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About thirty miles from our village there lived, many years ago, a
distant cousin of my mother's, a retired officer of the Guards, and
rather wealthy landowner, Alexey Sergeitch Teliegin. He lived on his
estate and birth-place, Suhodol, did not go out anywhere, and so did not
visit us; but I used to be sent, twice a year, to pay him my
respects--at first with my tutor, but later on alone. Alexey Sergeitch
always gave me a very cordial reception, and I used to stay three or
four days at a time with him. He was an old man even when I first made
his acquaintance; I was twelve, I remember, on my first visit, and he
was then over seventy. He was born in the days of the Empress
Elisabeth--in the last year of her reign. He lived alone with his wife,
Malania Pavlovna; she was ten years younger than he. They had two
daughters; but their daughters had been long married, and rarely visited
Suhodol; they were not on the best of terms with their parents, and
Alexey Sergeitch hardly ever mentioned their names.
I see, even now, the old-fashioned house, a typical manor-house of the
steppes. One story in height, with immense attics, it was built at the
beginning of this century, of amazingly thick beams of pine,--such beams
came in plenty in those days from the Zhizdrinsky pine-forests; they
have passed out of memory now! It was very spacious, and contained a
great number of rooms, rather low-pitched and dark, it is true; the
windows in the walls had been made small for the sake of greater warmth.
In the usual fashion (I ought rather to say, in what was then the usual
fashion), the offices and house-serfs' huts surrounded the manorial
house on all sides, and the garden was close to it--a small garden, but
containing fine fruit-trees, juicy apples, and pipless pears. The flat
steppe of rich, black earth stretched for ten miles round. No lofty
object for the eye; not a tree, nor even a belfry; somewhere, maybe,
jutting up, a windmill, with rents in its sails; truly, well-named
Suhodol, or Dry-flat! Inside the house the rooms were filled with
ordinary, simple furniture; somewhat unusual was the milestone-post that
stood in the window of the drawing-room, with the following
inscription:--'If you walk sixty-eight times round this drawing-room you
will have gone a mile; if you walk eighty-seven times from the furthest
corner of the parlour to the right-hand corner of the billiard-room, you
will have gone a mile,' and so on. But what most of all impressed a
guest at the house for the first time was the immense collection of
pictures hanging on the walls, for the most part works of the so-called
Italian masters: all old-fashioned landscapes of a sort, or mythological
and religious subjects. But all these pictures were very dark, and even
cracked with age;--in one, all that met the eye was some patches of
flesh-colour; in another, undulating red draperies on an unseen body; or
an arch which seemed to be suspended in the air; or a dishevelled tree
with blue foliage; or the bosom of a nymph with an immense breast, like
the lid of a soup-tureen; a cut water-melon, with black seeds; a turban,
with a feather in it, above a horse's head; or the gigantic brown leg of
an apostle, suddenly thrust out, with a muscular calf, and toes turned
upwards. In the drawing-room in the place of honour hung a portrait of
the Empress Catherine II., full length; a copy of the famous portrait by
Lampi--an object of the special reverence, one might say the adoration,
of the master of the house. From the ceiling hung glass lustres in
bronze settings, very small and very dusty.
Alexey Sergeitch himself was a stumpy, paunchy little old man, with a
chubby face of one uniform tint, yet pleasant, with drawn-in lips, and
very lively little eyes under high eyebrows. He wore his scanty locks
combed to the back of his head; it was only since 1812 that he had given
up wearing powder. Alexey Sergeitch invariably wore a grey 'redingote,'
with three capes falling over his shoulders, a striped waistcoat,
chamois-leather breeches, and high boots of dark red morocco, with
heart-shaped scallops and tassels at the tops; he wore a white muslin
cravat, a jabot, lace cuffs, and two gold English 'turnip watches,' one
in each pocket of his waistcoat. In his right hand he usually carried an
enamelled snuff-box full of 'Spanish' snuff, and his left hand leaned on
a cane with a silver-chased knob, worn smooth by long use. Alexey
Sergeitch had a little nasal, piping voice, and an invariable
smile--kindly, but, as it were, condescending, and not without a certain
self-complacent dignity. His laugh, too, was kindly--a shrill little
laugh that tinkled like glass beads. Courteous and affable he was to the
last degree--in the old-fashioned manner of the days of Catherine--and
he moved his hands with slow, rounded gestures, also in the old style.
His legs were so weak that he could not walk, but ran with hurried
little steps from one armchair to another, in which he would suddenly
sit down, or rather fall softly, like a cushion.
As I have said already, Alexey Sergeitch went out nowhere, and saw very
little of his neighbours, though he liked society, for he was very fond
of talking! It is true that he had society in plenty in his own house;
various Nikanor Nikanoritchs, Sevastiey Sevastietchs, Fedulitchs,
Miheitchs, all poor gentlemen in shabby cossack coats and camisoles,
often from the master's wardrobe, lived under his roof, to say nothing
of the poor gentlewomen in chintz gowns, black kerchiefs thrown over
their shoulders, and worsted reticules in their tightly clenched
fingers--all sorts of Avdotia Savishnas, Pelagea Mironovnas, and plain
Feklushkas and Arinkas, who found a home in the women's quarters. Never
less than fifteen persons sat down to Alexey Sergeitch's table.... He
was such a hospitable man! Among all those dependants two were
particularly conspicuous: a dwarf, nicknamed Janus, or the Double-faced,
of Danish--or, as some maintained, Jewish--extraction, and the mad
Prince L. Contrary to what was customary in those days, the dwarf did
nothing to amuse the master or mistress, and was not a jester--quite the
opposite; he was always silent, had an ill-tempered and sullen
appearance, and scowled and gnashed his teeth directly a question was
addressed to him. Alexey Sergeitch called him a philosopher, and
positively respected him; at table the dishes were handed to him first,
after the guests and master and mistress. 'God has afflicted him,'
Alexey Sergeitch used to say; 'such is His Divine will; but it's not for
me to afflict him further.' 'How is he a philosopher?' I asked him once.
(Janus didn't take to me; if I went near him he would fly into a rage,
and mutter thickly, 'Stranger! keep off!') 'Eh, God bless me! isn't he a
philosopher?' answered Alexey Sergeitch. 'Look ye, little sir, how
wisely he holds his tongue!' 'But why is he double-faced?' 'Because,
little sir, he has one face on the outside--and so you, surface-gazers,
judge him.... But the other, the real face he hides. And that face I
know, and no one else--and I love him for it ... because that face is
good. You, for instance, look and see nothing ... but I see without a
word: he is blaming me for something; for he's a severe critic! And it's
always with good reason. That, little sir, you can't understand; but you
may believe an old man like me!' The real history of the two-faced
Janus--where he came from, and how he came into Alexey Sergeitch's
hands--no one knew; but the story of Prince L. was well known to every
one. He went, a lad of twenty, of a wealthy and distinguished family, to
Petersburg, to serve in a regiment of the Guards. At the first levee the
Empress Catherine noticed him, stood still before him, and, pointing at
him with her fan, she said aloud, addressing one of her courtiers, who
happened to be near, 'Look, Adam Vassilievitch, what a pretty fellow! a
perfect doll!' The poor boy's head was completely turned; when he got
home he ordered his coach out, and, putting on a ribbon of St. Anne,
proceeded to drive all over the town, as though he had reached the
pinnacle of fortune. 'Drive over every one,' he shouted to his coachman,
'who does not move out of the way!' All this was promptly reported to
the empress: the decree went forth that he should be declared insane,
and put under the guardianship of two of his brothers; and they, without
a moment's delay, carried him off to the country, and flung him into a
stone cell in chains. As they wanted to get the benefit of his property,
they did not let the poor wretch out, even when he had completely
recovered his balance, and positively kept him locked up till he really
did go out of his mind. But their evil doings did not prosper; Prince L.
outlived his brothers, and, after long years of adversity, he came into
the charge of Alexey Sergeitch, whose kinsman he was. He was a stout,
completely bald man, with a long, thin nose and prominent blue eyes. He
had quite forgotten how to talk--he simply uttered a sort of
inarticulate grumbling; but he sang old-fashioned Russian ballads
beautifully, preserving the silvery freshness of his voice to extreme
old age; and, while he was singing, he pronounced each word clearly and
distinctly. He had attacks at times of a sort of fury, and then he
became terrible: he would stand in the corner, with his face to the
wall, and all perspiring and red--red all down his bald head and down
his neck--he used to go off into vicious chuckles, and, stamping with
his feet, order some one--his brothers probably--to be punished. 'Beat
'em!' he growled hoarsely, coughing and choking with laughter; 'flog
'em, don't spare 'em! beat, beat, beat the monsters, my oppressors!
That's it! That's it!' On the day before his death he greatly alarmed
and astonished Alexey Sergeitch. He came, pale and subdued, into his
room, and, making him a low obeisance, first thanked him for his care
and kindness, and then asked him to send for a priest, for death had
come to him--he had seen death, and he must forgive every one and purify
his soul. 'How did you see death?' muttered Alexey Sergeitch in
bewilderment at hearing connected speech from him for the first time.
'In what shape? with a scythe?' 'No,' answered Prince L.; 'a simple old
woman in a jacket, but with only one eye in her forehead, and that eye
without an eyelid.' And the next day Prince L. actually did die, duly
performing everything, and taking leave of every one in a rational and
affecting manner. 'That's just how I shall die,' Alexey Sergeitch would
sometimes observe. And, as a fact, something of the same sort did happen
with him--but of that later.
But now let us go back to our story. Of the neighbours, as I have stated
already, Alexey Sergeitch saw little; and they did not care much for
him, called him a queer fish, stuck up, and a scoffer, and even a
'martiniste' who recognised no authorities, though they had no clear
idea of the meaning of this term. To a certain extent the neighbours
were right: Alexey Sergeitch had lived in his Suhodol for almost seventy
years on end, and had had hardly anything whatever to do with the
existing authorities, with the police or the law-courts. 'Police-courts
are for the robber, and discipline for the soldier,' he used to say;
'but I, thank God, am neither robber nor soldier!' Rather queer Alexey
Sergeitch certainly was, but the soul within him was by no means a petty
one. I will tell you something about him.
To tell the truth, I never knew what were his political opinions, if an
expression so modern can be used in reference to him; but, in his own
way, he was an aristocrat--more an aristocrat than a typical Russian
country gentleman. More than once he expressed his regret that God had
not given him a son and heir, 'for the honour of our name, to keep up
the family.' In his own room there hung on the wall the family-tree of
the Teliegins, with many branches, and a multitude of little circles
like apples in a golden frame. 'We Teliegins,' he used to say, 'are an
ancient line, from long, long ago: however many there've been of us
Teliegins, we have never hung about great men's ante-rooms; we've never
bent our backs, or stood about in waiting, nor picked up a living in the
courts, nor run after decorations; we've never gone trailing off to
Moscow, nor intriguing in Petersburg; we've sat at home, each in his
hole, his own man on his own land ... home-keeping birds, sir!--I
myself, though I did serve in the Guards--but not for long, thank you.'
Alexey Sergeitch preferred the old days. 'There was more freedom in
those days, more decorum; on my honour, I assure you! but since the year
eighteen hundred' (why from that year, precisely, he did not explain),
'militarism, the soldiery, have got the upper hand. Our soldier
gentlemen stuck some sort of turbans of cocks' feathers on their heads
then, and turned like cocks themselves; began binding their necks up as
stiff as could be ... they croak, and roll their eyes--how could they
help it, indeed? The other day a police corporal came to me; "I've come
to you," says he, "honourable sir," ... (fancy his thinking to surprise
me with that! ... I know I'm honourable without his telling me!) "I have
business with you." And I said to him, "My good sir, you'd better first
unfasten the hooks on your collar. Or else, God have mercy on us--you'll
sneeze. Ah, what would happen to you! what would happen to you! You'd
break off, like a mushroom ... and I should have to answer for it!" And
they do drink, these military gentlemen--oh, oh, oh! I generally order
home-made champagne to be given them, because to them, good wine or
poor, it's all the same; it runs so smoothly, so quickly, down their
throats--how can they distinguish it? And, another thing, they've
started sucking at a pap-bottle, smoking a tobacco-pipe. Your military
gentleman thrusts his pap-bottle under his moustaches, between his lips,
and puffs the smoke out of his nose, his mouth, and even his ears--and
fancies himself a hero! There are my sons-in-law--though one of them's a
senator, and the other some sort of an administrator over there--they
suck the pap-bottle, and they reckon themselves clever fellows too!'
Alexey Sergeitch could not endure smoking; and moreover, he could not
endure dogs, especially little dogs. 'If you're a Frenchman, to be sure,
you may well keep a lapdog: you run and you skip about here and there,
and it runs after you with its tail up ... but what's the use of it to
people like us?' He was exceedingly neat and particular. Of the Empress
Catherine he never spoke but with enthusiasm, and in exalted, rather
bookish phraseology: 'Half divine she was, not human! Only look, little
sir, at that smile,' he would add, pointing reverentially to Lampi's
portrait, 'and you will agree: half divine! I was so fortunate in my
life as to be deemed worthy to behold that smile close, and never will
it be effaced from my heart!' And thereupon he would relate anecdotes of
the life of Catherine, such as I have never happened to read or hear
elsewhere. Here is one of them. Alexey Sergeitch did not permit the
slightest allusion to the weaknesses of the great Tsaritsa. 'And,
besides,' he exclaimed, 'can one judge of her as of other people?'
One day while she was sitting in her peignoir during her morning
toilette, she commanded her hair to be combed.... And what do you
think? The lady-in-waiting passed the comb through, and sparks of
electricity simply showered out! Then she summoned to her presence the
court physician Rogerson, who happened to be in waiting at the court,
and said to him: 'I am, I know, censured for certain actions; but do
you see this electricity? Consequently, as such is my nature and
constitution, you can judge for yourself, as you are a doctor, that it
is unjust for them to censure me, and they ought to comprehend me!' The
following incident remained indelible in Alexey Sergeitch's memory. He
was standing one day on guard indoors, in the palace--he was only
sixteen at the time--and behold the empress comes walking past him; he
salutes ... 'and she,' Alexey Sergeitch would exclaim at this point
with much feeling, 'smiling at my youth and my zeal, deigned to give me
her hand to kiss and patted my cheek, and asked me "who I was? where I
came from? of what family?" and then' ... here the old man's voice
usually broke ... 'then she bade me greet my mother in her name and
thank her for having brought up her children so well. And whether I was
on earth or in heaven, and how and where she deigned to vanish, whether
she floated away into the heights or went her way into the other
apartments ... to this day I do not know!'
More than once I tried to question Alexey Sergeitch about those far-away
times, about the people who made up the empress's circle.... But for the
most part he edged off the subject. 'What's the use of talking about old
times?' he used to say ... 'it's only making one's self miserable,
remembering that then one was a fine young fellow, and now one hasn't a
tooth left in one's head. And what is there to say? They were good old
times ... but there, enough of them! And as for those folks--you were
asking, you troublesome boy, about the lucky ones!--haven't you seen how
a bubble comes up on the water? As long as it lasts and is whole, what
colours play upon it! Red, and blue, and yellow--a perfect rainbow or
diamond you'd say it was! Only it soon bursts, and there's no trace of
it left. And so it was with those folks.'
'But how about Potiomkin?' I once inquired.
Alexey Sergeitch looked grave. 'Potiomkin, Grigory Alexandrovitch, was a
statesman, a theologian, a pupil of Catherine's, her cherished creation,
one must say.... But enough of that, little sir!'
Alexey Sergeitch was a very devout man, and, though it was a great
effort, he attended church regularly. Superstition was not noticeable in
him; he laughed at omens, the evil eye, and such 'nonsense,' but he did
not like a hare to run across his path, and to meet a priest was not
altogether agreeable to him. For all that, he was very respectful to
clerical persons, and went up to receive their blessing, and even kissed
the priest's hand every time, but he was not willing to enter into
conversation with them. 'Such an extremely strong odour comes from
them,' he explained: 'and I, poor sinner, am fastidious beyond reason;
they've such long hair, and all oily, and they comb it out on all
sides--they think they show me respect by so doing, and they clear their
throats so loudly when they talk--from shyness may be, or I dare say
they want to show respect in that way too. And besides, they make one
think of one's last hour. And, I don't know how it is, but I still want
to go on living. Only, my little sir, don't you repeat my words; we must
respect the clergy--it's only fools that don't respect them; and I'm to
blame to babble nonsense in my old age.'
Alexey Sergeitch, like most of the noblemen of his day, had received a
very slight education; but he had, to some extent, made good the
deficiency himself by reading. He read none but Russian books of the end
of last century; the more modern authors he thought insipid and
deficient in style.... While he read, he had placed at his side on a
round, one-legged table, a silver tankard of frothing spiced kvas of a
special sort, which sent an agreeable fragrance all over the house. He
used to put on the end of his nose a pair of big, round spectacles, but
in latter years he did not so much read as gaze dreamily over the rims
of his spectacles, lifting his eyebrows, chewing his lips, and sighing.
Once I caught him weeping with a book on his knees, greatly, I own, to
He had recalled these lines:
'O pitiful race of man!
Peace is unknown to thee!
Thou canst not find it save
In the dust of the grave....
Bitter, bitter is that sleep!
Rest, rest in death ... but living weep!'
These lines were the composition of a certain Gormitch-Gormitsky, a
wandering poet, to whom Alexey Sergeitch had given a home in his house,
as he struck him as a man of delicate feeling and even of subtlety; he
wore slippers adorned with ribbons, spoke with a broad accent, and
frequently sighed, turning his eyes to heaven; in addition to all these
qualifications, Gormitch-Gormitsky spoke French decently, having been
educated in a Jesuit college, while Alexey Sergeitch only 'followed
conversation.' But having once got terribly drunk at the tavern, that
same subtle Gormitsky showed a turbulence beyond all bounds; he gave a
fearful thrashing to Alexey Sergeitch's valet, the man cook, two
laundry-maids who chanced to get in his way, and a carpenter from
another village, and he broke several panes in the windows, screaming
furiously all the while: 'There, I'll show them, these Russian loafers,
And the strength the frail-looking creature put forth! It was hard work
for eight men to master him! For this violent proceeding Alexey
Sergeitch ordered the poet to be turned out of the house, after being
put, as a preliminary measure, in the snow--it was winter-time--to
'Yes,' Alexey Sergeitch used to say, 'my day is over; I was a spirited
steed, but I've run my last race now. Then, I used to keep poets at my
expense, and I used to buy pictures and books of the Jews, geese of the
best breeds, and pouter-pigeons of pure blood.... I used to go in for
everything! Though dogs I never did care for keeping, because it goes
with drinking, foulness, and buffoonery! I was a young man of spirit,
not to be outdone. That there should be anything of Teliegin's and not
first-rate ... why, it was not to be thought of! And I had a splendid
stud of horses. And my horses came--from what stock do you think, young
sir? Why, from none other than the celebrated stables of the Tsar, Ivan
Alexeitch, brother of Peter the Great ... it's the truth I'm telling
you! All fawn-coloured stallions, sleek--their manes to their knees,
their tails to their hoofs.... Lions! And all that was--and is buried in
the past. Vanity of vanities--and every kind of vanity! But still--why
regret it? Every man has his limits set him. There's no flying above the
sky, no living in the water, no getting away from the earth.... We'll
live a bit longer, anyway!'
And the old man would smile again and sniff his Spanish snuff.
The peasants liked him; he was, in their words, a kind master, not
easily angered. Only they, too, repeated that he was a worn-out steed.
In former days Alexey Sergeitch used to go into everything himself--he
used to drive out to the fields, and to the mill, and to the dairy, and
peep into the granaries and the peasants' huts; every one knew his
racing droshky, upholstered in crimson plush, and drawn by a tall mare,
with a broad white star all over her forehead, called 'Beacon,' of the
same famous breed. Alexey Sergeitch used to drive her himself, the ends
of the reins crushed up in his fists. But when his seventieth year came,
the old man let everything go, and handed over the management of the
estate to the bailiff Antip, of whom he was secretly afraid, and whom he
called Micromegas (a reminiscence of Voltaire!), or simply, plunderer.
'Well, plunderer, what have you to say? Have you stacked a great deal in
the barn?' he would ask with a smile, looking straight into the
plunderer's eyes. 'All, by your good favour, please your honour,' Antip
would respond cheerfully. 'Favour's all very well, only you mind what I
say, Micromegas! don't you dare touch the peasants, my subjects, out of
my sight! If they come to complain ... I've a cane, you see, not far
off!' 'Your cane, your honour, Alexey Sergeitch, I always keep well in
mind,' Antip Micromegas would respond, stroking his beard. 'All right,
don't forget it.' And the master and the bailiff would laugh in each
other's faces. With the servants, and with the serfs in general, his
'subjects' (Alexey Sergeitch liked that word) he was gentle in his
behaviour. 'Because, think a little, nephew; nothing of their own, but
the cross on their neck--and that copper--and daren't hanker after other
people's goods ... how can one expect sense of them?' It is needless to
state that of the so-called 'serf question' no one even dreamed in those
days; it could not disturb the peace of mind of Alexey Sergeitch: he was
quite happy in the possession of his 'subjects'; but he was severe in
his censure of bad masters, and used to call them the enemies of their
order. He divided the nobles generally into three classes: the prudent,
'of whom there are too few'; the prodigal, 'of whom there are quite
enough'; and the senseless, 'of whom there are shoals and shoals.'
'And if any one of them is harsh and oppressive with his subjects'--he
would say--'then he sins against God, and is guilty before men!'
Yes, the house-serfs had an easy life of it with the old man; the
'subjects out of sight' no doubt fared worse, in spite of the cane with
which he threatened Micromegas. And what a lot there were of them, those
house-serfs, in his house! And for the most part sinewy, hairy,
grumbling old fellows, with stooping shoulders, in long-skirted nankeen
coats, belted round the waist, with a strong, sour smell always clinging
to them. And on the women's side, one could hear nothing but the patter
of bare feet, the swish of petticoats. The chief valet was called
Irinarh, and Alexey Sergeitch always called him in a long-drawn-out
call: 'I-ri-na-a-arh!' The others he called: 'Boy! Lad! Whoever's there
of the men!' Bells he could not endure: 'It's not an eating-house, God
forbid!' And what used to surprise me was that whatever time Alexey
Sergeitch called his valet, he always promptly made his appearance, as
though he had sprung out of the earth, and with a scrape of his heels,
his hands behind his back, would stand before his master, a surly, as it
were angry, but devoted servant!
Alexey Sergeitch was liberal beyond his means; but he did not like to be
called 'benefactor.' 'Benefactor to you, indeed, sir! ... I'm doing
myself a benefit, and not you, sir!' (when he was angry or indignant, he
always addressed people with greater formality). 'Give to a beggar
once,' he used to say, 'and give him twice, and three times.... And--if
he should come a fourth time, give to him still--only then you might say
too: "It's time, my good man, you found work for something else, not
only for your mouth."' 'But, uncle,' one asked, sometimes, 'suppose even
after that the beggar came again, a fifth time?' 'Oh, well, give again
the fifth time.' He used to have the sick, who came to him for aid,
treated at his expense, though he had no faith in doctors himself, and
never sent for them. 'My mother,' he declared, 'used to cure illnesses
of all sorts with oil and salt--she gave it internally, and rubbed it on
too--it always answered splendidly. And who was my mother? She was born
in the days of Peter the Great--only fancy that!'
Alexey Sergeitch was a Russian in everything; he liked none but Russian
dishes, he was fond of Russian songs, but the harmonica--a
'manufactured contrivance'--he hated; he liked looking at the
serf-girls' dances and the peasant-women's jigs; in his youth, I was
told, he had been an enthusiastic singer and a dashing dancer; he liked
steaming himself in the bath, and steamed himself so vigorously that
Irinarh, who, serving him as bathman, used to beat him with a bundle of
birch-twigs steeped in beer, to rub him with a handful of tow, and then
with a woollen cloth--the truly devoted Irinarh used to say every time,
as he crept off his shelf red as a 'new copper image': 'Well, this time
I, the servant of God, Irinarh Tolobiev, have come out alive. How will
it be next time?'
And Alexey Sergeitch spoke excellent Russian, a little old-fashioned,
but choice and pure as spring water, continually interspersing his
remarks with favourite expressions: ''Pon my honour, please God,
howsoever that may be, sir, and young sir....'
But enough of him. Let us talk a little about Alexey Sergeitch's wife,
Malania Pavlovna. Malania Pavlovna was born at Moscow.
She had been famous as the greatest beauty in Moscow--_la Vénus de
Moscou_. I knew her as a thin old woman with delicate but insignificant
features, with crooked teeth, like a hare's, in a tiny little mouth,
with a multitude of finely crimped little yellow curls on her forehead,
and painted eyebrows. She invariably wore a pyramidal cap with pink
ribbons, a high ruff round her neck, a short white dress, and prunella
slippers with red heels; and over her dress she wore a jacket of blue
satin, with a sleeve hanging loose from her right shoulder. This was
precisely the costume in which she was arrayed on St. Peter's Day in the
year 1789! On that day she went, being still a girl, with her relations
to the Hodinskoe field to see the famous boxing-match arranged by Orlov.
'And Count Alexey Grigorievitch' (oh, how often I used to hear this
story!) 'noticing me, approached, bowed very low, taking his hat in both
hands, and said: "Peerless beauty," said he, "why have you hung that
sleeve from your shoulder? Do you, too, wish to try a tussle with me? ...
By all means; only I will tell you beforehand you have vanquished me--I
give in! And I am your captive." And every one was looking at us and
wondering.' And that very costume she had worn continually ever since.
'Only I didn't wear a cap, but a hat _à la bergère de Trianon_; and
though I was powdered, yet my hair shone through it, positively shone
through it like gold!' Malania Pavlovna was foolish to the point of
'holy innocence,' as it is called; she chattered quite at random, as
though she were hardly aware herself of what dropped from her lips--and
mostly about Orlov. Orlov had become, one might say, the principal
interest of her life. She usually walked ... or rather swam, into the
room with a rhythmic movement of the head, like a peacock, stood still
in the middle, with one foot strangely turned out, and two fingers
holding the tip of the loose sleeve (I suppose this pose, too, must once
have charmed Orlov); she would glance about her with haughty
nonchalance, as befits a beauty--and with a positive sniff, and a murmur
of 'What next!' as though some importunate gallant were besieging her
with compliments, she would go out again, tapping her heels and
shrugging her shoulders. She used, too, to take Spanish snuff out of a
tiny bonbonnière, picking it up with a tiny golden spoon; and from time
to time, especially when any one unknown to her was present, she would
hold up--not to her eyes, she had splendid sight, but to her nose--a
double eyeglass in the shape of a half-moon, with a coquettish turn of
her little white hand, one finger held out separate from the rest. How
often has Malania Pavlovna described to me her wedding in the church of
the Ascension, in Arbaty--such a fine church!--and how all Moscow was
there ... 'and the crush there was!--awful! Carriages with teams, golden
coaches, outriders ... one outrider of Count Zavadovsky got run over!
and we were married by the archbishop himself--and what a sermon he gave
us! every one was crying--wherever I looked I saw tears ... and the
governor-general's horses were tawny, like tigers. And the flowers, the
flowers that were brought! ... Simply loads of flowers!' And how on that
day a foreigner, a wealthy, tremendously wealthy person, had shot
himself from love--and how Orlov too had been there.... And going up to
Alexey Sergeitch, he had congratulated him and called him a lucky
man.... 'A lucky man you are, you silly fellow!' said he. And how in
answer to these words Alexey Sergeitch had made a wonderful bow, and had
swept the floor from left to right with the plumes of his hat, as if he
would say: 'Your Excellency, there is a line now between you and my
spouse, which you will not overstep!' And Orlov, Alexey Grigorievitch
understood at once, and commended him. 'Oh! that was a man! such a man!'
And how, 'One day, Alexis and I were at his house at a ball--I was
married then--and he had the most marvellous diamond buttons! And I
could not resist it, I admired them. "What marvellous diamonds you have,
Count!" said I. And he, taking up a knife from the table, at once cut
off a button and presented it to me and said: "In your eyes, my charmer,
the diamonds are a hundred times brighter; stand before the
looking-glass and compare them." And I stood so, and he stood beside me.
"Well, who's right?" said he, while he simply rolled his eyes, looking
me up and down. And Alexey Sergeitch was very much put out about it, but
I said to him: "Alexis," said I, "please don't you be put out; you ought
to know me better!" And he answered me: "Don't disturb yourself,
Melanie!" And these very diamonds are now round my medallion of Alexey
Grigorievitch--you've seen it, I dare say, my dear;--I wear it on
feast-days on a St. George ribbon, because he was a brave hero, a
knight of St. George: he burned the Turks.'
For all that, Malania Pavlovna was a very kind-hearted woman; she was
easily pleased. 'She's not one to snarl, nor to sneer,' the maids used
to say of her. Malania Pavlovna was passionately fond of sweet
things--and a special old woman who looked after nothing but the jam,
and so was called the jam-maid, would bring her, ten times a day, a
china dish with rose-leaves crystallised in sugar, or barberries in
honey, or sherbet of bananas. Malania Pavlovna was afraid of solitude--
dreadful thoughts are apt to come over one, she would say--and was
almost always surrounded by companions, whom she would urgently implore:
'Talk, talk! why do you sit like that, simply keeping your seats warm!'
and they would begin twittering like canaries. She was no less devout
than Alexey Sergeitch, and was very fond of praying; but as, in her own
words, she had never learned to repeat prayers well, she kept for the
purpose a poor deacon's widow who prayed with such relish! Never
stumbled over a word in her life! And this deacon's widow certainly
could utter the words of prayer in a sort of unbroken flow, not
interrupting the stream to breathe out or draw breath in, while Malania
Pavlovna listened and was much moved. She had another widow in
attendance on her--it was her duty to tell her stories in the night.
'But only the old ones,' Malania Pavlovna would beg--'those I know
already; the new ones are all so far-fetched.' Malania Pavlovna was
flighty in the extreme, and at times she was fanciful too; some
ridiculous notion would suddenly come into her head. She did not like
the dwarf, Janus, for instance; she was always fancying he would
suddenly get up and shout, 'Don't you know who I am? The prince of the
Buriats. Mind, you are to obey me!' Or else that he would set fire to
the house in a fit of spleen. Malania Pavlovna was as liberal as Alexey
Sergeitch; but she never gave money--she did not like to soil her
hands--but kerchiefs, bracelets, dresses, ribbons; or she would send
pies from the table, or a piece of roast meat, or a bottle of wine. She
liked feasting the peasant-women, too, on holidays; they would dance,
and she would tap with her heels and throw herself into attitudes.
Alexey Sergeitch was well aware that his wife was a fool; but almost
from the first year of his marriage he had schooled himself to keep up
the fiction that she was very witty and fond of saying cutting things.
Sometimes when her chatter began to get beyond all bounds, he would
threaten her with his finger, and say as he did so: 'Ah, the tongue, the
tongue! what it will have to answer for in the other world! It will be
pierced with a redhot pin!'
Malania Pavlovna was not offended, however, at this; on the contrary,
she seemed to feel flattered at hearing a reproof of that sort, as
though she would say, 'Well! is it my fault if I'm naturally witty?'
Malania Pavlovna adored her husband, and had been all her life an
exemplarily faithful wife; but there had been a romance even in her
life--a young cousin, an hussar, killed, as she supposed, in a duel on
her account; but, according to more trustworthy reports, killed by a
blow on the head from a billiard-cue in a tavern brawl. A water-colour
portrait of this object of her affections was kept by her in a secret
drawer. Malania Pavlovna always blushed up to her ears when she
mentioned Kapiton--such was the name of the young hero--and Alexey
Sergeitch would designedly scowl, shake his finger at his wife again,
and say: 'No trusting a horse in the field nor a woman in the house.
Don't talk to me of Kapiton, he's Cupidon!' Then Malania Pavlovna would
be all of a flutter and say: 'Alexis, Alexis, it's too bad of you! In
your young days you flirted, I've no doubt, with all sorts of misses and
madams--and so now you imagine....' 'Come, that's enough, that's enough,
my dear Malania,' Alexey Sergeitch interrupted with a smile. 'Your gown
is white--but whiter still your soul!' 'Yes, Alexis, it is whiter!' 'Ah,
what a tongue, what a tongue!' Alexis would repeat, patting her hand.
To speak of 'views' in the case of Malania Pavlovna would be even more
inappropriate than in the case of Alexey Sergeitch; yet I once chanced
to witness a strange manifestation of my aunt's secret feelings. In the
course of conversation I once somehow mentioned the famous chief of
police, Sheshkovsky; Malania Pavlovna turned suddenly livid--positively
livid, green, in spite of her rouge and paint--and in a thick and
perfectly unaffected voice (a very rare thing with her--she usually
minced a little, intoned, and lisped) she said: 'Oh, what a name to
utter! And towards nightfall, too! Don't utter that name!' I was
astonished; what kind of significance could his name have for such a
harmless and inoffensive creature, incapable--not merely of doing--even
of thinking of anything not permissible? Anything but cheerful
reflections were aroused in me by this terror, manifesting itself after
almost half a century.
Alexey Sergeitch died in his eighty-eighth year--in the year 1848, which
apparently disturbed even him. His death, too, was rather strange. He
had felt well the same morning, though by that time he never left his
easy-chair. And all of a sudden he called his wife: 'Malania, my dear,
come here.' 'What is it, Alexis?' 'It's time for me to die, my dear,
that's what it is.' 'Mercy on you, Alexey Sergeitch! What for?'
'Because, first of all, one must know when to take leave; and, besides,
I was looking the other day at my feet.... Look at my feet ... they
are not mine ... say what you like ... look at my hands, look at my
stomach ... that stomach's not mine--so really I'm using up another man's
life. Send for the priest; and meanwhile, put me to bed--from which I
shall not get up again.' Malania Pavlovna was terribly upset; however, she
put the old man to bed and sent for the priest. Alexey Sergeitch confessed,
took the sacrament, said good-bye to his household, and fell asleep.
Malania Pavlovna was sitting by his bedside. 'Alexis!' she cried
suddenly, 'don't frighten me, don't shut your eyes! Are you in pain?'
The old man looked at his wife: 'No, no pain ... but it's difficult ...
difficult to breathe.' Then after a brief silence: 'Malania,' he said,
'so life has slipped by--and do you remember when we were married ...
what a couple we were?' 'Yes, we were, my handsome, charming Alexis!'
The old man was silent again. 'Malania, my dear, shall we meet again in
the next world?' 'I will pray God for it, Alexis,' and the old woman
burst into tears. 'Come, don't cry, silly; maybe the Lord God will make
us young again then--and again we shall be a fine pair!' 'He will make
us young, Alexis!' 'With the Lord all things are possible,' observed
Alexey Sergeitch. 'He worketh great marvels!--maybe He will make you
sensible.... There, my love, I was joking; come, let me kiss your hand.'
'And I yours.' And the two old people kissed each other's hands
Alexey Sergeitch began to grow quieter and to sink into forgetfulness.
Malania Pavlovna watched him tenderly, brushing the tears off her
eyelashes with her finger-tips. For two hours she continued sitting
there. 'Is he asleep?' the old woman with the talent for praying
inquired in a whisper, peeping in behind Irinarh, who, immovable as a
post, stood in the doorway, gazing intently at his expiring master. 'He
is asleep,' answered Malania Pavlovna also in a whisper. And suddenly
Alexey Sergeitch opened his eyes. 'My faithful companion,' he faltered,
'my honoured wife, I would bow down at your little feet for all your
love and faithfulness--but how to get up? Let me sign you with the
cross.' Malania Pavlovna moved closer, bent down.... But the hand he had
raised fell back powerless on the quilt, and a few moments later Alexey
Sergeitch was no more.
His daughters arrived only on the day of the funeral with their
husbands; they had no children either of them. Alexey Sergeitch showed
them no animosity in his will, though he never even mentioned them on
his death-bed. 'My heart has grown hard to them,' he once said to me.
Knowing his kindly nature, I was surprised at his words. It is hard to
judge between parents and children. 'A great ravine starts from a little
rift,' Alexey Sergeitch said to me once in this connection: 'a wound a
yard wide may heal; but once cut off even a finger nail, it will not
I fancy the daughters were ashamed of their eccentric old parents.
A month later and Malania Pavlovna too passed away. From the very day of
Alexey Sergeitch's death she had hardly risen from her bed, and had not
put on her usual attire; but they buried her in the blue jacket, and
with Orlov's medallion on her shoulder, only without the diamonds. Those
her daughters divided, on the pretext that the diamonds should be used
in the setting of some holy pictures; in reality, they used them to
adorn their own persons.
And so I can see my old friends as though they were alive and before my
eyes, and pleasant is the memory I preserve of them. And yet on my very
last visit to them (I was a student by then) an incident occurred which
jarred upon the impression of patriarchal harmony always produced in me
by the Teliegin household.
Among the house-serfs there was one Ivan, called 'Suhys' Ivan,' a
coachman or coach-boy, as they called him on account of his small size,
in spite of his being no longer young. He was a tiny little man, brisk,
snub-nosed, curly-headed, with an everlastingly smiling, childish face,
and little eyes, like a mouse's. He was a great joker, a most comic
fellow; he was great at all sorts of tricks--he used to fly kites, let
off fireworks and rockets, to play all sorts of games, gallop standing
up on the horse's back, fly higher than all the rest in the swing, and
could even make Chinese shadows. No one could amuse children better; and
he would gladly spend the whole day looking after them. When he started
laughing, the whole house would seem to liven up; they would answer
him--one would say one thing, one another, but he always made them all
merry.... And even if they abused him, they could not but laugh. Ivan
danced marvellously, especially the so-called 'fish dance.' When the
chorus struck up a dance tune, the fellow would come into the middle of
the ring, and then there would begin such a turning and skipping and
stamping, and then he would fall flat on the ground, and imitate the
movement of a fish brought out of the water on to dry land; such turning
and wriggling, the heels positively clapped up to the head; and then he
would get up and shriek--the earth seemed simply quivering under him. At
times Alexey Sergeitch, who was, as I have said already, exceedingly
fond of watching dancing, could not resist shouting, 'Little Vania,
here! coach-boy! Dance us the fish, smartly now'; and a minute later he
would whisper enthusiastically: 'Ah, what a fellow it is!'
Well, on my last visit, this Ivan Suhih came into my room, and, without
saying a word, fell on his knees. 'Ivan, what's the matter?' 'Save me,
sir.' 'Why, what is it?' And thereupon Ivan told me his trouble.
He was exchanged, twenty years ago, by 'the Suhy family for a serf of
the Teliegins';--simply exchanged without any kind of formality or
written deed: the man given in exchange for him had died, but the Suhys
had forgotten about Ivan, and he had stayed on in Alexey Sergeitch's
house as his own serf; only his nickname had served to recall his
origin. But now his former masters were dead; the estate had passed into
other hands; and the new owner, who was reported to be a cruel and
oppressive man, having learned that one of his serfs was detained
without cause or reason at Alexey Sergeitch's, began to demand him back;
in case of refusal he threatened legal proceedings, and the threat was
not an empty one, as he was himself of the rank of privy councillor, and
had great weight in the province. Ivan had rushed in terror to Alexey
Sergeitch. The old man was sorry for his dancer, and he offered the
privy councillor to buy Ivan for a considerable sum. But the privy
councillor would not hear of it; he was a Little Russian, and obstinate
as the devil. The poor fellow would have to be given up. 'I have spent
my life here, and I'm at home here; I have served here, here I have
eaten my bread, and here I want to die,' Ivan said to me--and there was
no smile on his face now; on the contrary, it looked turned to stone....
'And now I am to go to this wretch.... Am I a dog to be flung from one
kennel to another with a noose round my neck? ... to be told: "There,
get along with you!" Save me, master; beg your uncle, remember how I
always amused you.... Or else there'll be harm come of it; it won't end
'What sort of sin, Ivan?'
'I shall kill that gentleman. I shall simply go and say to him,
"Master, let me go back; or else, mind, be careful of yourself.... I
shall kill you."'
If a siskin or a chaffinch could have spoken, and had begun declaring
that it would peck another bird to death, it would not have reduced me
to greater amazement than did Ivan at that moment. What! Suhys' Vania,
that dancing, jesting, comic fellow, the favourite playfellow of
children, and a child himself, that kindest-hearted of creatures, a
murderer! What ridiculous nonsense! Not for an instant did I believe
him; what astonished me to such a degree was that he was capable of
saying such a thing. Anyway I appealed to Alexey Sergeitch. I did not
repeat what Ivan had said to me, but began asking him whether something
couldn't be done. 'My young sir,' the old man answered, 'I should be
only too happy--but what's to be done? I offered this Little Russian an
immense compensation--I offered him three hundred roubles, 'pon my
honour, I tell you! but he--there's no moving him! what's one to do? The
transaction was not legal, it was done on trust, in the old-fashioned
way ... and now see what mischief's come of it! This Little Russian
fellow, you see, will take Ivan by force, do what we will: his arm is
powerful, the governor eats cabbage-soup at his table; he'll be sending
along soldiers. And I'm afraid of those soldiers! In old days, to be
sure, I would have stood up for Ivan, come what might; but now, look at
me, what a feeble creature I have grown! How can I make a fight for it?'
It was true; on my last visit I found Alexey Sergeitch greatly aged;
even the centres of his eyes had that milky colour that babies' eyes
have, and his lips wore not his old conscious smile, but that unnatural,
mawkish, unconscious grin, which never, even in sleep, leaves the faces
of very decrepit old people.
I told Ivan of Alexey Sergeitch's decision. He stood still, was silent
for a little, shook his head. 'Well,' said he at last, 'what is to be
there's no escaping. Only my mind's made up. There's nothing left, then,
but to play the fool to the end. Something for drink, please!' I gave
him something; he drank himself drunk, and that day danced the 'fish
dance' so that the serf-girls and peasant-women positively shrieked with
delight--he surpassed himself in his antics so wonderfully.
Next day I went home, and three months later, in Petersburg, I heard
that Ivan had kept his word. He had been sent to his new master; his
master had called him into his room, and explained to him that he would
be made coachman, that a team of three ponies would be put in his
charge, and that he would be severely dealt with if he did not look
after them well, and were not punctual in discharging his duties
generally. 'I'm not fond of joking.' Ivan heard the master out, first
bowed down to his feet, and then announced it was as his honour pleased,
but he could not be his servant.
'Let me off for a yearly quit-money, your honour,' said he, 'or send me
for a soldier; or else there'll be mischief come of it!'
The master flew into a rage. 'Ah, what a fellow you are! How dare you
speak to me like that? In the first place, I'm to be called your
excellency, and not your honour; and, secondly, you're beyond the age,
and not of a size to be sent for a soldier; and, lastly, what mischief
do you threaten me with? Do you mean to set the house on fire, eh?'
'No, your excellency, not the house on fire.'
'Murder me, then, eh?'
Ivan was silent. 'I'm not your servant,' he said at last.
'Oh well, I'll show you,' roared the master, 'whether you 're my servant
or not.' And he had Ivan cruelly punished, but yet had the three ponies
put into his charge, and made him coachman in the stables.
Ivan apparently submitted; he began driving about as coachman. As he
drove well, he soon gained favour with the master, especially as Ivan
was very quiet and steady in his behaviour, and the ponies improved so
much in his hands; he turned them out as sound and sleek as
cucumbers--it was quite a sight to see. The master took to driving out
with him oftener than with the other coachmen. Sometimes he would ask
him, 'I say, Ivan, do you remember how badly we got on when we met?
You've got over all that nonsense, eh?' But Ivan never made any response
to such remarks. So one day the master was driving with Ivan to the town
in his three-horse sledge with bells and a highback covered with carpet.
The horses began to walk up the hill, and Ivan got off the box-seat and
went behind the back of the sledge as though he had dropped something.
It was a sharp frost; the master sat wrapped up, with a beaver cap
pulled down on to his ears. Then Ivan took an axe from under his skirt,
came up to the master from behind, knocked off his cap, and saying, 'I
warned you, Piotr Petrovitch--you've yourself to blame now!' he struck
off his head at one blow. Then he stopped the ponies, put the cap on his
dead master, and, getting on the box-seat again, drove him to the town,
straight to the courts of justice.
'Here's the Suhinsky general for you, dead; I have killed him. As I told
him, so I did to him. Put me in fetters.'
They took Ivan, tried him, sentenced him to the knout, and then to hard
labour. The light-hearted, bird-like dancer was sent to the mines, and
there passed out of sight for ever....
Yes; one can but repeat, in another sense, Alexey Sergeitch's words:
'They were good old times ... but enough of them!'
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