On assembling at the residence indicated, the tchinovniks had occasion t_emark that, owing to all these cares and excitements, every one of thei_umber had grown thinner. Yes, the appointment of a new Governor-General, coupled with the rumours described and the reception of the two seriou_ocuments above-mentioned, had left manifest traces upon the features of ever_ne present. More than one frockcoat had come to look too large for it_earer, and more than one frame had fallen away, including the frames of th_resident of the Council, the Director of the Medical Department, and th_ublic Prosecutor. Even a certain Semen Ivanovitch, who, for some reason o_nother, was never alluded to by his family name, but who wore on his inde_inger a ring with which he was accustomed to dazzle his lady friends, ha_iminished in bulk. Yet, as always happens at such junctures, there were als_resent a score of brazen individuals who had succeeded in NOT losing thei_resence of mind, even though they constituted a mere sprinkling. Of them th_ostmaster formed one, since he was a man of equable temperament who coul_lways say: "WE know you, Governor-Generals! We have seen three or four of yo_ome and go, whereas WE have been sitting on the same stools these thirt_ears." Nevertheless a prominent feature of the gathering was the tota_bsence of what is vulgarly known as "common sense." In general, we Russian_o not make a good show at representative assemblies, for the reason that, unless there be in authority a leading spirit to control the rest, the affai_lways develops into confusion. Why this should be so one could hardly say, but at all events a success is scored only by such gatherings as have fo_heir object dining and festivity—to wit, gatherings at clubs or in German-ru_estaurants. However, on the present occasion, the meeting was NOT one of thi_ind; it was a meeting convoked of necessity, and likely in view of th_hreatened calamity to affect every tchinovnik in the place. Also, in additio_o the great divergency of views expressed thereat, there was visible in al_he speakers an invincible tendency to indecision which led them at one momen_o make assertions, and at the next to contradict the same. But on at leas_ne point all seemed to agree—namely, that Chichikov's appearance an_onversation were too respectable for him to be a forger or a disguise_rigand. That is to say, all SEEMED to agree on the point; until a sudde_hout arose from the direction of the Postmaster, who for some time past ha_een sitting plunged in thought.
"_I_ can tell you," he cried, "who Chichikov is!"
"Who, then?" replied the crowd in great excitement.
"He is none other than Captain Kopeikin."
"And who may Captain Kopeikin be?"
Taking a pinch of snuff (which he did with the lid of his snuff-box half-open, lest some extraneous person should contrive to insert a not over-clean finge_nto the stuff), the Postmaster related the following story.
"After fighting in the campaign of 1812, there was sent home, wounded, _ertain Captain Kopeikin—a headstrong, lively blade who, whether on duty o_nder arrest, made things lively for everybody. Now, since at Krasni or a_eipzig (it matters not which) he had lost an arm and a leg, and in those day_o provision was made for wounded soldiers, and he could not work with hi_eft arm alone, he set out to see his father. Unfortunately his father coul_nly just support himself, and was forced to tell his son so; wherefore th_aptain decided to go and apply for help in St. Petersburg, seeing that he ha_isked his life for his country, and had lost much blood in its service. Yo_an imagine him arriving in the capital on a baggage waggon—in the capita_hich is like no other city in the world! Before him there lay spread out th_hole field of life, like a sort of Arabian Nights—a picture made up of th_evski Prospect, Gorokhovaia Street, countless tapering spires, and a numbe_f bridges apparently supported on nothing—in fact, a regular second Nineveh.
Well, he made shift to hire a lodging, but found everything so wonderfull_urnished with blinds and Persian carpets and so forth that he saw it woul_ean throwing away a lot of money. True, as one walks the streets of St.
Petersburg one seems to smell money by the thousand roubles, but our frien_opeikin's bank was limited to a few score coppers and a little silver—no_nough to buy a village with! At length, at the price of a rouble a day, h_btained a lodging in the sort of tavern where the daily ration is a bowl o_abbage soup and a crust of bread; and as he felt that he could not manage t_ive very long on fare of that kind he asked folk what he had better do. 'Wha_ou had better do?' they said. 'Well the Government is not here—it is i_aris, and the troops have not yet returned from the war; but there is _EMPORARY Commission sitting, and you had better go and see what IT can do fo_ou.' 'All right!' he said. 'I will go and tell the Commission that I hav_hed my blood, and sacrificed my life, for my country.' And he got up earl_ne morning, and shaved himself with his left hand (since the expense of _arber was not worth while), and set out, wooden leg and all, to see th_resident of the Commission. But first he asked where the President lived, an_as told that his house was in Naberezhnaia Street. And you may be sure tha_t was no peasant's hut, with its glazed windows and great mirrors and statue_nd lacqueys and brass door handles! Rather, it was the sort of place whic_ou would enter only after you had bought a cheap cake of soap and indulged i_ two hours' wash. Also, at the entrance there was posted a grand Swis_ootman with a baton and an embroidered collar—a fellow looking like a fat, over-fed pug dog. However, friend Kopeikin managed to get himself and hi_ooden leg into the reception room, and there squeezed himself away into _orner, for fear lest he should knock down the gilded china with his elbow.
And he stood waiting in great satisfaction at having arrived before th_resident had so much as left his bed and been served with his silver wash- basin. Nevertheless, it was only when Kopeikin had been waiting four hour_hat a breakfast waiter entered to say, 'The President will soon be here.' B_ow the room was as full of people as a plate is of beans, and when th_resident left the breakfast-room he brought with him, oh, such dignity an_efinement, and such an air of the metropolis! First he walked up to on_erson, and then up to another, saying: 'What do YOU want? And what do YO_ant? What can I do for YOU? What is YOUR business?' And at length he stoppe_efore Kopeikin, and Kopeikin said to him: 'I have shed my blood, and los_oth an arm and a leg, for my country, and am unable to work. Might _herefore dare to ask you for a little help, if the regulations should permi_f it, or for a gratuity, or for a pension, or something of the kind?' The_he President looked at him, and saw that one of his legs was indeed a woode_ne, and that an empty right sleeve was pinned to his uniform. 'Very well,' h_aid. 'Come to me again in a few days' time.' Upon this friend Kopeikin fel_elighted. 'NOW I have done my job!' he thought to himself; and you ma_magine how gaily he trotted along the pavement, and how he dropped into _avern for a glass of vodka, and how he ordered a cutlet and some caper sauc_nd some other things for luncheon, and how he called for a bottle of wine, and how he went to the theatre in the evening! In short, he did himsel_horoughly well. Next, he saw in the street a young English lady, as gracefu_s a swan, and set off after her on his wooden leg. 'But no,' he thought t_imself. 'To the devil with that sort of thing just now! I will wait until _ave drawn my pension. For the present I have spent enough.' (And I may tel_ou that by now he had got through fully half his money.) Two or three day_ater he went to see the President of the Commission again. 'I should be gla_o know,' he said, 'whether by now you can do anything for me in return for m_aving shed my blood and suffered sickness and wounds on military service.'
'First of all,' said the President, 'I must tell you that nothing can b_ecided in your case without the authority of the Supreme Government. Withou_hat sanction we cannot move in the matter. Surely you see how things stan_ntil the army shall have returned from the war? All that I can advise you t_o is wait for the Minister to return, and, in the meanwhile, to hav_atience. Rest assured that then you will not be overlooked. And if for th_oment you have nothing to live upon, this is the best that I can do for you.'
With that he handed Kopeikin a trifle until his case should have been decided.
However, that was not what Kopeikin wanted. He had supposed that he would b_iven a gratuity of a thousand roubles straight away; whereas, instead of
'Drink and be merry,' it was 'Wait, for the time is not yet.' Thus, though hi_ead had been full of soup plates and cutlets and English girls, he no_escended the steps with his ears and his tail down—looking, in fact, like _oodle over which the cook has poured a bucketful of water. You see, St.
Petersburg life had changed him not a little since first he had got a taste o_t, and, now that the devil only knew how he was going to live, it came al_he harder to him that he should have no more sweets to look forward to.
Remember that a man in the prime of years has an appetite like a wolf; and a_e passed a restaurant he could see a round-faced, holland-shirted, snow-whit_proned fellow of a French chef preparing a dish delicious enough to make i_urn to and eat itself; while, again, as he passed a fruit shop he could se_elicacies looking out of a window for fools to come and buy them at a hundre_oubles apiece. Imagine, therefore, his position! On the one hand, so t_peak, were salmon and water-melons, while on the other hand was the bitte_are which passed at a tavern for luncheon. 'Well,' he thought to himself,
'let them do what they like with me at the Commission, but I intend to go an_aise the whole place, and to tell every blessed functionary there that I hav_ mind to do as I choose.' And in truth this bold impertinence of a man di_ave the hardihood to return to the Commission. 'What do you want?' said th_resident. 'Why are you here for the third time? You have had your order_iven you.' 'I daresay I have,' he retorted, 'but I am not going to be put of_ith THEM. I want some cutlets to eat, and a bottle of French wine, and _hance to go and amuse myself at the theatre.' 'Pardon me,' said th_resident. 'What you really need (if I may venture to mention it) is a littl_atience. You have been given something for food until the Military Committe_hall have met, and then, doubtless, you will receive your proper reward, seeing that it would not be seemly that a man who has served his countr_hould be left destitute. On the other hand, if, in the meanwhile, you desir_o indulge in cutlets and theatre-going, please understand that we cannot hel_ou, but you must make your own resources, and try as best you can to hel_ourself.' You can imagine that this went in at one of Kopeikin's ears, an_ut at the other; that it was like shooting peas at a stone wall. Accordingl_e raised a turmoil which sent the staff flying. One by one, he gave the mo_f secretaries and clerks a real good hammering. 'You, and you, and you,' h_aid, 'do not even know your duties. You are law-breakers.' Yes, he trod ever_an of them under foot. At length the General himself arrived from anothe_ffice, and sounded the alarm. What was to be done with a fellow lik_opeikin? The President saw that strong measures were imperative. 'Very well,'
he said. 'Since you decline to rest satisfied with what has been given you, and quietly to await the decision of your case in St. Petersburg, I must fin_ou a lodging. Here, constable, remove the man to gaol.' Then a constable wh_ad been called to the door—a constable three ells in height, and armed with _arbine—a man well fitted to guard a bank—placed our friend in a polic_aggon. 'Well,' reflected Kopeikin, 'at least I shan't have to pay my fare fo_HIS ride. That's one comfort.' Again, after he had ridden a little way, h_aid to himself: 'they told me at the Commission to go and make my own mean_f enjoying myself. Very good. I'll do so.' However, what became of Kopeikin, and whither he went, is known to no one. He sank, to use the poet'_xpression, into the waters of Lethe, and his doings now lie buried i_blivion. But allow me, gentlemen, to piece together the further threads o_he story. Not two months later there appeared in the forests of Riazan a ban_f robbers: and of that band the chieftain was none other than—"
"Allow me," put in the Head of the Police Department. "You have said tha_opeikin had lost an arm and a leg; whereas Chichikov—"
To say anything more was unnecessary. The Postmaster clapped his hand to hi_orehead, and publicly called himself a fool, though, later, he tried t_xcuse his mistake by saying that in England the science of mechanics ha_eached such a pitch that wooden legs were manufactured which would enable th_earer, on touching a spring, to vanish instantaneously from sight.
Various other theories were then propounded, among them a theory tha_hichikov was Napoleon, escaped from St. Helena and travelling about the worl_n disguise. And if it should be supposed that no such notion could possibl_ave been broached, let the reader remember that these events took place no_any years after the French had been driven out of Russia, and that variou_rophets had since declared that Napoleon was Antichrist, and would one da_scape from his island prison to exercise universal sway on earth. Nay, som_ood folk had even declared the letters of Napoleon's name to constitute th_pocalyptic cipher!
As a last resort, the tchinovniks decided to question Nozdrev, since not onl_ad the latter been the first to mention the dead souls, but also he wa_upposed to stand on terms of intimacy with Chichikov. Accordingly the Chie_f Police dispatched a note by the hand of a commissionaire. At the tim_ozdrev was engaged on some very important business—so much so that he had no_eft his room for four days, and was receiving his meals through the window, and no visitors at all. The business referred to consisted of the marking o_everal dozen selected cards in such a way as to permit of his relying upo_hem as upon his bosom friend. Naturally he did not like having his retiremen_nvaded, and at first consigned the commissionaire to the devil; but as soo_s he learnt from the note that, since a novice at cards was to be the gues_f the Chief of Police that evening, a call at the latter's house might prov_ot wholly unprofitable he relented, unlocked the door of his room, threw o_he first garments that came to hand, and set forth. To every question put t_im by the tchinovniks he answered firmly and with assurance. Chichikov, h_verred, had indeed purchased dead souls, and to the tune of several thousan_oubles. In fact, he (Nozdrev) had himself sold him some, and still saw n_eason why he should not have done so. Next, to the question of whether or no_e considered Chichikov to be a spy, he replied in the affirmative, and adde_hat, as long ago as his and Chichikov's joint schooldays, the said Chichiko_ad been known as "The Informer," and repeatedly been thrashed by hi_ompanions on that account. Again, to the question of whether or not Chichiko_as a forger of currency notes the deponent, as before, responded in th_ffirmative, and appended thereto an anecdote illustrative of Chichikov'_xtraordinary dexterity of hand—namely, an anecdote to that effect that, onc_pon a time, on learning that two million roubles worth of counterfeit note_ere lying in Chichikov's house, the authorities had placed seals upon th_uilding, and had surrounded it on every side with an armed guard; whereupo_hichikov had, during the night, changed each of these seals for a new one, and also so arranged matters that, when the house was searched, the forge_otes were found to be genuine ones!
Again, to the question of whether or not Chichikov had schemed to abduct th_overnor's daughter, and also whether it was true that he, Nozdrev, ha_ndertaken to aid and abet him in the act, the witness replied that, had h_ot undertaken to do so, the affair would never have come off. At this poin_he witness pulled himself up, on realising that he had told a lie which migh_et him into trouble; but his tongue was not to be denied—the detail_rembling on its tip were too alluring, and he even went on to cite the nam_f the village church where the pair had arranged to be married, that of th_riest who had performed the ceremony, the amount of the fees paid for th_ame (seventy-five roubles), and statements (1) that the priest had refused t_olemnise the wedding until Chichikov had frightened him by threatening t_xpose the fact that he (the priest) had married Mikhail, a local corn dealer, to his paramour, and (2) that Chichikov had ordered both a koliaska for th_ouple's conveyance and relays of horses from the post-houses on the road.
Nay, the narrative, as detailed by Nozdrev, even reached the point of hi_entioning certain of the postillions by name! Next, the tchinovniks sounde_im on the question of Chichikov's possible identity with Napoleon; but befor_ong they had reason to regret the step, for Nozdrev responded with a ramblin_igmarole such as bore no resemblance to anything possibly conceivable.
Finally, the majority of the audience left the room, and only the Chief o_olice remained to listen (in the hope of gathering something more); but a_ast even he found himself forced to disclaim the speaker with a gesture whic_aid: "The devil only knows what the fellow is talking about!" and so voice_he general opinion that it was no use trying to gather figs of thistles.
Meanwhile Chichikov knew nothing of these events; for, having contracted _light chill, coupled with a sore throat, he had decided to keep his room fo_hree days; during which time he gargled his throat with milk and fig juice, consumed the fruit from which the juice had been extracted, and wore aroun_is neck a poultice of camomile and camphor. Also, to while away the hours, h_ade new and more detailed lists of the souls which he had bought, perused _ork by the Duchesse de la Valliere, rummaged in his portmanteau, looke_hrough various articles and papers which he discovered in his dispatch-box, and found every one of these occupations tedious. Nor could he understand wh_one of his official friends had come to see him and inquire after his health, seeing that, not long since, there had been standing in front of the inn th_rozhkis both of the Postmaster, the Public Prosecutor, and the President o_he Council. He wondered and wondered, and then, with a shrug of hi_houlders, fell to pacing the room. At length he felt better, and his spirit_ose at the prospect of once more going out into the fresh air; wherefore, having shaved a plentiful growth of hair from his face, he dressed with suc_lacrity as almost to cause a split in his trousers, sprinkled himself wit_au-de-Cologne, and wrapping himself in warm clothes, and turning up th_ollar of his coat, sallied forth into the street. His first destination wa_ntended to be the Governor's mansion, and, as he walked along, certai_houghts concerning the Governor's daughter would keep whirling through hi_ead, so that almost he forgot where he was, and took to smiling and crackin_okes to himself.
Arrived at the Governor's entrance, he was about to divest himself of hi_carf when a Swiss footman greeted him with the words, "I am forbidden t_dmit you."
"What?" he exclaimed. "You do not know me? Look at me again, and see if you d_ot recognise me."
"Of course I recognise you," the footman replied. "I have seen you before, bu_ave been ordered to admit any one else rather than Monsieur Chichikov."
"Indeed? And why so?"
"Those are my orders, and they must be obeyed," said the footman, confrontin_hichikov with none of that politeness with which, on former occasions, he ha_astened to divest our hero of his wrappings. Evidently he was of opinio_hat, since the gentry declined to receive the visitor, the latter mus_ertainly be a rogue.
"I cannot understand it," said Chichikov to himself. Then he departed, an_ade his way to the house of the President of the Council. But so put abou_as that official by Chichikov's entry that he could not utter two consecutiv_ords—he could only murmur some rubbish which left both his visitor an_imself out of countenance. Chichikov wondered, as he left the house, what th_resident's muttered words could have meant, but failed to make head or tai_f them. Next, he visited, in turn, the Chief of Police, the Vice-Governor, the Postmaster, and others; but in each case he either failed to be accorde_dmittance or was received so strangely, and with such a measure of constrain_nd conversational awkwardness and absence of mind and embarrassment, that h_egan to fear for the sanity of his hosts. Again and again did he strive t_ivine the cause, but could not do so; so he went wandering aimlessly abou_he town, without succeeding in making up his mind whether he or the official_ad gone crazy. At length, in a state bordering upon bewilderment, he returne_o the inn—to the establishment whence, that every afternoon, he had set fort_n such exuberance of spirits. Feeling the need of something to do, he ordere_ea, and, still marvelling at the strangeness of his position, was about t_our out the beverage when the door opened and Nozdrev made his appearance.
"What says the proverb?" he began. "'To see a friend, seven versts is not to_ong a round to make.' I happened to be passing the house, saw a light in you_indow, and thought to myself: 'Now, suppose I were to run up and pay him _isit? It is unlikely that he will be asleep.' Ah, ha! I see tea on you_able! Good! Then I will drink a cup with you, for I had wretched stuff fo_inner, and it is beginning to lie heavy on my stomach. Also, tell your man t_ill me a pipe. Where is your own pipe?"
"I never smoke," rejoined Chichikov drily.
"Rubbish! As if I did not know what a chimney-pot you are! What is your man'_ame? Hi, Vakhramei! Come here!"
"Petrushka is his name, not Vakhramei."
"Indeed? But you USED to have a man called Vakhramei, didn't you?"
"Oh, well. Then it must be Derebin's man I am thinking of. What a lucky fello_hat Derebin is! An aunt of his has gone and quarrelled with her son fo_arrying a serf woman, and has left all her property to HIM, to Derebin. Woul_hat _I_ had an aunt of that kind to provide against future contingencies! Bu_hy have you been hiding yourself away? I suppose the reason has been that yo_o in for abstruse subjects and are fond of reading" (why Nozdrev should hav_rawn these conclusions no one could possibly have said—least of all Chichiko_imself). "By the way, I can tell you of something that would have found yo_cope for your satirical vein" (the conclusion as to Chichikov's "satirica_ein" was, as before, altogether unwarranted on Nozdrev's part). "That is t_ay, you would have seen merchant Likhachev losing a pile of money at play. M_ord, you would have laughed! A fellow with me named Perependev said: 'Woul_hat Chichikov had been here! It would have been the very thing for him!'" (A_ matter of fact, never since the day of his birth had Nozdrev met any one o_he name of Perependev.) "However, my friend, you must admit that you treate_e rather badly the day that we played that game of chess; but, as I won th_ame, I bear you no malice. A propos, I am just from the President's, an_ught to tell you that the feeling against you in the town is very strong, fo_very one believes you to be a forger of currency notes. I myself was sent fo_nd questioned about you, but I stuck up for you through thick and thin, an_old the tchinovniks that I had been at school with you, and had known you_ather. In fact, I gave the fellows a knock or two for themselves."
"You say that I am believed to be a forger?" said Chichikov, starting from hi_eat.
"Yes," said Nozdrev. "Why have you gone and frightened everybody as you hav_one? Some of our folk are almost out of their minds about it, and declare yo_o be either a brigand in disguise or a spy. Yesterday the Public Prosecuto_ven died of it, and is to be buried to-morrow" (this was true in so far a_hat, on the previous day, the official in question had had a fata_troke—probably induced by the excitement of the public meeting). "Of course, _I_ don't suppose you to be anything of the kind, but, you see, these fellow_re in a blue funk about the new Governor-General, for they think he will mak_rouble for them over your affair. A propos, he is believed to be a man wh_uts on airs, and turns up his nose at everything; and if so, he will get o_adly with the dvoriane, seeing that fellows of that sort need to be humoure_ bit. Yes, my word! Should the new Governor-General shut himself up in hi_tudy, and give no balls, there will be the very devil to pay! By the way, Chichikov, that is a risky scheme of yours."
"What scheme to you mean?" Chichikov asked uneasily.
"Why, that scheme of carrying off the Governor's daughter. However, to tel_he truth, I was expecting something of the kind. No sooner did I see you an_er together at the ball than I said to myself: 'Ah, ha! Chichikov is not her_or nothing!' For my own part, I think you have made a poor choice, for I ca_ee nothing in her at all. On the other hand, the niece of a friend of min_amed Bikusov—she IS a girl, and no mistake! A regular what you might call
'miracle in muslin!'"
"What on earth are you talking about?" asked Chichikov with his eye_istended. "HOW could I carry off the Governor's daughter? What on earth d_ou mean?"
"Come, come! What a secretive fellow you are! My only object in having come t_ee you is to lend you a helping hand in the matter. Look here. On conditio_hat you will lend me three thousand roubles, I will stand you the cost of th_edding, the koliaska, and the relays of horses. I must have the money even i_ die for it."
Throughout Nozdrev's maunderings Chichikov had been rubbing his eyes t_scertain whether or not he was dreaming. What with the charge of being _orger, the accusation of having schemed an abduction, the death of the Publi_rosecutor (whatever might have been its cause), and the advent of a ne_overnor-General, he felt utterly dismayed.
"Things having come to their present pass," he reflected, "I had better no_inger here—I had better be off at once."
Getting rid of Nozdrev as soon as he could, he sent for Selifan, and ordere_im to be up at daybreak, in order to clean the britchka and to hav_verything ready for a start at six o'clock. Yet, though Selifan replied,
"Very well, Paul Ivanovitch," he hesitated awhile by the door. Next, Chichiko_id Petrushka get out the dusty portmanteau from under the bed, and then se_o work to cram into it, pell-mell, socks, shirts, collars (both clean an_irty), boot trees, a calendar, and a variety of other articles. Everythin_ent into the receptacle just as it came to hand, since his one object was t_bviate any possible delay in the morning's departure. Meanwhile the reluctan_elifan slowly, very slowly, left the room, as slowly descended the staircase (on each separate step of which he left a muddy foot-print), and, finally, halted to scratch his head. What that scratching may have meant no one coul_ay; for, with the Russian populace, such a scratching may mean any one of _undred things.