For more than two weeks the visitor lived amid a round of evening parties an_inners; wherefore he spent (as the saying goes) a very pleasant time. Finall_e decided to extend his visits beyond the urban boundaries by going an_alling upon landowners Manilov and Sobakevitch, seeing that he had promise_n his honour to do so. Yet what really incited him to this may have been _ore essential cause, a matter of greater gravity, a purpose which stoo_earer to his heart, than the motive which I have just given; and of tha_urpose the reader will learn if only he will have the patience to read thi_refatory narrative (which, lengthy though it be, may yet develop and expan_n proportion as we approach the denouement with which the present work i_estined to be crowned).
One evening, therefore, Selifan the coachman received orders to have th_orses harnessed in good time next morning; while Petrushka received orders t_emain behind, for the purpose of looking after the portmanteau and the room.
In passing, the reader may care to become more fully acquainted with the tw_erving-men of whom I have spoken. Naturally, they were not persons of muc_ote, but merely what folk call characters of secondary, or even of tertiary, importance. Yet, despite the fact that the springs and the thread of thi_omance will not DEPEND upon them, but only touch upon them, and occasionall_nclude them, the author has a passion for circumstantiality, and, like th_verage Russian, such a desire for accuracy as even a German could not rival.
To what the reader already knows concerning the personages in hand it i_herefore necessary to add that Petrushka usually wore a cast-off brown jacke_f a size too large for him, as also that he had (according to the custom o_ndividuals of his calling) a pair of thick lips and a very prominent nose. I_emperament he was taciturn rather than loquacious, and he cherished _earning for self-education. That is to say, he loved to read books, eve_hough their contents came alike to him whether they were books of heroi_dventure or mere grammars or liturgical compendia. As I say, he perused ever_ook with an equal amount of attention, and, had he been offered a work o_hemistry, would have accepted that also. Not the words which he read, but th_ere solace derived from the act of reading, was what especially pleased hi_ind; even though at any moment there might launch itself from the page som_evil-sent word whereof he could make neither head nor tail. For the mos_art, his task of reading was performed in a recumbent position in th_nteroom; which circumstance ended by causing his mattress to become as ragge_nd as thin as a wafer. In addition to his love of poring over books, he coul_oast of two habits which constituted two other essential features of hi_haracter—namely, a habit of retiring to rest in his clothes (that is to say, in the brown jacket above-mentioned) and a habit of everywhere bearing wit_im his own peculiar atmosphere, his own peculiar smell—a smell which fille_ny lodging with such subtlety that he needed but to make up his bed anywhere, even in a room hitherto untenanted, and to drag thither his greatcoat an_ther impedimenta, for that room at once to assume an air of having been live_n during the past ten years. Nevertheless, though a fastidious, and even a_rritable, man, Chichikov would merely frown when his nose caught this smel_mid the freshness of the morning, and exclaim with a toss of his head: "Th_evil only knows what is up with you! Surely you sweat a good deal, do yo_ot? The best thing you can do is to go and take a bath." To this Petrushk_ould make no reply, but, approaching, brush in hand, the spot where hi_aster's coat would be pendent, or starting to arrange one and another articl_n order, would strive to seem wholly immersed in his work. Yet of what was h_hinking as he remained thus silent? Perhaps he was saying to himself: "M_aster is a good fellow, but for him to keep on saying the same thing fort_imes over is a little wearisome." Only God knows and sees all things; wherefore for a mere human being to know what is in the mind of a servan_hile his master is scolding him is wholly impossible. However, no more nee_e said about Petrushka. On the other hand, Coachman Selifan—
But here let me remark that I do not like engaging the reader's attention i_onnection with persons of a lower class than himself; for experience ha_aught me that we do not willingly familiarise ourselves with the lowe_rders—that it is the custom of the average Russian to yearn exclusively fo_nformation concerning persons on the higher rungs of the social ladder. I_act, even a bowing acquaintance with a prince or a lord counts, in his eyes, for more than do the most intimate of relations with ordinary folk. For th_ame reason the author feels apprehensive on his hero's account, seeing tha_e has made that hero a mere Collegiate Councillor—a mere person with who_ulic Councillors might consort, but upon whom persons of the grade of ful_eneral would probably bestow one of those glances proper to a man who i_ringing at their august feet. Worse still, such persons of the grade o_eneral are likely to treat Chichikov with studied negligence—and to an autho_tudied negligence spells death.
However, in spite of the distressfulness of the foregoing possibilities, it i_ime that I returned to my hero. After issuing,
overnight, the necessary orders, he awoke early, washed himself, rubbe_imself from head to foot with a wet sponge (a performance executed only o_undays—and the day in question happened to be a Sunday), shaved his face wit_uch care that his cheeks issued of absolutely satin-like smoothness an_olish, donned first his bilberry-coloured, spotted frockcoat, and then hi_earskin overcoat, descended the staircase (attended, throughout, by th_aiter) and entered his britchka. With a loud rattle the vehicle left the inn- yard, and issued into the street. A passing priest doffed his cap, and a fe_rchins in grimy shirts shouted, "Gentleman, please give a poor orphan _rifle!" Presently the driver noticed that a sturdy young rascal was on th_oint of climbing onto the splashboard; wherefore he cracked his whip and th_ritchka leapt forward with increased speed over the cobblestones. At last, with a feeling of relief, the travellers caught sight of macadam ahead, whic_romised an end both to the cobblestones and to sundry other annoyances. And, sure enough, after his head had been bumped a few more times against the boo_f the conveyance, Chichikov found himself bowling over softer ground. On th_own receding into the distance, the sides of the road began to be varied wit_he usual hillocks, fir trees, clumps of young pine, trees with old, scarre_runks, bushes of wild juniper, and so forth, Presently there came into vie_lso strings of country villas which, with their carved supports and gre_oofs (the latter looking like pendent, embroidered tablecloths), resembled, rather, bundles of old faggots. Likewise the customary peasants, dressed i_heepskin jackets, could be seen yawning on benches before their huts, whil_heir womenfolk, fat of feature and swathed of bosom, gazed out of uppe_indows, and the windows below displayed, here a peering calf, and there th_nsightly jaws of a pig. In short, the view was one of the familiar type.
After passing the fifteenth verst-stone Chichikov suddenly recollected that, according to Manilov, fifteen versts was the exact distance between hi_ountry house and the town; but the sixteenth verst stone flew by, and th_aid country house was still nowhere to be seen. In fact, but for th_ircumstance that the travellers happened to encounter a couple of peasants, they would have come on their errand in vain. To a query as to whether th_ountry house known as Zamanilovka was anywhere in the neighbourhood th_easants replied by doffing their caps; after which one of them who seemed t_oast of a little more intelligence than his companion, and who wore a wedge- shaped beard, made answer:
"Perhaps you mean Manilovka—not ZAmanilovka?"
"Manilovka, eh? Well, you must continue for another verst, and then you wil_ee it straight before you, on the right."
"On the right?" re-echoed the coachman.
"Yes, on the right," affirmed the peasant. "You are on the proper road fo_anilovka, but ZAmanilovka—well, there is no such place. The house you mean i_alled Manilovka because Manilovka is its name; but no house at all is calle_Amanilovka. The house you mean stands there, on that hill, and is a ston_ouse in which a gentleman lives, and its name is Manilovka; but ZAmanilovk_oes not stand hereabouts, nor ever has stood."
So the travellers proceeded in search of Manilovka, and, after driving a_dditional two versts, arrived at a spot whence there branched off a by-road.
Yet two, three, or four versts of the by-road had been covered before they sa_he least sign of a two-storied stone mansion. Then it was that Chichiko_uddenly recollected that, when a friend has invited one to visit his countr_ouse, and has said that the distance thereto is fifteen versts, the distanc_s sure to turn out to be at least thirty.
Not many people would have admired the situation of Manilov's abode, for i_tood on an isolated rise and was open to every wind that blew. On the slop_f the rise lay closely-mown turf, while, disposed here and there, after th_nglish fashion, were flower-beds containing clumps of lilac and yello_cacia. Also, there were a few insignificant groups of slender-leaved, pointed-tipped birch trees, with, under two of the latter, an arbour having _habby green cupola, some blue-painted wooden supports, and the inscription
"This is the Temple of Solitary Thought." Lower down the slope lay a green- coated pond—green-coated ponds constitute a frequent spectacle in the garden_f Russian landowners; and, lastly, from the foot of the declivity ther_tretched a line of mouldy, log-built huts which, for some obscure reason o_nother, our hero set himself to count. Up to two hundred or more did h_ount, but nowhere could he perceive a single leaf of vegetation or a singl_tick of timber. The only thing to greet the eye was the logs of which th_uts were constructed. Nevertheless the scene was to a certain exten_nlivened by the spectacle of two peasant women who, with clothe_icturesquely tucked up, were wading knee-deep in the pond and dragging behin_hem, with wooden handles, a ragged fishing-net, in the meshes of which tw_rawfish and a roach with glistening scales were entangled. The women appeare_o have cause of dispute between themselves—to be rating one another abou_omething. In the background, and to one side of the house, showed a faint, dusky blur of pinewood, and even the weather was in keeping with th_urroundings, since the day was neither clear nor dull, but of the grey tin_hich may be noted in uniforms of garrison soldiers which have seen lon_ervice. To complete the picture, a cock, the recognised harbinger o_tmospheric mutations, was present; and, in spite of the fact that a certai_onnection with affairs of gallantry had led to his having had his head pecke_are by other cocks, he flapped a pair of wings—appendages as bare as tw_ieces of bast—and crowed loudly.
As Chichikov approached the courtyard of the mansion he caught sight of hi_ost (clad in a green frock coat) standing on the verandah and pressing on_and to his eyes to shield them from the sun and so get a better view of th_pproaching carriage. In proportion as the britchka drew nearer and nearer t_he verandah, the host's eyes assumed a more and more delighted expression, and his smile a broader and broader sweep.
"Paul Ivanovitch!" he exclaimed when at length Chichikov leapt from th_ehicle. "Never should I have believed that you would have remembered us!"
The two friends exchanged hearty embraces, and Manilov then conducted hi_uest to the drawing-room. During the brief time that they are traversing th_all, the anteroom, and the dining-room, let me try to say somethin_oncerning the master of the house. But such an undertaking bristles wit_ifficulties—it promises to be a far less easy task than the depicting of som_utstanding personality which calls but for a wholesale dashing of colour_pon the canvas—the colours of a pair of dark, burning eyes, a pair of dark, beetling brows, a forehead seamed with wrinkles, a black, or a fiery-red, cloak thrown backwards over the shoulder, and so forth, and so forth. Yet, s_umerous are Russian serf owners that, though careful scrutiny reveals t_ne's sight a quantity of outre peculiarities, they are, as a class, exceedingly difficult to portray, and one needs to strain one's faculties t_he utmost before it becomes possible to pick out their variously subtle, their almost invisible, features. In short, one needs, before doing this, t_arry out a prolonged probing with the aid of an insight sharpened in th_cute school of research.
Only God can say what Manilov's real character was. A class of men exists who_he proverb has described as "men unto themselves, neither this no_hat—neither Bogdan of the city nor Selifan of the village." And to that clas_e had better assign also Manilov. Outwardly he was presentable enough, fo_is features were not wanting in amiability, but that amiability was a qualit_nto which there entered too much of the sugary element, so that his ever_esture, his every attitude, seemed to connote an excess of eagerness to curr_avour and cultivate a closer acquaintance. On first speaking to the man, hi_ngratiating smile, his flaxen hair, and his blue eyes would lead one to say,
"What a pleasant, good-tempered fellow he seems!" yet during the next momen_r two one would feel inclined to say nothing at all, and, during the thir_oment, only to say, "The devil alone knows what he is!" And should, thereafter, one not hasten to depart, one would inevitably become overpowere_ith the deadly sense of ennui which comes of the intuition that nothing i_he least interesting is to be looked for, but only a series of wearisom_tterances of the kind which are apt to fall from the lips of a man whos_obby has once been touched upon. For every man HAS his hobby. One man's ma_e sporting dogs; another man's may be that of believing himself to be a love_f music, and able to sound the art to its inmost depths; another's may b_hat of posing as a connoisseur of recherche cookery; another's may be that o_spiring to play roles of a kind higher than nature has assigned him; another's (though this is a more limited ambition) may be that of gettin_runk, and of dreaming that he is edifying both his friends, hi_cquaintances, and people with whom he has no connection at all by walkin_rm-in-arm with an Imperial aide-de-camp; another's may be that of possessin_ hand able to chip corners off aces and deuces of diamonds; another's may b_hat of yearning to set things straight—in other words, to approximate hi_ersonality to that of a stationmaster or a director of posts. In short, almost every man has his hobby or his leaning; yet Manilov had none such, fo_t home he spoke little, and spent the greater part of his time i_editation—though God only knows what that meditation comprised! Nor can it b_aid that he took much interest in the management of his estate, for he neve_ode into the country, and the estate practically managed itself. Whenever th_ailiff said to him, "It might be well to have such-and-such a thing done," h_ould reply, "Yes, that is not a bad idea," and then go on smoking his pipe—_abit which he had acquired during his service in the army, where he had bee_ooked upon as an officer of modesty, delicacy, and refinement. "Yes, it i_OT a bad idea," he would repeat. Again, whenever a peasant approached hi_nd, rubbing the back of his neck, said "Barin, may I have leave to go an_ork for myself, in order that I may earn my obrok?" he would snap out, with pipe in mouth as usual, "Yes, go!" and never trouble his head as t_hether the peasant's real object might not be to go and get drunk. True, a_ntervals he would say, while gazing from the verandah to the courtyard, an_rom the courtyard to the pond, that it would be indeed splendid if a carriag_rive could suddenly materialise, and the pond as suddenly become spanned wit_ stone bridge, and little shops as suddenly arise whence pedlars coul_ispense the petty merchandise of the kind which peasantry most need. And a_uch moments his eyes would grow winning, and his features assume a_xpression of intense satisfaction. Yet never did these projects pass beyon_he stage of debate. Likewise there lay in his study a book with th_ourteenth page permanently turned down. It was a book which he had bee_eading for the past two years! In general, something seemed to be wanting i_he establishment. For instance, although the drawing-room was filled wit_eautiful furniture, and upholstered in some fine silken material whic_learly had cost no inconsiderable sum, two of the chairs lacked any coverin_ut bast, and for some years past the master had been accustomed to warn hi_uests with the words, "Do not sit upon these chairs; they are not yet read_or use." Another room contained no furniture at all, although, a few day_fter the marriage, it had been said: "My dear, to-morrow let us set abou_rocuring at least some TEMPORARY furniture for this room." Also, ever_vening would see placed upon the drawing-room table a fine bronz_andelabrum, a statuette representative of the Three Graces, a tray inlai_ith mother-of-pearl, and a rickety, lop-sided copper invalide. Yet of th_act that all four articles were thickly coated with grease neither the maste_f the house nor the mistress nor the servants seemed to entertain the leas_uspicion. At the same time, Manilov and his wife were quite satisfied wit_ach other. More than eight years had elapsed since their marriage, yet one o_hem was for ever offering his or her partner a piece of apple or a bonbon o_ nut, while murmuring some tender something which voiced a whole-hearte_ffection. "Open your mouth, dearest"—thus ran the formula—"and let me po_nto it this titbit." You may be sure that on such occasions the "deares_outh" parted its lips most graciously! For their mutual birthdays the pai_lways contrived some "surprise present" in the shape of a glass receptacl_or tooth-powder, or what not; and as they sat together on the sofa he woul_uddenly, and for some unknown reason, lay aside his pipe, and she her work (if at the moment she happened to be holding it in her hands) and husband an_ife would imprint upon one another's cheeks such a prolonged and languishin_iss that during its continuance you could have smoked a small cigar. I_hort, they were what is known as "a very happy couple." Yet it may b_emarked that a household requires other pursuits to be engaged in tha_engthy embracings and the preparing of cunning "surprises." Yes, many _unction calls for fulfilment. For instance, why should it be thought foolis_r low to superintend the kitchen? Why should care not be taken that th_toreroom never lacks supplies? Why should a housekeeper be allowed to thieve?
Why should slovenly and drunken servants exist? Why should a domestic staff b_uffered in indulge in bouts of unconscionable debauchery during its leisur_ime? Yet none of these things were thought worthy of consideration b_anilov's wife, for she had been gently brought up, and gentle nurture, as w_ll know, is to be acquired only in boarding schools, and boarding schools, a_e know, hold the three principal subjects which constitute the basis of huma_irtue to be the French language (a thing indispensable to the happiness o_arried life), piano-playing (a thing wherewith to beguile a husband's leisur_oments), and that particular department of housewifery which is comprised i_he knitting of purses and other "surprises." Nevertheless changes an_mprovements have begun to take place, since things now are governed more b_he personal inclinations and idiosyncracies of the keepers of suc_stablishments. For instance, in some seminaries the regimen places piano- playing first, and the French language second, and then the above departmen_f housewifery; while in other seminaries the knitting of "surprises" head_he list, and then the French language, and then the playing of pianos—s_iverse are the systems in force! None the less, I may remark that Madam_anilov—
But let me confess that I always shrink from saying too much about ladies.
Moreover, it is time that we returned to our heroes, who, during the past fe_inutes, have been standing in front of the drawing-room door, and engaged i_rging one another to enter first.
"Pray be so good as not to inconvenience yourself on my account," sai_hichikov. "_I_ will follow YOU."
"No, Paul Ivanovitch—no! You are my guest." And Manilov pointed towards th_oorway.
"Make no difficulty about it, I pray," urged Chichikov. "I beg of you to mak_o difficulty about it, but to pass into the room."
"Pardon me, I will not. Never could I allow so distinguished and so welcome _uest as yourself to take second place."
"Why call me 'distinguished,' my dear sir? I beg of you to proceed."
"Nay; be YOU pleased to do so."
"For the reason which I have stated." And Manilov smiled his very pleasantes_mile.
Finally the pair entered simultaneously and sideways; with the result tha_hey jostled one another not a little in the process.
"Allow me to present to you my wife," continued Manilov. "My dear—Pau_vanovitch."
Upon that Chichikov caught sight of a lady whom hitherto he had overlooked, but who, with Manilov, was now bowing to him in the doorway. Not wholly o_npleasing exterior, she was dressed in a well-fitting, high-necked mornin_ress of pale-coloured silk; and as the visitor entered the room her smal_hite hands threw something upon the table and clutched her embroidered skir_efore rising from the sofa where she had been seated. Not without a sense o_leasure did Chichikov take her hand as, lisping a little, she declared tha_he and her husband were equally gratified by his coming, and that, of late, not a day had passed without her husband recalling him to mind.
"Yes," affirmed Manilov; "and every day SHE has said to ME: 'Why does not you_riend put in an appearance?' 'Wait a little dearest,' I have always replied.
Twill not be long now before he comes.' And you HAVE come, you HAVE honoure_s with a visit, you HAVE bestowed upon us a treat—a treat destined to conver_his day into a gala day, a true birthday of the heart."
The intimation that matters had reached the point of the occasion bein_estined to constitute a "true birthday of the heart" caused Chichikov t_ecome a little confused; wherefore he made modest reply that, as a matter o_act, he was neither of distinguished origin nor distinguished rank.
"Ah, you ARE so," interrupted Manilov with his fixed and engaging smile. "Yo_re all that, and more."
"How like you our town?" queried Madame. "Have you spent an agreeable time i_t?"
"Very," replied Chichikov. "The town is an exceedingly nice one, and I hav_reatly enjoyed its hospitable society."
"And what do you think of our Governor?"
"Yes; IS he not a most engaging and dignified personage?" added Manilov.
"He is all that," assented Chichikov. "Indeed, he is a man worthy of th_reatest respect. And how thoroughly he performs his duty according to hi_ights! Would that we had more like him!"
"And the tactfulness with which he greets every one!" added Manilov, smiling, and half-closing his eyes, like a cat which is being tickled behind the ears.
"Quite so," assented Chichikov. "He is a man of the most eminent civility an_pproachableness. And what an artist! Never should I have thought he coul_ave worked the marvellous household samplers which he has done! Som_pecimens of his needlework which he showed me could not well have bee_urpassed by any lady in the land!"
"And the Vice-Governor, too—he is a nice man, is he not?" inquired Manilo_ith renewed blinkings of the eyes.
"Who? The Vice-Governor? Yes, a most worthy fellow!" replied Chichikov.
"And what of the Chief of Police? Is it not a fact that he too is in th_ighest degree agreeable?"
"Very agreeable indeed. And what a clever, well-read individual! With him an_he Public Prosecutor and the President of the Local Council I played whis_ntil the cocks uttered their last morning crow. He is a most excellen_ellow."
"And what of his wife?" queried Madame Manilov. "Is she not a most graciou_ersonality?"
"One of the best among my limited acquaintance," agreed Chichikov.
Nor were the President of the Local Council and the Postmaster overlooked; until the company had run through the whole list of urban officials. And i_very case those officials appeared to be persons of the highest possibl_erit.
"Do you devote your time entirely to your estate?" asked Chichikov, in hi_urn.
"Well, most of it," replied Manilov; "though also we pay occasional visits t_he town, in order that we may mingle with a little well-bred society. On_rows a trifle rusty if one lives for ever in retirement."
"Quite so," agreed Chichikov.
"Yes, quite so," capped Manilov. "At the same time, it would be a differen_atter if the neighbourhood were a GOOD one—if, for example, one had a frien_ith whom one could discuss manners and polite deportment, or engage in som_ranch of science, and so stimulate one's wits. For that sort of thing give_ne's intellect an airing. It, it—" At a loss for further words, he ended b_emarking that his feelings were apt to carry him away; after which h_ontinued with a gesture: "What I mean is that, were that sort of thin_ossible, I, for one, could find the country and an isolated life possessed o_reat attractions. But, as matters stand, such a thing is NOT possible. Al_hat I can manage to do is, occasionally, to read a little of A Son of th_atherland."
With these sentiments Chichikov expressed entire agreement: adding tha_othing could be more delightful than to lead a solitary life in which ther_hould be comprised only the sweet contemplation of nature and th_ntermittent perusal of a book.
"Nay, but even THAT were worth nothing had not one a friend with whom to shar_ne's life," remarked Manilov.
"True, true," agreed Chichikov. "Without a friend, what are all the treasure_n the world? 'Possess not money,' a wise man has said, 'but rather goo_riends to whom to turn in case of need.'"
"Yes, Paul Ivanovitch," said Manilov with a glance not merely sweet, bu_ositively luscious—a glance akin to the mixture which even clever physician_ave to render palatable before they can induce a hesitant patient to take it.
"Consequently you may imagine what happiness—what PERFECT happiness, so t_peak—the present occasion has brought me, seeing that I am permitted t_onverse with you and to enjoy your conversation."
"But WHAT of my conversation?" replied Chichikov. "I am an insignifican_ndividual, and, beyond that, nothing."
"Oh, Paul Ivanovitch!" cried the other. "Permit me to be frank, and to sa_hat I would give half my property to possess even a PORTION of the talent_hich you possess."
"On the contrary, I should consider it the highest honour in the world if—"
The lengths to which this mutual outpouring of soul would have proceeded ha_ot a servant entered to announce luncheon must remain a mystery.
"I humbly invite you to join us at table," said Manilov. "Also, you wil_ardon us for the fact that we cannot provide a banquet such as is to b_btained in our metropolitan cities? We partake of simple fare, according t_ussian custom—we confine ourselves to shtchi, but we do so with a singl_eart. Come, I humbly beg of you." After another contest for the honour o_ielding precedence, Chichikov succeeded in making his way (in zigzag fashion) to the dining-room, where they found awaiting them a couple of youngsters.
These were Manilov's sons, and boys of the age which admits of their presenc_t table, but necessitates the continued use of high chairs. Beside them wa_heir tutor, who bowed politely and smiled; after which the hostess took he_eat before her soup plate, and the guest of honour found himself esconse_etween her and the master of the house, while the servant tied up the boys'
necks in bibs.
"What charming children!" said Chichikov as he gazed at the pair. "And how ol_re they?"
"The eldest is eight," replied Manilov, "and the younger one attained the ag_f six yesterday."
"Themistocleus," went on the father, turning to his first-born, who wa_ngaged in striving to free his chin from the bib with which the footman ha_ncircled it. On hearing this distinctly Greek name (to which, for som_nknown reason, Manilov always appended the termination "eus"), Chichiko_aised his eyebrows a little, but hastened, the next moment, to restore hi_ace to a more befitting expression.
"Themistocleus," repeated the father, "tell me which is the finest city i_rance."
Upon this the tutor concentrated his attention upon Themistocleus, an_ppeared to be trying hard to catch his eye. Only when Themistocleus ha_uttered "Paris" did the preceptor grow calmer, and nod his head.
"And which is the finest city in Russia?" continued Manilov.
Again the tutor's attitude became wholly one of concentration.
"St. Petersburg," replied Themistocleus.
"And what other city?"
"Moscow," responded the boy.
"Clever little dear!" burst out Chichikov, turning with an air of surprise t_he father. "Indeed, I feel bound to say that the child evinces the greates_ossible potentialities."
"You do not know him fully," replied the delighted Manilov. "The amount o_harpness which he possesses is extraordinary. Our younger one, Alkid, is no_o quick; whereas his brother—well, no matter what he may happen upon (whethe_pon a cowbug or upon a water-beetle or upon anything else), his little eye_egin jumping out of his head, and he runs to catch the thing, and to inspec_t. For HIM I am reserving a diplomatic post. Themistocleus," added th_ather, again turning to his son, "do you wish to become an ambassador?"
"Yes, I do," replied Themistocleus, chewing a piece of bread and wagging hi_ead from side to side.
At this moment the lacquey who had been standing behind the future ambassado_iped the latter's nose; and well it was that he did so, since otherwise a_nelegant and superfluous drop would have been added to the soup. After tha_he conversation turned upon the joys of a quiet life—though occasionally i_as interrupted by remarks from the hostess on the subject of acting an_ctors. Meanwhile the tutor kept his eyes fixed upon the speakers' faces; an_henever he noticed that they were on the point of laughing he at once opene_is mouth, and laughed with enthusiasm. Probably he was a man of gratefu_eart who wished to repay his employers for the good treatment which he ha_eceived. Once, however, his features assumed a look of grimness as, fixin_is eyes upon his vis-a-vis, the boys, he tapped sternly upon the table. Thi_appened at a juncture when Themistocleus had bitten Alkid on the ear, and th_aid Alkid, with frowning eyes and open mouth, was preparing himself to sob i_iteous fashion; until, recognising that for such a proceeding he migh_ossibly be deprived of his plate, he hastened to restore his mouth to it_riginal expression, and fell tearfully to gnawing a mutton bone—the greas_rom which had soon covered his cheeks.
Every now and again the hostess would turn to Chichikov with the words, "Yo_re eating nothing—you have indeed taken little;" but invariably her gues_eplied: "Thank you, I have had more than enough. A pleasant conversation i_orth all the dishes in the world."
At length the company rose from table. Manilov was in high spirits, and, laying his hand upon his guest's shoulder, was on the point of conducting hi_o the drawing-room, when suddenly Chichikov intimated to him, with a meanin_ook, that he wished to speak to him on a very important matter.
"That being so," said Manilov, "allow me to invite you into my study." And h_ed the way to a small room which faced the blue of the forest. "This is m_anctum," he added.
"What a pleasant apartment!" remarked Chichikov as he eyed it carefully. And, indeed, the room did not lack a certain attractiveness. The walls were painte_ sort of blueish-grey colour, and the furniture consisted of four chairs, _ettee, and a table—the latter of which bore a few sheets of writing-paper an_he book of which I have before had occasion to speak. But the most prominen_eature of the room was tobacco, which appeared in many different guises—i_ackets, in a tobacco jar, and in a loose heap strewn about the table.
Likewise, both window sills were studded with little heaps of ash, arranged, not without artifice, in rows of more or less tidiness. Clearly smokin_fforded the master of the house a frequent means of passing the time.
"Permit me to offer you a seat on this settee," said Manilov. "Here you wil_e quieter than you would be in the drawing-room."
"But I should prefer to sit upon this chair."
"I cannot allow that," objected the smiling Manilov. "The settee is speciall_eserved for my guests. Whether you choose or no, upon it you MUST sit."
Accordingly Chichikov obeyed.
"And also let me hand you a pipe."
"No, I never smoke," answered Chichikov civilly, and with an assumed air o_egret.
"And why?" inquired Manilov—equally civilly, but with a regret that was wholl_enuine.
"Because I fear that I have never quite formed the habit, owing to my havin_eard that a pipe exercises a desiccating effect upon the system."
"Then allow me to tell you that that is mere prejudice. Nay, I would even g_o far as to say that to smoke a pipe is a healthier practice than to tak_nuff. Among its members our regiment numbered a lieutenant—a most excellent, well-educated fellow—who was simply INCAPABLE of removing his pipe from hi_outh, whether at table or (pardon me) in other places. He is now forty, ye_o man could enjoy better health than he has always done."
Chichikov replied that such cases were common, since nature comprised man_hings which even the finest intellect could not compass.
"But allow me to put to you a question," he went on in a tone in which ther_as a strange—or, at all events, RATHER a strange—note. For some unknow_eason, also, he glanced over his shoulder. For some equally unknown reason, Manilov glanced over HIS.
"How long is it," inquired the guest, "since you last rendered a censu_eturn?"
"Oh, a long, long time. In fact, I cannot remember when it was."
"And since then have many of your serfs died?"
"I do not know. To ascertain that I should need to ask my bailiff. Footman, g_nd call the bailiff. I think he will be at home to-day."
Before long the bailiff made his appearance. He was a man of under forty, clean-shaven, clad in a smock, and evidently used to a quiet life, seeing tha_is face was of that puffy fullness, and the skin encircling his slit-lik_yes was of that sallow tint, which shows that the owner of those features i_ell acquainted with a feather bed. In a trice it could be seen that he ha_layed his part in life as all such bailiffs do—that, originally a young ser_f elementary education, he had married some Agashka of a housekeeper or _istress's favourite, and then himself become housekeeper, and, subsequently, bailiff; after which he had proceeded according to the rules of his tribe—tha_s to say, he had consorted with and stood in with the more well-to-do serf_n the estate, and added the poorer ones to the list of forced payers o_brok, while himself leaving his bed at nine o'clock in the morning, and, whe_he samovar had been brought, drinking his tea at leisure.
"Look here, my good man," said Manilov. "How many of our serfs have died sinc_he last census revision?"
"How many of them have died? Why, a great many." The bailiff hiccoughed, an_lapped his mouth lightly after doing so.
"Yes, I imagined that to be the case," corroborated Manilov. "In fact, a VER_reat many serfs have died." He turned to Chichikov and repeated the words.
"How many, for instance?" asked Chichikov.
"Yes; how many?" re-echoed Manilov.
"HOW many?" re-echoed the bailiff. "Well, no one knows the exact number, fo_o one has kept any account."
"Quite so," remarked Manilov. "I supposed the death-rate to have been high, but was ignorant of its precise extent."
"Then would you be so good as to have it computed for me?" said Chichikov.
"And also to have a detailed list of the deaths made out?"
"Yes, I will—a detailed list," agreed Manilov.
The bailiff departed.
"For what purpose do you want it?" inquired Manilov when the bailiff had gone.
The question seemed to embarrass the guest, for in Chichikov's face ther_awned a sort of tense expression, and it reddened as though its owner wer_triving to express something not easy to put into words. True enough, Manilo_as now destined to hear such strange and unexpected things as never befor_ad greeted human ears.
"You ask me," said Chichikov, "for what purpose I want the list. Well, m_urpose in wanting it is this—that I desire to purchase a few peasants." An_e broke off in a gulp.
"But may I ask HOW you desire to purchase those peasants?" asked Manilov.
"With land, or merely as souls for transferment—that is to say, by themselves, and without any land?"
"I want the peasants themselves only," replied Chichikov. "And I want dea_nes at that."
"What?—Excuse me, but I am a trifle deaf. Really, your words sound mos_trange!"
"All that I am proposing to do," replied Chichikov, "is to purchase the dea_easants who, at the last census, were returned by you as alive."
Manilov dropped his pipe on the floor, and sat gaping. Yes, the two friend_ho had just been discussing the joys of camaraderie sat staring at on_nother like the portraits which, of old, used to hang on opposite sides of _irror. At length Manilov picked up his pipe, and, while doing so, glance_overtly at Chichikov to see whether there was any trace of a smile to b_etected on his lips—whether, in short, he was joking. But nothing of the sor_ould be discerned. On the contrary, Chichikov's face looked graver tha_sual. Next, Manilov wondered whether, for some unknown reason, his guest ha_ost his wits; wherefore he spent some time in gazing at him with anxiou_ntentness. But the guest's eyes seemed clear—they contained no spark of th_ild, restless fire which is apt to wander in the eyes of madmen. All was a_t should be. Consequently, in spite of Manilov's cogitations, he could thin_f nothing better to do than to sit letting a stream of tobacco smoke escap_rom his mouth.
"So," continued Chichikov, "what I desire to know is whether you are willin_o hand over to me—to resign—these actually non-living, but legally living, peasants; or whether you have any better proposal to make?"
Manilov felt too confused and confounded to do aught but continue staring a_is interlocutor.
"I think that you are disturbing yourself unnecessarily," was Chichikov's nex_emark.
"I? Oh no! Not at all!" stammered Manilov. "Only—pardon me—I do not quit_omprehend you. You see, never has it fallen to my lot to acquire th_rilliant polish which is, so to speak, manifest in your every movement. No_ave I ever been able to attain the art of expressing myself well.
Consequently, although there is a possibility that in the—er—utterances whic_ave just fallen from your lips there may lie something else concealed, it ma_qually be that—er—you have been pleased so to express yourself for the sak_f the beauty of the terms wherein that expression found shape?"
"Oh, no," asserted Chichikov. "I mean what I say and no more. My reference t_uch of your pleasant souls as are dead was intended to be taken literally."
Manilov still felt at a loss—though he was conscious that he MUST d_omething, he MUST propound some question. But what question? The devil alon_new! In the end he merely expelled some more tobacco smoke—this time from hi_ostrils as well as from his mouth.
"So," went on Chichikov, "if no obstacle stands in the way, we might as wel_roceed to the completion of the purchase."
"What? Of the purchase of the dead souls?"
"Of the 'dead' souls? Oh dear no! Let us write them down as LIVING ones, seeing that that is how they figure in the census returns. Never do I permi_yself to step outside the civil law, great though has been the harm whic_hat rule has wrought me in my career. In my eyes an obligation is a sacre_hing. In the presence of the law I am dumb."
These last words reassured Manilov not a little: yet still the meaning of th_ffair remained to him a mystery. By way of answer, he fell to sucking at hi_ipe with such vehemence that at length the pipe began to gurgle like _assoon. It was as though he had been seeking of it inspiration in the presen_nheard-of juncture. But the pipe only gurgled, et praeterea nihil.
"Perhaps you feel doubtful about the proposal?" said Chichikov.
"Not at all," replied Manilov. "But you will, I know, excuse me if I say (an_ say it out of no spirit of prejudice, nor yet as criticising yourself in an_ay)—you will, I know, excuse me if I say that possibly this—er—this, er, SCHEME of yours, this—er—TRANSACTION of yours, may fail altogether to accor_ith the Civil Statutes and Provisions of the Realm?"
And Manilov, with a slight gesture of the head, looked meaningly int_hichikov's face, while displaying in his every feature, including hi_losely-compressed lips, such an expression of profundity as never before wa_een on any human countenance—unless on that of some particularly sapien_inister of State who is debating some particularly abstruse problem.
Nevertheless Chichikov rejoined that the kind of scheme or transaction
which he had adumbrated in no way clashed with the Civil Statutes an_rovisions of Russia; to which he added that the Treasury would even BENEFI_y the enterprise, seeing it would draw therefrom the usual legal percentage.
"What, then, do you propose?" asked Manilov.
"I propose only what is above-board, and nothing else."
"Then, that being so, it is another matter, and I have nothing to urge agains_t," said Manilov, apparently reassured to the full.
"Very well," remarked Chichikov. "Then we need only to agree as to the price."
"As to the price?" began Manilov, and then stopped. Presently he went on:
"Surely you cannot suppose me capable of taking money for souls which, in on_ense at least, have completed their existence? Seeing that this fantasti_him of yours (if I may so call it?) has seized upon you to the extent that i_as, I, on my side, shall be ready to surrender to you those soul_NCONDITIONALLY, and to charge myself with the whole expenses of the sale."
I should be greatly to blame if I were to omit that, as soon as Manilov ha_ronounced these words, the face of his guest became replete wit_atisfaction. Indeed, grave and prudent a man though Chichikov was, he ha_uch ado to refrain from executing a leap that would have done credit to _oat (an animal which, as we all know, finds itself moved to such exertion_nly during moments of the most ecstatic joy). Nevertheless the guest did a_east execute such a convulsive shuffle that the material with which th_ushions of the chair were covered came apart, and Manilov gazed at him wit_ome misgiving. Finally Chichikov's gratitude led him to plunge into a strea_f acknowledgement of a vehemence which caused his host to grow confused, t_lush, to shake his head in deprecation, and to end by declaring that th_oncession was nothing, and that, his one desire being to manifest th_ictates of his heart and the psychic magnetism which his friend exercised, he, in short, looked upon the dead souls as so much worthless rubbish.
"Not at all," replied Chichikov, pressing his hand; after which he heaved _rofound sigh. Indeed, he seemed in the right mood for outpourings of th_eart, for he continued—not without a ring of emotion in his tone: "If you bu_new the service which you have rendered to an apparently insignifican_ndividual who is devoid both of family and kindred! For what have I no_uffered in my time—I, a drifting barque amid the tempestuous billows of life?
What harryings, what persecutions, have I not known? Of what grief have I no_asted? And why? Simply because I have ever kept the truth in view, becaus_ver I have preserved inviolate an unsullied conscience, because ever I hav_tretched out a helping hand to the defenceless widow and the hapless orphan!"
After which outpouring Chichikov pulled out his handkerchief, and wiped away _rimming tear.
Manilov's heart was moved to the core. Again and again did the two friend_ress one another's hands in silence as they gazed into one another's tear- filled eyes. Indeed, Manilov COULD not let go our hero's hand, but clasped i_ith such warmth that the hero in question began to feel himself at a loss ho_est to wrench it free: until, quietly withdrawing it, he observed that t_ave the purchase completed as speedily as possible would not be a bad thing; wherefore he himself would at once return to the town to arrange matters.
Taking up his hat, therefore, he rose to make his adieus.
"What? Are you departing already?" said Manilov, suddenly recovering himself, and experiencing a sense of misgiving. At that moment his wife sailed into th_oom.
"Is Paul Ivanovitch leaving us so soon, dearest Lizanka?" she said with an ai_f regret.
"Yes. Surely it must be that we have wearied him?" her spouse replied.
"By no means," asserted Chichikov, pressing his hand to his heart. "In thi_reast, madam, will abide for ever the pleasant memory of the time which _ave spent with you. Believe me, I could conceive of no greater blessing tha_o reside, if not under the same roof as yourselves, at all events in you_mmediate neighbourhood."
"Indeed?" exclaimed Manilov, greatly pleased with the idea. "How splendid i_ould be if you DID come to reside under our roof, so that we could reclin_nder an elm tree together, and talk philosophy, and delve to the very root o_hings!"
"Yes, it WOULD be a paradisaical existence!" agreed Chichikov with a sigh.
Nevertheless he shook hands with Madame. "Farewell, sudarina," he said. "An_arewell to YOU, my esteemed host. Do not forget what I have requested you t_o."
"Rest assured that I will not," responded Manilov. "Only for a couple of day_ill you and I be parted from one another."
With that the party moved into the drawing-room.
"Farewell, dearest children," Chichikov went on as he caught sight of Alki_nd Themistocleus, who were playing with a wooden hussar which lacked both _ose and one arm. "Farewell, dearest pets. Pardon me for having brought you n_resents, but, to tell you the truth, I was not, until my visit, aware of you_xistence. However, now that I shall be coming again, I will not fail to brin_ou gifts. Themistocleus, to you I will bring a sword. You would like that, would you not?"
"I should," replied Themistocleus.
"And to you, Alkid, I will bring a drum. That would suit you, would it not?"
And he bowed in Alkid's direction.
"Zeth—a drum," lisped the boy, hanging his head.
"Good! Then a drum it shall be—SUCH a beautiful drum! What a tur-r-r-ru-in_nd a tra-ta-ta-ta-ing you will be able to kick up! Farewell, my darling."
And, kissing the boy's head, he turned to Manilov and Madame with the sligh_mile which one assumes before assuring parents of the guileless merits o_heir offspring.
"But you had better stay, Paul Ivanovitch," said the father as the tri_tepped out on to the verandah. "See how the clouds are gathering!"
"They are only small ones," replied Chichikov.
"And you know your way to Sobakevitch's?"
"No, I do not, and should be glad if you would direct me."
"If you like I will tell your coachman." And in very civil fashion Manilov di_o, even going so far as to address the man in the second person plural. O_earing that he was to pass two turnings, and then to take a third, Selifa_emarked, "We shall get there all right, sir," and Chichikov departed amid _rofound salvo of salutations and wavings of handkerchiefs on the part of hi_ost and hostess, who raised themselves on tiptoe in their enthusiasm.
For a long while Manilov stood following the departing britchka with his eyes.
In fact, he continued to smoke his pipe and gaze after the vehicle even whe_t had become lost to view. Then he re-entered the drawing-room, seate_imself upon a chair, and surrendered his mind to the thought that he ha_hown his guest most excellent entertainment. Next, his mind passe_mperceptibly to other matters, until at last it lost itself God only know_here. He thought of the amenities of a life, of friendship, and of how nic_t would be to live with a comrade on, say, the bank of some river, and t_pan the river with a bridge of his own, and to build an enormous mansion wit_ facade lofty enough even to afford a view to Moscow. On that facade he an_is wife and friend would drink afternoon tea in the open air, and discus_nteresting subjects; after which, in a fine carriage, they would drive t_ome reunion or other, where with their pleasant manners they would so char_he company that the Imperial Government, on learning of their merits, woul_aise the pair to the grade of General or God knows what—that is to say, t_eights whereof even Manilov himself could form no idea. Then suddenl_hichikov's extraordinary request interrupted the dreamer's reflections, an_e found his brain powerless to digest it, seeing that, turn and turn th_atter about as he might, he could not properly explain its bearing. Smokin_is pipe, he sat where he was until supper time.