopt the course which I have mentioned. For I conceive that when it has become impossible to resolve a case by civil means, and some of the necessary documents have been burnt, and attempts have been made (both through the adduction of an excess of false and extraneous evidence and through the framing of fictitious reports) to cloud an already sufficiently obscure investigation with an added measure of complexity,—when all these circumstances have arisen, I conceive that the only possible tribunal to deal with them is a military tribunal. But on that point I should like your opinion."
The Prince paused for a moment or two, as though awaiting a reply; but none came, seeing that every man had his eyes bent upon the floor, and many of the audience had turned white in the face.
"Then," he went on, "I may say that I am aware also of a matter which those who have carried it through believe to lie only within the cognisance of themselves. The particulars of that matter will not be set forth in documentary form, but only through process of myself acting as plaintiff and petitioner, and producing none but ocular evidence."
Among the throng of tchinovniks some one gave a start, and thereby caused others of the more apprehensive sort to fall to trembling in their shoes.
"Without saying does it go that the prime conspirators ought to undergo deprivation of rank and property, and that the remainder ought to be dismissed from their posts; for though that course would cause a certain proportion of the innocent to suffer with the guilty, there would seem to be no other course available, seeing that the affair is one of the most disgraceful nature, and calls aloud for justice. Therefore, although I know that to some my action will fail to serve as a lesson, since it will lead to their succeeding to the posts of dismissed officials, as well as that others hitherto considered honourable will lose their reputation, and others entrusted with new responsibilities will continue to cheat and betray their trust,—although all this is known to me, I still have no choice but to satisfy the claims of justice by proceeding to take stern measures. I am also aware that I shall be accused of undue severity; but, lastly, I am aware that it is my duty to put aside all personal feeling, and to act as the unconscious instrument of that retribution which justice demands."
Over ever face there passed a shudder. Yet the Prince had spoken calmly, and not a trace of anger or any other kind of emotion had been visible on his features.
"Nevertheless," he went on, "the very man in whose hands the fate of so many now lies, the very man whom no prayer for mercy could ever have influenced, himself desires to make a request of you. Should you grant that request, all will be forgotten and blotted out and pardoned, for I myself will intercede with the Throne on your behalf. That request is this. I know that by no manner of means, by no preventive measures, and by no penalties will dishonesty ever be completely extirpated from our midst, for the reason that its roots have struck too deep, and that the dishonourable traffic in bribes has become a necessity to, even the mainstay of, some whose nature is not innately venal. Also, I know that, to many men, it is an impossibility to swim against the stream. Yet now, at this solemn and critical juncture, when the country is calling aloud for saviours, and it is the duty of every citizen to contribute and to sacrifice his all, I feel that I cannot but issue an appeal to every man in whom a Russian heart and a spark of what we understand by the word 'nobility' exist. For, after all, which of us is more guilty than his fellow? It may be to ME the greatest culpability should be assigned, in that at first I may have adopted towards you too reserved an attitude, that I may have been over-hasty in repelling those who desired but to serve me, even though of their services I did not actually stand in need. Yet, had they really loved justice and the good of their country, I think that they would have been less prone to take offence at the coldness of my attitude, but would have sacrificed their feelings and their personality to their superior convictions. For hardly can it be that I failed to note their overtures and the loftiness of their motives, or that I would not have accepted any wise and useful advice proffered. At the same time, it is for a subordinate to adapt himself to the tone of his superior, rather than for a superior to adapt himself to the tone of his subordinate. Such a course is at once more regular and more smooth of working, since a corps of subordinates has but one director, whereas a director may have a hundred subordinates. But let us put aside the question of comparative culpability. The important point is, that before us all lies the duty of rescuing our fatherland. Our fatherland is suffering, not from the incursion of a score of alien tongues, but from our own acts, in that, in addition to the lawful administration, there has grown up a second administration possessed of infinitely greater powers than the system established by law. And that second administration has established its conditions, fixed its tariff of prices, and published that tariff abroad; nor could any ruler, even though the wisest of legislators and administrators, do more to correct the evil than limit it in the conduct of his more venal tchinovniks by setting over them, as their supervisors, men of superior rectitude. No, until each of us shall come to feel that, just as arms were taken up during the period of the upheaval of nations, so now each of us must make a stand against dishonesty, all remedies will end in failure. As a Russian, therefore—as one bound to you by consanguinity and identity of blood—I make to you my appeal. I make it to those of you who understand wherein lies nobility of thought. I invite those men to remember the duty which confronts us, whatsoever our respective stations; I invite them to observe more closely their duty, and to keep more constantly in mind their obligations of holding true to their country, in that before us the future looms dark, and that we can scarcely...."
[Here the manuscript of the original comes abruptly to an end.]