Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol
Part 4 out of 8
inclinations led you to prefer roaming the wilds and plundering
travellers? Are you, by this time, in gaol, or have you taken service
with other masters for the tillage of their lands? 'Eremei Kariakin,
Nikita Volokita and Anton Volokita (son of the foregoing).' To judge
from your surnames, you would seem to have been born gadabouts.
'Popov, household serf.' Probably you are an educated man, good Popov,
and go in for polite thieving, as distinguished from the more vulgar
cut-throat sort. In my mind's eye I seem to see a Captain of Rural
Police challenging you for being without a passport; whereupon you
stake your all upon a single throw. 'To whom do you belong?' asks the
Captain, probably adding to his question a forcible expletive. 'To
such and such a landowner,' stoutly you reply. 'And what are you doing
here?' continues the Captain. 'I have just received permission to go
and earn my obrok,' is your fluent explanation. 'Then where is your
passport?' 'At Miestchanin Pimenov's.' 'Pimenov's? Then are you
Pimenov himself?' 'Yes, I am Pimenov himself.' 'He has given you his
passport?' 'No, he has not given me his passport.' 'Come, come!'
shouts the Captain with another forcible expletive. 'You are lying!'
'No, I am not,' is your dogged reply. 'It is only that last night I
could not return him his passport, because I came home late; so I
handed it to Antip Prochorov, the bell-ringer, for him to take care
of.' 'Bell-ringer, indeed! Then HE gave you a passport?' 'No; I did
not receive a passport from him either.' 'What?'--and here the Captain
shouts another expletive--'How dare you keep on lying? Where is YOUR
OWN passport?' 'I had one all right,' you reply cunningly, 'but must
have dropped it somewhere on the road as I came along.' 'And what
about that soldier's coat?' asks the Captain with an impolite
addition. 'Whence did you get it? And what of the priest's cashbox and
copper money?'' 'About them I know nothing,' you reply doggedly.
'Never at any time have I committed a theft.' 'Then how is it that the
coat was found at your place?' 'I do not know. Probably some one else
put it there.' 'You rascal, you rascal!' shouts the Captain, shaking
his head, and closing in upon you. 'Put the leg-irons upon him, and
off with him to prison!' 'With pleasure,' you reply as, taking a
snuff-box from your pocket, you offer a pinch to each of the two
gendarmes who are manacling you, while also inquiring how long they
have been discharged from the army, and in what wars they may have
served. And in prison you remain until your case comes on, when the
justice orders you to be removed from Tsarev-Kokshaika to such and
such another prison, and a second justice orders you to be transferred
thence to Vesiegonsk or somewhere else, and you go flitting from gaol
to gaol, and saying each time, as you eye your new habitation, 'The
last place was a good deal cleaner than this one is, and one could
play babki there, and stretch one's legs, and see a little
 The names Kariakin and Volokita might, perhaps, be translated as
"Gallant" and "Loafer."
 Tradesman or citizen.
 The game of knucklebones.
"'Abakum Thirov,'" Chichikov went on after a pause. "What of YOU,
brother? Where, and in what capacity, are YOU disporting yourself?
Have you gone to the Volga country, and become bitten with the life of
freedom, and joined the fishermen of the river?"
Here, breaking off, Chichikov relapsed into silent meditation. Of what
was he thinking as he sat there? Was he thinking of the fortunes of
Abakum Thirov, or was he meditating as meditates every Russian when
his thoughts once turn to the joys of an emancipated existence?
"Ah, well!" he sighed, looking at his watch. "It has now gone twelve
o'clock. Why have I so forgotten myself? There is still much to be
done, yet I go shutting myself up and letting my thoughts wander! What
a fool I am!"
So saying, he exchanged his Scottish costume (of a shirt and nothing
else) for attire of a more European nature; after which he pulled
tight the waistcoat over his ample stomach, sprinkled himself with
eau-de-Cologne, tucked his papers under his arm, took his fur cap, and
set out for the municipal offices, for the purpose of completing the
transfer of souls. The fact that he hurried along was not due to a
fear of being late (seeing that the President of the Local Council was
an intimate acquaintance of his, as well as a functionary who could
shorten or prolong an interview at will, even as Homer's Zeus was able
to shorten or to prolong a night or a day, whenever it became
necessary to put an end to the fighting of his favourite heroes, or to
enable them to join battle), but rather to a feeling that he would
like to have the affair concluded as quickly as possible, seeing that,
throughout, it had been an anxious and difficult business. Also, he
could not get rid of the idea that his souls were unsubstantial
things, and that therefore, under the circumstances, his shoulders had
better be relieved of their load with the least possible delay.
Pulling on his cinnamon-coloured, bear-lined overcoat as he went, he
had just stepped thoughtfully into the street when he collided with a
gentleman dressed in a similar coat and an ear-lappeted fur cap. Upon
that the gentleman uttered an exclamation. Behold, it was Manilov! At
once the friends became folded in a strenuous embrace, and remained so
locked for fully five minutes. Indeed, the kisses exchanged were so
vigorous that both suffered from toothache for the greater portion of
the day. Also, Manilov's delight was such that only his nose and lips
remained visible--the eyes completely disappeared. Afterwards he spent
about a quarter of an hour in holding Chichikov's hand and chafing it
vigorously. Lastly, he, in the most pleasant and exquisite terms
possible, intimated to his friend that he had just been on his way to
embrace Paul Ivanovitch; and upon this followed a compliment of the
kind which would more fittingly have been addressed to a lady who was
being asked to accord a partner the favour of a dance. Chichikov had
opened his mouth to reply--though even HE felt at a loss how to
acknowledge what had just been said--when Manilov cut him short by
producing from under his coat a roll of paper tied with red riband.
"What have you there?" asked Chichikov.
"The list of my souls."
"Ah!" And as Chichikov unrolled the document and ran his eye over it
he could not but marvel at the elegant neatness with which it had been
"It is a beautiful piece of writing," he said. "In fact, there will be
no need to make a copy of it. Also, it has a border around its edge!
Who worked that exquisite border?"
"Do not ask me," said Manilov.
"Did YOU do it?"
"No; my wife."
"Dear, dear!" Chichikov cried. "To think that I should have put her to
so much trouble!"
"NOTHING could be too much trouble where Paul Ivanovitch is concerned.
Chichikov bowed his acknowledgements. Next, on learning that he was on
his way to the municipal offices for the purpose of completing the
transfer, Manilov expressed his readiness to accompany him; wherefore
the pair linked arm in arm and proceeded together. Whenever they
encountered a slight rise in the ground--even the smallest unevenness
or difference of level--Manilov supported Chichikov with such energy
as almost to lift him off his feet, while accompanying the service
with a smiling implication that not if HE could help it should Paul
Ivanovitch slip or fall. Nevertheless this conduct appeared to
embarrass Chichikov, either because he could not find any fitting
words of gratitude or because he considered the proceeding tiresome;
and it was with a sense of relief that he debouched upon the square
where the municipal offices--a large, three-storied building of a
chalky whiteness which probably symbolised the purity of the souls
engaged within--were situated. No other building in the square could
vie with them in size, seeing that the remaining edifices consisted
only of a sentry-box, a shelter for two or three cabmen, and a long
hoarding--the latter adorned with the usual bills, posters, and
scrawls in chalk and charcoal. At intervals, from the windows of the
second and third stories of the municipal offices, the incorruptible
heads of certain of the attendant priests of Themis would peer quickly
forth, and as quickly disappear again--probably for the reason that a
superior official had just entered the room. Meanwhile the two friends
ascended the staircase--nay, almost flew up it, since, longing to get
rid of Manilov's ever-supporting arm, Chichikov hastened his steps,
and Manilov kept darting forward to anticipate any possible failure on
the part of his companion's legs. Consequently the pair were
breathless when they reached the first corridor. In passing it may be
remarked that neither corridors nor rooms evinced any of that
cleanliness and purity which marked the exterior of the building, for
such attributes were not troubled about within, and anything that was
dirty remained so, and donned no meritricious, purely external,
disguise. It was as though Themis received her visitors in neglige and
a dressing-gown. The author would also give a description of the
various offices through which our hero passed, were it not that he
(the author) stands in awe of such legal haunts.
Approaching the first desk which he happened to encounter, Chichikov
inquired of the two young officials who were seated at it whether they
would kindly tell him where business relating to serf-indenture was
"Of what nature, precisely, IS your business?" countered one of the
youthful officials as he turned himself round.
"I desire to make an application."
"In connection with a purchase?"
"Yes. But, as I say, I should like first to know where I can find the
desk devoted to such business. Is it here or elsewhere?"
"You must state what it is you have bought, and for how much. THEN
we shall be happy to give you the information."
Chichikov perceived that the officials' motive was merely one of
curiosity, as often happens when young tchinovniks desire to cut a
more important and imposing figure than is rightfully theirs.
"Look here, young sirs," he said. "I know for a fact that all serf
business, no matter to what value, is transacted at one desk alone.
Consequently I again request you to direct me to that desk. Of course,
if you do not know your business I can easily ask some one else."
To this the tchinovniks made no reply beyond pointing towards a corner
of the room where an elderly man appeared to be engaged in sorting
some papers. Accordingly Chichikov and Manilov threaded their way in
his direction through the desks; whereupon the elderly man became
"Would you mind telling me," said Chichikov, bowing, "whether this is
the desk for serf affairs?"
The elderly man raised his eyes, and said stiffly:
"This is NOT the desk for serf affairs."
"Where is it, then?"
"In the Serf Department."
"And where might the Serf Department be?"
"In charge of Ivan Antonovitch."
"And where is Ivan Antonovitch?"
The elderly man pointed to another corner of the room; whither
Chichikov and Manilov next directed their steps. As they advanced,
Ivan Antonovitch cast an eye backwards and viewed them askance. Then,
with renewed ardour, he resumed his work of writing.
"Would you mind telling me," said Chichikov, bowing, "whether this is
the desk for serf affairs?"
It appeared as though Ivan Antonovitch had not heard, so completely
did he bury himself in his papers and return no reply. Instantly it
became plain that HE at least was of an age of discretion, and not
one of your jejune chatterboxes and harum-scarums; for, although his
hair was still thick and black, he had long ago passed his fortieth
year. His whole face tended towards the nose--it was what, in common
parlance, is known as a "pitcher-mug."
"Would you mind telling me," repeated Chichikov, "whether this is the
desk for serf affairs?"
"It is that," said Ivan Antonovitch, again lowering his jug-shaped
jowl, and resuming his writing.
"Then I should like to transact the following business. From various
landowners in this canton I have purchased a number of peasants for
transfer. Here is the purchase list, and it needs but to be
"Have you also the vendors here?"
"Some of them, and from the rest I have obtained powers of attorney."
"And have you your statement of application?"
"Yes. I desire--indeed, it is necessary for me so to do--to hasten
matters a little. Could the affair, therefore, be carried through
"To-day? Oh, dear no!" said Ivan Antonovitch. "Before that can be done
you must furnish me with further proofs that no impediments exist."
"Then, to expedite matters, let me say that Ivan Grigorievitch, the
President of the Council, is a very intimate friend of mine."
"Possibly," said Ivan Antonovitch without enthusiasm. "But Ivan
Grigorievitch alone will not do--it is customary to have others as
"Yes, but the absence of others will not altogether invalidate the
transaction. I too have been in the service, and know how things can
"You had better go and see Ivan Grigorievitch," said Ivan Antonovitch
more mildly. "Should he give you an order addressed to whom it may
concern, we shall soon be able to settle the matter."
Upon that Chichikov pulled from his pocket a paper, and laid it before
Ivan Antonovitch. At once the latter covered it with a book. Chichikov
again attempted to show it to him, but, with a movement of his head,
Ivan Antonovitch signified that that was unnecessary.
"A clerk," he added, "will now conduct you to Ivan Grigorievitch's
Upon that one of the toilers in the service of Themis--a zealot who
had offered her such heartfelt sacrifice that his coat had burst at
the elbows and lacked a lining--escorted our friends (even as Virgil
had once escorted Dante) to the apartment of the Presence. In this
sanctum were some massive armchairs, a table laden with two or three
fat books, and a large looking-glass. Lastly, in (apparently) sunlike
isolation, there was seated at the table the President. On arriving at
the door of the apartment, our modern Virgil seemed to have become so
overwhelmed with awe that, without daring even to intrude a foot, he
turned back, and, in so doing, once more exhibited a back as shiny as
a mat, and having adhering to it, in one spot, a chicken's feather. As
soon as the two friends had entered the hall of the Presence they
perceived that the President was NOT alone, but, on the contrary,
had seated by his side Sobakevitch, whose form had hitherto been
concealed by the intervening mirror. The newcomers' entry evoked
sundry exclamations and the pushing back of a pair of Government
chairs as the voluminous-sleeved Sobakevitch rose into view from
behind the looking-glass. Chichikov the President received with an
embrace, and for a while the hall of the Presence resounded with
osculatory salutations as mutually the pair inquired after one
another's health. It seemed that both had lately had a touch of that
pain under the waistband which comes of a sedentary life. Also, it
seemed that the President had just been conversing with Sobakevitch on
the subject of sales of souls, since he now proceeded to congratulate
Chichikov on the same--a proceeding which rather embarrassed our hero,
seeing that Manilov and Sobakevitch, two of the vendors, and persons
with whom he had bargained in the strictest privacy, were now
confronting one another direct. However, Chichikov duly thanked the
President, and then, turning to Sobakevitch, inquired after HIS health.
"Thank God, I have nothing to complain of," replied Sobakevitch: which
was true enough, seeing that a piece of iron would have caught cold
and taken to sneezing sooner than would that uncouthly fashioned
"Ah, yes; you have always had good health, have you not?" put in the
President. "Your late father was equally strong."
"Yes, he even went out bear hunting alone," replied Sobakevitch.
"I should think that you too could worst a bear if you were to try a
tussle with him," rejoined the President.
"Oh no," said Sobakevitch. "My father was a stronger man than I am."
Then with a sigh the speaker added: "But nowadays there are no such
men as he. What is even a life like mine worth?"
"Then you do not have a comfortable time of it?" exclaimed the
"No; far from it," rejoined Sobakevitch, shaking his head. "Judge for
yourself, Ivan Grigorievitch. I am fifty years old, yet never in my
life had been ill, except for an occasional carbuncle or boil. That is
not a good sign. Sooner or later I shall have to pay for it." And he
relapsed into melancholy.
"Just listen to the fellow!" was Chichikov's and the President's joint
inward comment. "What on earth has HE to complain of?"
"I have a letter for you, Ivan Grigorievitch," went on Chichikov aloud
as he produced from his pocket Plushkin's epistle.
"From whom?" inquired the President. Having broken the seal, he
exclaimed: "Why, it is from Plushkin! To think that HE is still
alive! What a strange world it is! He used to be such a nice fellow,
"And now he is a cur," concluded Sobakevitch, "as well as a miser who
starves his serfs to death."
"Allow me a moment," said the President. Then he read the letter
through. When he had finished he added: "Yes, I am quite ready to act
as Plushkin's attorney. When do you wish the purchase deeds to be
registered, Monsieur Chichikov--now or later?"
"Now, if you please," replied Chichikov. "Indeed, I beg that, if
possible, the affair may be concluded to-day, since to-morrow I wish
to leave the town. I have brought with me both the forms of indenture
and my statement of application."
"Very well. Nevertheless we cannot let you depart so soon. The
indentures shall be completed to-day, but you must continue your
sojourn in our midst. I will issue the necessary orders at once."
So saying, he opened the door into the general office, where the
clerks looked like a swarm of bees around a honeycomb (if I may liken
affairs of Government to such an article?).
"Is Ivan Antonovitch here?" asked the President.
"Yes," replied a voice from within.
"Then send him here."
Upon that the pitcher-faced Ivan Antonovitch made his appearance in
the doorway, and bowed.
"Take these indentures, Ivan Antonovitch," said the President, "and
see that they--"
"But first I would ask you to remember," put in Sobakevitch, "that
witnesses ought to be in attendance--not less than two on behalf of
either party. Let us, therefore, send for the Public Prosecutor, who
has little to do, and has even that little done for him by his chief
clerk, Zolotucha. The Inspector of the Medical Department is also a
man of leisure, and likely to be at home--if he has not gone out to a
card party. Others also there are--all men who cumber the ground for
"Quite so, quite so," agreed the President, and at once dispatched a
clerk to fetch the persons named.
"Also," requested Chichikov, "I should be glad if you would send for
the accredited representative of a certain lady landowner with whom I
have done business. He is the son of a Father Cyril, and a clerk in
"Certainly we shall call him here," replied the President. "Everything
shall be done to meet your convenience, and I forbid you to present
any of our officials with a gratuity. That is a special request on my
part. No friend of mine ever pays a copper."
With that he gave Ivan Antonovitch the necessary instructions; and
though they scarcely seemed to meet with that functionary's approval,
upon the President the purchase deeds had evidently produced an
excellent impression, more especially since the moment when he had
perceived the sum total to amount to nearly a hundred thousand
roubles. For a moment or two he gazed into Chichikov's eyes with an
expression of profound satisfaction. Then he said:
"Well done, Paul Ivanovitch! You have indeed made a nice haul!"
"That is so," replied Chichikov.
"Excellent business! Yes, excellent business!"
"I, too, conceive that I could not well have done better. The truth is
that never until a man has driven home the piles of his life's
structure upon a lasting bottom, instead of upon the wayward chimeras
of youth, will his aims in life assume a definite end." And, that
said, Chichikov went on to deliver himself of a very telling
indictment of Liberalism and our modern young men. Yet in his words
there seemed to lurk a certain lack of conviction. Somehow he seemed
secretly to be saying to himself, "My good sir, you are talking the
most absolute rubbish, and nothing but rubbish." Nor did he even throw
a glance at Sobakevitch and Manilov. It was as though he were
uncertain what he might not encounter in their expression. Yet he need
not have been afraid. Never once did Sobakevitch's face move a muscle,
and, as for Manilov, he was too much under the spell of Chichikov's
eloquence to do aught beyond nod his approval at intervals, and strike
the kind of attitude which is assumed by lovers of music when a lady
singer has, in rivalry of an accompanying violin, produced a note
whereof the shrillness would exceed even the capacity of a bird's
"But why not tell Ivan Grigorievitch precisely what you have bought?"
inquired Sobakevitch of Chichikov. "And why, Ivan Grigorievitch, do
YOU not ask Monsieur Chichikov precisely what his purchases have
consisted of? What a splendid lot of serfs, to be sure! I myself have
sold him my wheelwright, Michiev."
"What? You have sold him Michiev?" exclaimed the President. "I know
the man well. He is a splendid craftsman, and, on one occasion, made
me a drozhki. Only, only--well, lately didn't you tell me that he
 A sort of low, four-wheeled carriage.
"That Michiev is dead?" re-echoed Sobakevitch, coming perilously near
to laughing. "Oh dear no! That was his brother. Michiev himself is
very much alive, and in even better health than he used to be. Any day
he could knock you up a britchka such as you could not procure even in
Moscow. However, he is now bound to work for only one master."
"Indeed a splendid craftsman!" repeated the President. "My only wonder
is that you can have brought yourself to part with him."
"Then think you that Michiev is the ONLY serf with whom I have
parted? Nay, for I have parted also with Probka Stepan, my carpenter,
with Milushkin, my bricklayer, and with Teliatnikov, my bootmaker.
Yes, the whole lot I have sold."
And to the President's inquiry why he had so acted, seeing that the
serfs named were all skilled workers and indispensable to a household,
Sobakevitch replied that a mere whim had led him to do so, and thus
the sale had owed its origin to a piece of folly. Then he hung his
head as though already repenting of his rash act, and added:
"Although a man of grey hairs, I have not yet learned wisdom."
"But," inquired the President further, "how comes it about, Paul
Ivanovitch, that you have purchased peasants apart from land? Is it
for transferment elsewhere that you need them?"
"Very well, then. That is quite another matter. To what province of
"To the province of Kherson."
"Indeed? That region contains some splendid land," said the President;
whereupon he proceeded to expatiate on the fertility of the Kherson
"And have you MUCH land there?" he continued.
"Yes; quite sufficient to accommodate the serfs whom I have purchased."
"And is there a river on the estate or a lake?"
After this reply Chichikov involuntarily threw a glance at
Sobakevitch; and though that landowner's face was as motionless as
every, the other seemed to detect in it: "You liar! Don't tell ME
that you own both a river and a lake, as well as the land which you
say you do."
Whilst the foregoing conversation had been in progress, various
witnesses had been arriving on the scene. They consisted of the
constantly blinking Public Prosecutor, the Inspector of the Medical
Department, and others--all, to quote Sobakevitch, "men who cumbered
the ground for nothing." With some of them, however, Chichikov was
altogether unacquainted, since certain substitutes and supernumeraries
had to be pressed into the service from among the ranks of the
subordinate staff. There also arrived, in answer to the summons, not
only the son of Father Cyril before mentioned, but also Father Cyril
himself. Each such witness appended to his signature a full list of
his dignities and qualifications: one man in printed characters,
another in a flowing hand, a third in topsy-turvy characters of a kind
never before seen in the Russian alphabet, and so forth. Meanwhile our
friend Ivan Antonovitch comported himself with not a little address;
and after the indentures had been signed, docketed, and registered,
Chichikov found himself called upon to pay only the merest trifle in
the way of Government percentage and fees for publishing the
transaction in the Official Gazette. The reason of this was that the
President had given orders that only half the usual charges were to be
exacted from the present purchaser--the remaining half being somehow
debited to the account of another applicant for serf registration.
"And now," said Ivan Grigorievitch when all was completed, "we need
only to wet the bargain."
"For that too I am ready," said Chichikov. "Do you but name the hour.
If, in return for your most agreeable company, I were not to set a few
champagne corks flying, I should be indeed in default."
"But we are not going to let you charge yourself with anything
whatsoever. WE must provide the champagne, for you are our guest,
and it is for us--it is our duty, it is our bounden obligation--to
entertain you. Look here, gentlemen. Let us adjourn to the house of
the Chief of Police. He is the magician who needs but to wink when
passing a fishmonger's or a wine merchant's. Not only shall we fare
well at his place, but also we shall get a game of whist."
To this proposal no one had any objection to offer, for the mere
mention of the fish shop aroused the witnesses' appetite.
Consequently, the ceremony being over, there was a general reaching
for hats and caps. As the party were passing through the general
office, Ivan Antonovitch whispered in Chichikov's ear, with a
courteous inclination of his jug-shaped physiognomy:
"You have given a hundred thousand roubles for the serfs, but have
paid ME only a trifle for my trouble."
"Yes," replied Chichikov with a similar whisper, "but what sort of
serfs do you suppose them to be? They are a poor, useless lot, and not
worth even half the purchase money."
This gave Ivan Antonovitch to understand that the visitor was a man of
strong character--a man from whom nothing more was to be expected.
"Why have you gone and purchased souls from Plushkin?" whispered
Sobakevitch in Chichikov's other ear.
"Why did YOU go and add the woman Vorobei to your list?" retorted Chichikov.
"Vorobei? Who is Vorobei?"
"The woman 'Elizabet' Vorobei--'Elizabet,' not 'Elizabeta?'"
"I added no such name," replied Sobakevitch, and straightway joined
the other guests.
At length the party arrived at the residence of the Chief of Police.
The latter proved indeed a man of spells, for no sooner had he learnt
what was afoot than he summoned a brisk young constable, whispered in
his ear, adding laconically, "You understand, do you not?" and brought
it about that, during the time that the guests were cutting for
partners at whist in an adjoining room, the dining-table became laden
with sturgeon, caviare, salmon, herrings, cheese, smoked tongue, fresh
roe, and a potted variety of the same--all procured from the local
fish market, and reinforced with additions from the host's own
kitchen. The fact was that the worthy Chief of Police filled the
office of a sort of father and general benefactor to the town, and
that he moved among the citizens as though they constituted part and
parcel of his own family, and watched over their shops and markets as
though those establishments were merely his own private larder.
Indeed, it would be difficult to say--so thoroughly did he perform his
duties in this respect--whether the post most fitted him, or he the
post. Matters were also so arranged that though his income more than
doubled that of his predecessors, he had never lost the affection of
his fellow townsmen. In particular did the tradesmen love him, since
he was never above standing godfather to their children or dining at
their tables. True, he had differences of opinion with them, and
serious differences at that; but always these were skilfully adjusted
by his slapping the offended ones jovially on the shoulder, drinking a
glass of tea with them, promising to call at their houses and play a
game of chess, asking after their belongings, and, should he learn
that a child of theirs was ill, prescribing the proper medicine. In
short, he bore the reputation of being a very good fellow.
On perceiving the feast to be ready, the host proposed that his guests
should finish their whist after luncheon; whereupon all proceeded to
the room whence for some time past an agreeable odour had been
tickling the nostrils of those present, and towards the door of which
Sobakevitch in particular had been glancing since the moment when he
had caught sight of a huge sturgeon reposing on the sideboard. After a
glassful of warm, olive-coloured vodka apiece--vodka of the tint to be
seen only in the species of Siberian stone whereof seals are cut--the
company applied themselves to knife-and-fork work, and, in so doing,
evinced their several characteristics and tastes. For instance,
Sobakevitch, disdaining lesser trifles, tackled the large sturgeon,
and, during the time that his fellow guests were eating minor
comestibles, and drinking and talking, contrived to consume more than
a quarter of the whole fish; so that, on the host remembering the
creature, and, with fork in hand, leading the way in its direction and
saying, "What, gentlemen, think you of this striking product of
nature?" there ensued the discovery that of the said product of nature
there remained little beyond the tail, while Sobakevitch, with an air
as though at least HE had not eaten it, was engaged in plunging his
fork into a much more diminutive piece of fish which happened to be
resting on an adjacent platter. After his divorce from the sturgeon,
Sobakevitch ate and drank no more, but sat frowning and blinking in an
Apparently the host was not a man who believed in sparing the wine,
for the toasts drunk were innumerable. The first toast (as the reader
may guess) was quaffed to the health of the new landowner of Kherson;
the second to the prosperity of his peasants and their safe
transferment; and the third to the beauty of his future wife--a
compliment which brought to our hero's lips a flickering smile.
Lastly, he received from the company a pressing, as well as an
unanimous, invitation to extend his stay in town for at least another
fortnight, and, in the meanwhile, to allow a wife to be found for him.
"Quite so," agreed the President. "Fight us tooth and nail though you
may, we intend to have you married. You have happened upon us by
chance, and you shall have no reason to repent of it. We are in
earnest on this subject."
"But why should I fight you tooth and nail?" said Chichikov, smiling.
"Marriage would not come amiss to me, were I but provided with a
"Then a betrothed you shall have. Why not? We will do as you wish."
"Very well," assented Chichikov.
"Bravo, bravo!" the company shouted. "Long live Paul Ivanovitch!
Hurrah! Hurrah!" And with that every one approached to clink glasses
with him, and he readily accepted the compliment, and accepted it many
times in succession. Indeed, as the hours passed on, the hilarity of
the company increased yet further, and more than once the President (a
man of great urbanity when thoroughly in his cups) embraced the chief
guest of the day with the heartfelt words, "My dearest fellow! My own
most precious of friends!" Nay, he even started to crack his fingers,
to dance around Chichikov's chair, and to sing snatches of a popular
song. To the champagne succeeded Hungarian wine, which had the effect
of still further heartening and enlivening the company. By this time
every one had forgotten about whist, and given himself up to shouting
and disputing. Every conceivable subject was discussed, including
politics and military affairs; and in this connection guests voiced
jejune opinions for the expression of which they would, at any other
time, have soundly spanked their offspring. Chichikov, like the rest,
had never before felt so gay, and, imagining himself really and truly
to be a landowner of Kherson, spoke of various improvements in
agriculture, of the three-field system of tillage, and of the
beatific felicity of a union between two kindred souls. Also, he
started to recite poetry to Sobakevitch, who blinked as he listened,
for he greatly desired to go to sleep. At length the guest of the
evening realised that matters had gone far enough, so begged to be
given a lift home, and was accommodated with the Public Prosecutor's
drozhki. Luckily the driver of the vehicle was a practised man at his
work, for, while driving with one hand, he succeeded in leaning
backwards and, with the other, holding Chichikov securely in his
place. Arrived at the inn, our hero continued babbling awhile about a
flaxen-haired damsel with rosy lips and a dimple in her right cheek,
about villages of his in Kherson, and about the amount of his capital.
Nay, he even issued seignorial instructions that Selifan should go and
muster the peasants about to be transferred, and make a complete and
detailed inventory of them. For a while Selifan listened in silence;
then he left the room, and instructed Petrushka to help the barin to
undress. As it happened, Chichikov's boots had no sooner been removed
than he managed to perform the rest of his toilet without assistance,
to roll on to the bed (which creaked terribly as he did so), and to
sink into a sleep in every way worthy of a landowner of Kherson.
Meanwhile Petrushka had taken his master's coat and trousers of
bilberry-coloured check into the corridor; where, spreading them over
a clothes' horse, he started to flick and to brush them, and to fill
the whole corridor with dust. Just as he was about to replace them in
his master's room he happened to glance over the railing of the
gallery, and saw Selifan returning from the stable. Glances were
exchanged, and in an instant the pair had arrived at an instinctive
understanding--an understanding to the effect that the barin was sound
asleep, and that therefore one might consider one's own pleasure a
little. Accordingly Petrushka proceeded to restore the coat and
trousers to their appointed places, and then descended the stairs;
whereafter he and Selifan left the house together. Not a word passed
between them as to the object of their expedition. On the contrary,
they talked solely of extraneous subjects. Yet their walk did not take
them far; it took them only to the other side of the street, and
thence into an establishment which immediately confronted the inn.
Entering a mean, dirty courtyard covered with glass, they passed
thence into a cellar where a number of customers were seated around
small wooden tables. What thereafter was done by Selifan and Petrushka
God alone knows. At all events, within an hour's time they issued, arm
in arm, and in profound silence, yet remaining markedly assiduous to
one another, and ever ready to help one another around an awkward
corner. Still linked together--never once releasing their mutual
hold--they spent the next quarter of an hour in attempting to
negotiate the stairs of the inn; but at length even that ascent had
been mastered, and they proceeded further on their way. Halting before
his mean little pallet, Petrushka stood awhile in thought. His
difficulty was how best to assume a recumbent position. Eventually he
lay down on his face, with his legs trailing over the floor; after
which Selifan also stretched himself upon the pallet, with his head
resting upon Petrushka's stomach, and his mind wholly oblivious of the
fact that he ought not to have been sleeping there at all, but in the
servant's quarters, or in the stable beside his horses. Scarcely a
moment had passed before the pair were plunged in slumber and emitting
the most raucous snores; to which their master (next door) responded
with snores of a whistling and nasal order. Indeed, before long every
one in the inn had followed their soothing example, and the hostelry
lay plunged in complete restfulness. Only in the window of the room of
the newly-arrived lieutenant from Riazan did a light remain burning.
Evidently he was a devotee of boots, for he had purchased four pairs,
and was now trying on a fifth. Several times he approached the bed
with a view to taking off the boots and retiring to rest; but each
time he failed, for the reason that the boots were so alluring in
their make that he had no choice but to lift up first one foot, and
then the other, for the purpose of scanning their elegant welts.
 The system by which, in annual rotation, two-thirds of a given
area are cultivated, while the remaining third is left fallow.
It was not long before Chichikov's purchases had become the talk of
the town; and various were the opinions expressed as to whether or not
it was expedient to procure peasants for transferment. Indeed such was
the interest taken by certain citizens in the matter that they advised
the purchaser to provide himself and his convoy with an escort, in
order to ensure their safe arrival at the appointed destination; but
though Chichikov thanked the donors of this advice for the same, and
declared that he should be very glad, in case of need, to avail
himself of it, he declared also that there was no real need for an
escort, seeing that the peasants whom he had purchased were
exceptionally peace-loving folk, and that, being themselves consenting
parties to the transferment, they would undoubtedly prove in every way
One particularly good result of this advertisement of his scheme was
that he came to rank as neither more nor less than a millionaire.
Consequently, much as the inhabitants had liked our hero in the first
instance (as seen in Chapter I.), they now liked him more than ever.
As a matter of fact, they were citizens of an exceptionally quiet,
good-natured, easy-going disposition; and some of them were even
well-educated. For instance, the President of the Local Council could
recite the whole of Zhukovski's LUDMILLA by heart, and give such an
impressive rendering of the passage "The pine forest was asleep and
the valley at rest" (as well as of the exclamation "Phew!") that one
felt, as he did so, that the pine forest and the valley really WERE
as he described them. The effect was also further heightened by the
manner in which, at such moments, he assumed the most portentous
frown. For his part, the Postmaster went in more for philosophy, and
diligently perused such works as Young's Night Thoughts, and
Eckharthausen's A Key to the Mysteries of Nature; of which latter
work he would make copious extracts, though no one had the slightest
notion what they referred to. For the rest, he was a witty, florid
little individual, and much addicted to a practice of what he called
"embellishing" whatsoever he had to say--a feat which he performed
with the aid of such by-the-way phrases as "my dear sir," "my good
So-and-So," "you know," "you understand," "you may imagine,"
"relatively speaking," "for instance," and "et cetera"; of which
phrases he would add sackfuls to his speech. He could also "embellish"
his words by the simple expedient of half-closing, half-winking one
eye; which trick communicated to some of his satirical utterances
quite a mordant effect. Nor were his colleagues a wit inferior to him
in enlightenment. For instance, one of them made a regular practice of
reading Karamzin, another of conning the Moscow Gazette, and a
third of never looking at a book at all. Likewise, although they were
the sort of men to whom, in their more intimate movements, their wives
would very naturally address such nicknames as "Toby Jug," "Marmot,"
"Fatty," "Pot Belly," "Smutty," "Kiki," and "Buzz-Buzz," they were men
also of good heart, and very ready to extend their hospitality and
their friendship when once a guest had eaten of their bread and salt,
or spent an evening in their company. Particularly, therefore, did
Chichikov earn these good folk's approval with his taking methods and
qualities--so much so that the expression of that approval bid fair to
make it difficult for him to quit the town, seeing that, wherever he
went, the one phrase dinned into his ears was "Stay another week with
us, Paul Ivanovitch." In short, he ceased to be a free agent. But
incomparably more striking was the impression (a matter for unbounded
surprise!) which he produced upon the ladies. Properly to explain this
phenomenon I should need to say a great deal about the ladies
themselves, and to describe in the most vivid of colours their social
intercourse and spiritual qualities. Yet this would be a difficult
thing for me to do, since, on the one hand, I should be hampered by my
boundless respect for the womenfolk of all Civil Service officials,
and, on the other hand--well, simply by the innate arduousness of the
task. The ladies of N. were--But no, I cannot do it; my heart has
already failed me. Come, come! The ladies of N. were distinguished
for--But it is of no use; somehow my pen seems to refuse to move over
the paper--it seems to be weighted as with a plummet of lead. Very
well. That being so, I will merely say a word or two concerning the
most prominent tints on the feminine palette of N.--merely a word or
two concerning the outward appearance of its ladies, and a word or two
concerning their more superficial characteristics. The ladies of N.
were pre-eminently what is known as "presentable." Indeed, in that
respect they might have served as a model to the ladies of many
another town. That is to say, in whatever pertained to "tone,"
etiquette, the intricacies of decorum, and strict observance of the
prevailing mode, they surpassed even the ladies of Moscow and St.
Petersburg, seeing that they dressed with taste, drove about in
carriages in the latest fashions, and never went out without the
escort of a footman in gold-laced livery. Again, they looked upon a
visiting card--even upon a make-shift affair consisting of an ace of
diamonds or a two of clubs--as a sacred thing; so sacred that on one
occasion two closely related ladies who had also been closely attached
friends were known to fall out with one another over the mere fact of
an omission to return a social call! Yes, in spite of the best efforts
of husbands and kinsfolk to reconcile the antagonists, it became clear
that, though all else in the world might conceivably be possible,
never could the hatchet be buried between ladies who had quarrelled
over a neglected visit. Likewise strenuous scenes used to take place
over questions of precedence--scenes of a kind which had the effect of
inspiring husbands to great and knightly ideas on the subject of
protecting the fair. True, never did a duel actually take place, since
all the husbands were officials belonging to the Civil Service; but at
least a given combatant would strive to heap contumely upon his rival,
and, as we all know, that is a resource which may prove even more
effectual than a duel. As regards morality, the ladies of N. were
nothing if not censorious, and would at once be fired with virtuous
indignation when they heard of a case of vice or seduction. Nay, even
to mere frailty they would award the lash without mercy. On the other
hand, should any instance of what they called "third personism" occur
among THEIR OWN circle, it was always kept dark--not a hint of what
was going on being allowed to transpire, and even the wronged husband
holding himself ready, should he meet with, or hear of, the "third
person," to quote, in a mild and rational manner, the proverb, "Whom
concerns it that a friend should consort with friend?" In addition, I
may say that, like most of the female world of St. Petersburg, the
ladies of N. were pre-eminently careful and refined in their choice of
words and phrases. Never did a lady say, "I blew my nose," or "I
perspired," or "I spat." No, it had to be, "I relieved my nose through
the expedient of wiping it with my handkerchief," and so forth. Again,
to say, "This glass, or this plate, smells badly," was forbidden. No,
not even a hint to such an effect was to be dropped. Rather, the
proper phrase, in such a case, was "This glass, or this plate, is not
behaving very well,"--or some such formula.
In fact, to refine the Russian tongue the more thoroughly, something
like half the words in it were cut out: which circumstance
necessitated very frequent recourse to the tongue of France, since the
same words, if spoken in French, were another matter altogether, and
one could use even blunter ones than the ones originally objected to.
So much for the ladies of N., provided that one confines one's
observations to the surface; yet hardly need it be said that, should
one penetrate deeper than that, a great deal more would come to light.
At the same time, it is never a very safe proceeding to peer deeply
into the hearts of ladies; wherefore, restricting ourselves to the
foregoing superficialities, let us proceed further on our way.
Hitherto the ladies had paid Chichikov no particular attention, though
giving him full credit for his gentlemanly and urbane demeanour; but
from the moment that there arose rumours of his being a millionaire
other qualities of his began to be canvassed. Nevertheless, not ALL
the ladies were governed by interested motives, since it is due to the
term "millionaire" rather than to the character of the person who
bears it, that the mere sound of the word exercises upon rascals, upon
decent folk, and upon folk who are neither the one nor the other, an
undeniable influence. A millionaire suffers from the disadvantage of
everywhere having to behold meanness, including the sort of meanness
which, though not actually based upon calculations of self-interest,
yet runs after the wealthy man with smiles, and doffs his hat, and
begs for invitations to houses where the millionaire is known to be
going to dine. That a similar inclination to meanness seized upon the
ladies of N. goes without saying; with the result that many a
drawing-room heard it whispered that, if Chichikov was not exactly a
beauty, at least he was sufficiently good-looking to serve for a
husband, though he could have borne to have been a little more rotund
and stout. To that there would be added scornful references to lean
husbands, and hints that they resembled tooth-brushes rather than
men--with many other feminine additions. Also, such crowds of feminine
shoppers began to repair to the Bazaar as almost to constitute a
crush, and something like a procession of carriages ensued, so long
grew the rank of vehicles. For their part, the tradesmen had the joy
of seeing highly priced dress materials which they had brought at
fairs, and then been unable to dispose of, now suddenly become
tradeable, and go off with a rush. For instance, on one occasion a
lady appeared at Mass in a bustle which filled the church to an extent
which led the verger on duty to bid the commoner folk withdraw to the
porch, lest the lady's toilet should be soiled in the crush. Even
Chichikov could not help privately remarking the attention which he
aroused. On one occasion, when he returned to the inn, he found on his
table a note addressed to himself. Whence it had come, and who had
delivered it, he failed to discover, for the waiter declared that the
person who had brought it had omitted to leave the name of the writer.
Beginning abruptly with the words "I MUST write to you," the letter
went on to say that between a certain pair of souls there existed a
bond of sympathy; and this verity the epistle further confirmed with
rows of full stops to the extent of nearly half a page. Next there
followed a few reflections of a correctitude so remarkable that I have
no choice but to quote them. "What, I would ask, is this life of
ours?" inquired the writer. "'Tis nought but a vale of woe. And what,
I would ask, is the world? 'Tis nought but a mob of unthinking
humanity." Thereafter, incidentally remarking that she had just
dropped a tear to the memory of her dear mother, who had departed this
life twenty-five years ago, the (presumably) lady writer invited
Chichikov to come forth into the wilds, and to leave for ever the city
where, penned in noisome haunts, folk could not even draw their
breath. In conclusion, the writer gave way to unconcealed despair, and
wound up with the following verses:
"Two turtle doves to thee, one day,
My dust will show, congealed in death;
And, cooing wearily, they'll say:
'In grief and loneliness she drew her closing breath.'"
True, the last line did not scan, but that was a trifle, since the
quatrain at least conformed to the mode then prevalent. Neither
signature nor date were appended to the document, but only a
postscript expressing a conjecture that Chichikov's own heart would
tell him who the writer was, and stating, in addition, that the said
writer would be present at the Governor's ball on the following night.
This greatly interested Chichikov. Indeed, there was so much that was
alluring and provocative of curiosity in the anonymous missive that he
read it through a second time, and then a third, and finally said to
himself: "I SHOULD like to know who sent it!" In short, he took the
thing seriously, and spent over an hour in considering the same. At
length, muttering a comment upon the epistle's efflorescent style, he
refolded the document, and committed it to his dispatch-box in company
with a play-bill and an invitation to a wedding--the latter of which
had for the last seven years reposed in the self-same receptacle and
in the self-same position. Shortly afterwards there arrived a card of
invitation to the Governor's ball already referred to. In passing, it
may be said that such festivities are not infrequent phenomena in
county towns, for the reason that where Governors exist there must
take place balls if from the local gentry there is to be evoked that
respectful affection which is every Governor's due.
Thenceforth all extraneous thoughts and considerations were laid aside
in favour of preparing for the coming function. Indeed, this
conjunction of exciting and provocative motives led to Chichikov
devoting to his toilet an amount of time never witnessed since the
creation of the world. Merely in the contemplation of his features in
the mirror, as he tried to communicate to them a succession of varying
expressions, was an hour spent. First of all he strove to make his
features assume an air of dignity and importance, and then an air of
humble, but faintly satirical, respect, and then an air of respect
guiltless of any alloy whatsoever. Next, he practised performing a
series of bows to his reflection, accompanied with certain murmurs
intended to bear a resemblance to a French phrase (though Chichikov
knew not a single word of the Gallic tongue). Lastly came the
performing of a series of what I might call "agreeable surprises," in
the shape of twitchings of the brow and lips and certain motions of
the tongue. In short, he did all that a man is apt to do when he is
not only alone, but also certain that he is handsome and that no one
is regarding him through a chink. Finally he tapped himself lightly on
the chin, and said, "Ah, good old face!" In the same way, when he
started to dress himself for the ceremony, the level of his high
spirits remained unimpaired throughout the process. That is to say,
while adjusting his braces and tying his tie, he shuffled his feet in
what was not exactly a dance, but might be called the entr'acte of a
dance: which performance had the not very serious result of setting a
wardrobe a-rattle, and causing a brush to slide from the table to the
Later, his entry into the ballroom produced an extraordinary effect.
Every one present came forward to meet him, some with cards in their
hands, and one man even breaking off a conversation at the most
interesting point--namely, the point that "the Inferior Land Court
must be made responsible for everything." Yes, in spite of the
responsibility of the Inferior Land Court, the speaker cast all
thoughts of it to the winds as he hurried to greet our hero. From
every side resounded acclamations of welcome, and Chichikov felt
himself engulfed in a sea of embraces. Thus, scarcely had he
extricated himself from the arms of the President of the Local Council
when he found himself just as firmly clasped in the arms of the Chief
of Police, who, in turn, surrendered him to the Inspector of the
Medical Department, who, in turn, handed him over to the Commissioner
of Taxes, who, again, committed him to the charge of the Town
Architect. Even the Governor, who hitherto had been standing among his
womenfolk with a box of sweets in one hand and a lap-dog in the other,
now threw down both sweets and lap-dog (the lap-dog giving vent to a
yelp as he did so) and added his greeting to those of the rest of the
company. Indeed, not a face was there to be seen on which ecstatic
delight--or, at all events, the reflection of other people's ecstatic
delight--was not painted. The same expression may be discerned on the
faces of subordinate officials when, the newly arrived Director having
made his inspection, the said officials are beginning to get over
their first sense of awe on perceiving that he has found much to
commend, and that he can even go so far as to jest and utter a few
words of smiling approval. Thereupon every tchinovnik responds with a
smile of double strength, and those who (it may be) have not heard a
single word of the Director's speech smile out of sympathy with the
rest, and even the gendarme who is posted at the distant door--a man,
perhaps, who has never before compassed a smile, but is more
accustomed to dealing out blows to the populace--summons up a kind of
grin, even though the grin resembles the grimace of a man who is about
to sneeze after inadvertently taking an over-large pinch of snuff. To
all and sundry Chichikov responded with a bow, and felt
extraordinarily at his ease as he did so. To right and left did he
incline his head in the sidelong, yet unconstrained, manner that was
his wont and never failed to charm the beholder. As for the ladies,
they clustered around him in a shining bevy that was redolent of every
species of perfume--of roses, of spring violets, and of mignonette; so
much so that instinctively Chichikov raised his nose to snuff the air.
Likewise the ladies' dresses displayed an endless profusion of taste
and variety; and though the majority of their wearers evinced a
tendency to embonpoint, those wearers knew how to call upon art for
the concealment of the fact. Confronting them, Chichikov thought to
himself: "Which of these beauties is the writer of the letter?" Then
again he snuffed the air. When the ladies had, to a certain extent,
returned to their seats, he resumed his attempts to discern (from
glances and expressions) which of them could possibly be the unknown
authoress. Yet, though those glances and expressions were too subtle,
too insufficiently open, the difficulty in no way diminished his high
spirits. Easily and gracefully did he exchange agreeable bandinage
with one lady, and then approach another one with the short, mincing
steps usually affected by young-old dandies who are fluttering around
the fair. As he turned, not without dexterity, to right and left, he
kept one leg slightly dragging behind the other, like a short tail or
comma. This trick the ladies particularly admired. In short, they not
only discovered in him a host of recommendations and attractions, but
also began to see in his face a sort of grand, Mars-like, military
expression--a thing which, as we know, never fails to please the
feminine eye. Certain of the ladies even took to bickering over him,
and, on perceiving that he spent most of his time standing near the
door, some of their number hastened to occupy chairs nearer to his
post of vantage. In fact, when a certain dame chanced to have the good
fortune to anticipate a hated rival in the race there very nearly
ensued a most lamentable scene--which, to many of those who had been
desirous of doing exactly the same thing, seemed a peculiarly horrible
instance of brazen-faced audacity.
So deeply did Chichikov become plunged in conversation with his fair
pursuers--or rather, so deeply did those fair pursuers enmesh him in
the toils of small talk (which they accomplished through the expedient
of asking him endless subtle riddles which brought the sweat to his
brow in his attempts to guess them)--that he forgot the claims of
courtesy which required him first of all to greet his hostess. In
fact, he remembered those claims only on hearing the Governor's wife
herself addressing him. She had been standing before him for several
minutes, and now greeted him with suave expressement and the words,
"So HERE you are, Paul Ivanovitch!" But what she said next I am not
in a position to report, for she spoke in the ultra-refined tone and
vein wherein ladies and gentlemen customarily express themselves in
high-class novels which have been written by experts more qualified
than I am to describe salons, and able to boast of some acquaintance
with good society. In effect, what the Governor's wife said was that
she hoped--she greatly hoped--that Monsieur Chichikov's heart still
contained a corner--even the smallest possible corner--for those whom
he had so cruelly forgotten. Upon that Chichikov turned to her, and
was on the point of returning a reply at least no worse than that
which would have been returned, under similar circumstances, by the
hero of a fashionable novelette, when he stopped short, as though
Before him there was standing not only Madame, but also a young girl
whom she was holding by the hand. The golden hair, the fine-drawn,
delicate contours, the face with its bewitching oval--a face which
might have served as a model for the countenance of the Madonna, since
it was of a type rarely to be met with in Russia, where nearly
everything, from plains to human feet, is, rather, on the gigantic
scale; these features, I say, were those of the identical maiden whom
Chichikov had encountered on the road when he had been fleeing from
Nozdrev's. His emotion was such that he could not formulate a single
intelligible syllable; he could merely murmur the devil only knows
what, though certainly nothing of the kind which would have risen to
the lips of the hero of a fashionable novel.
"I think that you have not met my daughter before?" said Madame. "She
is just fresh from school."
He replied that he HAD had the happiness of meeting Mademoiselle
before, and under rather unexpected circumstances; but on his trying
to say something further his tongue completely failed him. The
Governor's wife added a word or two, and then carried off her daughter
to speak to some of the other guests.
Chichikov stood rooted to the spot, like a man who, after issuing into
the street for a pleasant walk, has suddenly come to a halt on
remembering that something has been left behind him. In a moment, as
he struggles to recall what that something is, the mien of careless
expectancy disappears from his face, and he no longer sees a single
person or a single object in his vicinity. In the same way did
Chichikov suddenly become oblivious to the scene around him. Yet all
the while the melodious tongues of ladies were plying him with
multitudinous hints and questions--hints and questions inspired with a
desire to captivate. "Might we poor cumberers of the ground make so
bold as to ask you what you are thinking of?" "Pray tell us where lie
the happy regions in which your thoughts are wandering?" "Might we be
informed of the name of her who has plunged you into this sweet
abandonment of meditation?"--such were the phrases thrown at him. But
to everything he turned a dead ear, and the phrases in question might
as well have been stones dropped into a pool. Indeed, his rudeness
soon reached the pitch of his walking away altogether, in order that
he might go and reconnoitre wither the Governor's wife and daughter
had retreated. But the ladies were not going to let him off so easily.
Every one of them had made up her mind to use upon him her every
weapon, and to exhibit whatsoever might chance to constitute her best
point. Yet the ladies' wiles proved useless, for Chichikov paid not
the smallest attention to them, even when the dancing had begun, but
kept raising himself on tiptoe to peer over people's heads and
ascertain in which direction the bewitching maiden with the golden
hair had gone. Also, when seated, he continued to peep between his
neighbours' backs and shoulders, until at last he discovered her
sitting beside her mother, who was wearing a sort of Oriental turban
and feather. Upon that one would have thought that his purpose was to
carry the position by storm; for, whether moved by the influence of
spring, or whether moved by a push from behind, he pressed forward
with such desperate resolution that his elbow caused the Commissioner
of Taxes to stagger on his feet, and would have caused him to lose his
balance altogether but for the supporting row of guests in the rear.
Likewise the Postmaster was made to give ground; whereupon he turned
and eyed Chichikov with mingled astonishment and subtle irony. But
Chichikov never even noticed him; he saw in the distance only the
golden-haired beauty. At that moment she was drawing on a long glove
and, doubtless, pining to be flying over the dancing-floor, where,
with clicking heels, four couples had now begun to thread the mazes of
the mazurka. In particular was a military staff-captain working body
and soul and arms and legs to compass such a series of steps as were
never before performed, even in a dream. However, Chichikov slipped
past the mazurka dancers, and, almost treading on their heels, made
his way towards the spot where Madame and her daughter were seated.
Yet he approached them with great diffidence and none of his late
mincing and prancing. Nay, he even faltered as he walked; his every
movement had about it an air of awkwardness.
It is difficult to say whether or not the feeling which had awakened
in our hero's breast was the feeling of love; for it is problematical
whether or not men who are neither stout nor thin are capable of any
such sentiment. Nevertheless, something strange, something which he
could not altogether explain, had come upon him. It seemed as though
the ball, with its talk and its clatter, had suddenly become a thing
remote--that the orchestra had withdrawn behind a hill, and the scene
grown misty, like the carelessly painted-in background of a picture.
And from that misty void there could be seen glimmering only the
delicate outlines of the bewitching maiden. Somehow her exquisite
shape reminded him of an ivory toy, in such fair, white, transparent
relief did it stand out against the dull blur of the surrounding
Herein we see a phenomenon not infrequently observed--the phenomenon
of the Chichikovs of this world becoming temporarily poets. At all
events, for a moment or two our Chichikov felt that he was a young man
again, if not exactly a military officer. On perceiving an empty chair
beside the mother and daughter, he hastened to occupy it, and though
conversation at first hung fire, things gradually improved, and he
acquired more confidence.
At this point I must reluctantly deviate to say that men of weight and
high office are always a trifle ponderous when conversing with ladies.
Young lieutenants--or, at all events, officers not above the rank of
captain--are far more successful at the game. How they contrive to be
so God only knows. Let them but make the most inane of remarks, and at
once the maiden by their side will be rocking with laughter; whereas,
should a State Councillor enter into conversation with a damsel, and
remark that the Russian Empire is one of vast extent, or utter a
compliment which he has elaborated not without a certain measure of
intelligence (however strongly the said compliment may smack of a
book), of a surety the thing will fall flat. Even a witticism from him
will be laughed at far more by him himself than it will by the lady
who may happen to be listening to his remarks.
These comments I have interposed for the purpose of explaining to the
reader why, as our hero conversed, the maiden began to yawn. Blind to
this, however, he continued to relate to her sundry adventures which
had befallen him in different parts of the world. Meanwhile (as need
hardly be said) the rest of the ladies had taken umbrage at his
behaviour. One of them purposely stalked past him to intimate to him
the fact, as well as to jostle the Governor's daughter, and let the
flying end of a scarf flick her face; while from a lady seated behind
the pair came both a whiff of violets and a very venomous and
sarcastic remark. Nevertheless, either he did not hear the remark or
he PRETENDED not to hear it. This was unwise of him, since it never
does to disregard ladies' opinions. Later-but too late--he was
destined to learn this to his cost.
In short, dissatisfaction began to display itself on every feminine
face. No matter how high Chichikov might stand in society, and no
matter how much he might be a millionaire and include in his
expression of countenance an indefinable element of grandness and
martial ardour, there are certain things which no lady will pardon,
whosoever be the person concerned. We know that at Governor's balls it
is customary for the onlookers to compose verses at the expense of the
dancers; and in this case the verses were directed to Chichikov's
address. Briefly, the prevailing dissatisfaction grew until a tacit
edict of proscription had been issued against both him and the poor
But an even more unpleasant surprise was in store for our hero; for
whilst the young lady was still yawning as Chichikov recounted to her
certain of his past adventures and also touched lightly upon the
subject of Greek philosophy, there appeared from an adjoining room the
figure of Nozdrev. Whether he had come from the buffet, or whether he
had issued from a little green retreat where a game more strenuous
than whist had been in progress, or whether he had left the latter
resort unaided, or whether he had been expelled therefrom, is unknown;
but at all events when he entered the ballroom, he was in an elevated
condition, and leading by the arm the Public Prosecutor, whom he
seemed to have been dragging about for a long while past, seeing that
the poor man was glancing from side to side as though seeking a means
of putting an end to this personally conducted tour. Certainly he must
have found the situation almost unbearable, in view of the fact that,
after deriving inspiration from two glasses of tea not wholly
undiluted with rum, Nozdrev was engaged in lying unmercifully. On
sighting him in the distance, Chichikov at once decided to sacrifice
himself. That is to say, he decided to vacate his present enviable
position and make off with all possible speed, since he could see that
an encounter with the newcomer would do him no good. Unfortunately at
that moment the Governor buttonholed him with a request that he would
come and act as arbiter between him (the Governor) and two ladies--the
subject of dispute being the question as to whether or not woman's
love is lasting. Simultaneously Nozdrev descried our hero and bore
down upon him.
"Ah, my fine landowner of Kherson!" he cried with a smile which set
his fresh, spring-rose-pink cheeks a-quiver. "Have you been doing much
trade in departed souls lately?" With that he turned to the Governor.
"I suppose your Excellency knows that this man traffics in dead
peasants?" he bawled. "Look here, Chichikov. I tell you in the most
friendly way possible that every one here likes you--yes, including
even the Governor. Nevertheless, had I my way, I would hang you! Yes,
by God I would!"
Chichikov's discomfiture was complete.
"And, would you believe it, your Excellency," went on Nozdrev, "but
this fellow actually said to me, 'Sell me your dead souls!' Why, I
laughed till I nearly became as dead as the souls. And, behold, no
sooner do I arrive here than I am told that he has bought three
million roubles' worth of peasants for transferment! For transferment,
indeed! And he wanted to bargain with me for my DEAD ones! Look
here, Chichikov. You are a swine! Yes, by God, you are an utter swine!
Is not that so, your Excellency? Is not that so, friend Prokurator?"
 Public Prosecutor.
But both his Excellency, the Public Prosecutor, and Chichikov were too
taken aback to reply. The half-tipsy Nozdrev, without noticing them,
continued his harangue as before.
"Ah, my fine sir!" he cried. "THIS time I don't mean to let you go.
No, not until I have learnt what all this purchasing of dead peasants
means. Look here. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Yes, _I_ say
that--_I_ who am one of your best friends." Here he turned to the
Governor again. "Your Excellency," he continued, "you would never
believe what inseperables this man and I have been. Indeed, if you had
stood there and said to me, 'Nozdrev, tell me on your honour which of
the two you love best--your father or Chichikov?' I should have
replied, 'Chichikov, by God!'" With that he tackled our hero again,
"Come, come, my friend!" he urged. "Let me imprint upon your cheeks a
baiser or two. You will excuse me if I kiss him, will you not, your
Excellency? No, do not resist me, Chichikov, but allow me to imprint
at least one baiser upon your lily-white cheek." And in his efforts to
force upon Chichikov what he termed his "baisers" he came near to
measuring his length upon the floor.
Every one now edged away, and turned a deaf ear to his further
babblings; but his words on the subject of the purchase of dead souls
had none the less been uttered at the top of his voice, and been
accompanied with such uproarious laughter that the curiosity even of
those who had happened to be sitting or standing in the remoter
corners of the room had been aroused. So strange and novel seemed the
idea that the company stood with faces expressive of nothing but a
dumb, dull wonder. Only some of the ladies (as Chichikov did not fail
to remark) exchanged meaning, ill-natured winks and a series of
sarcastic smiles: which circumstance still further increased his
confusion. That Nozdrev was a notorious liar every one, of course,
knew, and that he should have given vent to an idiotic outburst of
this sort had surprised no one; but a dead soul--well, what was one to
make of Nozdrev's reference to such a commodity?
Naturally this unseemly contretemps had greatly upset our hero; for,
however foolish be a madman's words, they may yet prove sufficient to
sow doubt in the minds of saner individuals. He felt much as does a
man who, shod with well-polished boots, has just stepped into a dirty,
stinking puddle. He tried to put away from him the occurrence, and to
expand, and to enjoy himself once more. Nay, he even took a hand at
whist. But all was of no avail--matters kept going as awry as a
badly-bent hoop. Twice he blundered in his play, and the President of
the Council was at a loss to understand how his friend, Paul
Ivanovitch, lately so good and so circumspect a player, could
perpetrate such a mauvais pas as to throw away a particular king of
spades which the President has been "trusting" as (to quote his own
expression) "he would have trusted God." At supper, too, matters felt
uncomfortable, even though the society at Chichikov's table was
exceedingly agreeable and Nozdrev had been removed, owing to the fact
that the ladies had found his conduct too scandalous to be borne, now
that the delinquent had taken to seating himself on the floor and
plucking at the skirts of passing lady dancers. As I say, therefore,
Chichikov found the situation not a little awkward, and eventually put
an end to it by leaving the supper room before the meal was over, and
long before the hour when usually he returned to the inn.
In his little room, with its door of communication blocked with a
wardrobe, his frame of mind remained as uncomfortable as the chair in
which he was seated. His heart ached with a dull, unpleasant
sensation, with a sort of oppressive emptiness.
"The devil take those who first invented balls!" was his reflection.
"Who derives any real pleasure from them? In this province there exist
want and scarcity everywhere: yet folk go in for balls! How absurd,
too, were those overdressed women! One of them must have had a
thousand roubles on her back, and all acquired at the expense of the
overtaxed peasant, or, worse still, at that of the conscience of her
neighbour. Yes, we all know why bribes are accepted, and why men
become crooked in soul. It is all done to provide wives--yes, may the
pit swallow them up!--with fal-lals. And for what purpose? That some
woman may not have to reproach her husband with the fact that, say,
the Postmaster's wife is wearing a better dress than she is--a dress
which has cost a thousand roubles! 'Balls and gaiety, balls and
gaiety' is the constant cry. Yet what folly balls are! They do not
consort with the Russian spirit and genius, and the devil only knows
why we have them. A grown, middle-aged man--a man dressed in black,
and looking as stiff as a poker--suddenly takes the floor and begins
shuffling his feet about, while another man, even though conversing
with a companion on important business, will, the while, keep capering
to right and left like a billy-goat! Mimicry, sheer mimicry! The fact
that the Frenchman is at forty precisely what he was at fifteen leads
us to imagine that we too, forsooth, ought to be the same. No; a ball
leaves one feeling that one has done a wrong thing--so much so that
one does not care even to think of it. It also leaves one's head
perfectly empty, even as does the exertion of talking to a man of the
world. A man of that kind chatters away, and touches lightly upon
every conceivable subject, and talks in smooth, fluent phrases which
he has culled from books without grazing their substance; whereas go
and have a chat with a tradesman who knows at least ONE thing
thoroughly, and through the medium of experience, and see whether his
conversation will not be worth more than the prattle of a thousand
chatterboxes. For what good does one get out of balls? Suppose that a
competent writer were to describe such a scene exactly as it stands?
Why, even in a book it would seem senseless, even as it certainly is
in life. Are, therefore, such functions right or wrong? One would
answer that the devil alone knows, and then spit and close the book."
Such were the unfavourable comments which Chichikov passed upon balls
in general. With it all, however, there went a second source of
dissatisfaction. That is to say, his principal grudge was not so much
against balls as against the fact that at this particular one he had
been exposed, he had been made to disclose the circumstance that he
had been playing a strange, an ambiguous part. Of course, when he
reviewed the contretemps in the light of pure reason, he could not but
see that it mattered nothing, and that a few rude words were of no
account now that the chief point had been attained; yet man is an odd
creature, and Chichikov actually felt pained by the could-shouldering
administered to him by persons for whom he had not an atom of respect,
and whose vanity and love of display he had only that moment been
censuring. Still more, on viewing the matter clearly, he felt vexed to
think that he himself had been so largely the cause of the
Yet he was not angry with HIMSELF--of that you may be sure, seeing
that all of us have a slight weakness for sparing our own faults, and
always do our best to find some fellow-creature upon whom to vent our
displeasure--whether that fellow-creature be a servant, a subordinate
official, or a wife. In the same way Chichikov sought a scapegoat upon
whose shoulders he could lay the blame for all that had annoyed him.
He found one in Nozdrev, and you may be sure that the scapegoat in
question received a good drubbing from every side, even as an
experienced captain or chief of police will give a knavish starosta or
postboy a rating not only in the terms become classical, but also in
such terms as the said captain or chief of police may invent for
himself. In short, Nozdrev's whole lineage was passed in review; and
many of its members in the ascending line fared badly in the process.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the town there was in progress an event
which was destined to augment still further the unpleasantness of our
hero's position. That is to say, through the outlying streets and
alleys of the town there was clattering a vehicle to which it would be
difficult precisely to assign a name, seeing that, though it was of a
species peculiar to itself, it most nearly resembled a large, rickety
water melon on wheels. Eventually this monstrosity drew up at the
gates of a house where the archpriest of one of the churches resided,
and from its doors there leapt a damsel clad in a jerkin and wearing a
scarf over her head. For a while she thumped the gates so vigorously
as to set all the dogs barking; then the gates stiffly opened, and
admitted this unwieldy phenomenon of the road. Lastly, the barinia
herself alighted, and stood revealed as Madame Korobotchka, widow of a
Collegiate Secretary! The reason of her sudden arrival was that she
had felt so uneasy about the possible outcome of Chichikov's whim,
that during the three nights following his departure she had been
unable to sleep a wink; whereafter, in spite of the fact that her
horses were not shod, she had set off for the town, in order to learn
at first hand how the dead souls were faring, and whether (which might
God forfend!) she had not sold them at something like a third of their
true value. The consequences of her venture the reader will learn from
a conversation between two ladies. We will reserve it for the ensuing
Next morning, before the usual hour for paying calls, there tripped
from the portals of an orange-coloured wooden house with an attic
storey and a row of blue pillars a lady in an elegant plaid cloak.
With her came a footman in a many-caped greatcoat and a polished top
hat with a gold band. Hastily, but gracefully, the lady ascended the
steps let down from a koliaska which was standing before the entrance,
and as soon as she had done so the footman shut her in, put up the
steps again, and, catching hold of the strap behind the vehicle,
shouted to the coachman, "Right away!" The reason of all this was that
the lady was the possessor of a piece of intelligence that she was
burning to communicate to a fellow-creature. Every moment she kept
looking out of the carriage window, and perceiving, with almost
speechless vexation, that, as yet, she was but half-way on her
journey. The fronts of the houses appeared to her longer than usual,
and in particular did the front of the white stone hospital, with its
rows of narrow windows, seem interminable to a degree which at length
forced her to ejaculate: "Oh, the cursed building! Positively there is
no end to it!" Also, she twice adjured the coachman with the words,
"Go quicker, Andrusha! You are a horribly long time over the journey
this morning." But at length the goal was reached, and the koliaska
stopped before a one-storied wooden mansion, dark grey in colour, and
having white carvings over the windows, a tall wooden fence and narrow
garden in front of the latter, and a few meagre trees looming white
with an incongruous coating of road dust. In the windows of the
building were also a few flower pots and a parrot that kept
alternately dancing on the floor of its cage and hanging on to the
ring of the same with its beak. Also, in the sunshine before the door
two pet dogs were sleeping. Here there lived the lady's bosom friend.
As soon as the bosom friend in question learnt of the newcomer's
arrival, she ran down into the hall, and the two ladies kissed and
embraced one another. Then they adjourned to the drawing-room.
"How glad I am to see you!" said the bosom friend. "When I heard some
one arriving I wondered who could possibly be calling so early.
Parasha declared that it must be the Vice-Governor's wife, so, as I
did not want to be bored with her, I gave orders that I was to be
reported 'not at home.'"
For her part, the guest would have liked to have proceeded to business
by communicating her tidings, but a sudden exclamation from the
hostess imparted (temporarily) a new direction to the conversation.
"What a pretty chintz!" she cried, gazing at the other's gown.
"Yes, it IS pretty," agreed the visitor. "On the other hand,
Praskovia Thedorovna thinks that--"
In other words, the ladies proceeded to indulge in a conversation on
the subject of dress; and only after this had lasted for a
considerable while did the visitor let fall a remark which led her
entertainer to inquire:
"And how is the universal charmer?"
"My God!" replied the other. "There has been SUCH a business! In
fact, do you know why I am here at all?" And the visitor's breathing
became more hurried, and further words seemed to be hovering between
her lips like hawks preparing to stoop upon their prey. Only a person
of the unhumanity of a "true friend" would have had the heart to
interrupt her; but the hostess was just such a friend, and at once
"I wonder how any one can see anything in the man to praise or to
admire. For my own part, I think--and I would say the same thing
straight to his face--that he is a perfect rascal."
"Yes, but do listen to what I have got to tell you."
"Oh, I know that some people think him handsome," continued the
hostess, unmoved; "but _I_ say that he is nothing of the kind--that,
in particular, his nose is perfectly odious."
"Yes, but let me finish what I was saying." The guest's tone was
almost piteous in its appeal.
"What is it, then?"
"You cannot imagine my state of mind! You see, this morning I received
a visit from Father Cyril's wife--the Archpriest's wife--you know
her, don't you? Well, whom do you suppose that fine gentleman visitor
of ours has turned out to be?"
"The man who has built the Archpriest a poultry-run?"
"Oh dear no! Had that been all, it would have been nothing. No. Listen
to what Father Cyril's wife had to tell me. She said that, last night,
a lady landowner named Madame Korobotchka arrived at the Archpriest's
house--arrived all pale and trembling--and told her, oh, such things!
They sound like a piece out of a book. That is to say, at dead of
night, just when every one had retired to rest, there came the most
dreadful knocking imaginable, and some one screamed out, 'Open the
gates, or we will break them down!' Just think! After this, how any
one can say that the man is charming I cannot imagine."
"Well, what of Madame Korobotchka? Is she a young woman or good
"Oh dear no! Quite an old woman."
"Splendid indeed! So he is actually engaged to a person like that? One
may heartily commend the taste of our ladies for having fallen in love
"Nevertheless, it is not as you suppose. Think, now! Armed with
weapons from head to foot, he called upon this old woman, and said:
'Sell me any souls of yours which have lately died.' Of course, Madame
Korobotchka answered, reasonably enough: 'I cannot sell you those
souls, seeing that they have departed this world;' but he replied:
'No, no! They are NOT dead. 'Tis I who tell you that--I who ought to
know the truth of the matter. I swear that they are still alive.' In
short, he made such a scene that the whole village came running to the
house, and children screamed, and men shouted, and no one could tell
what it was all about. The affair seemed to me so horrible, so utterly
horrible, that I trembled beyond belief as I listened to the story.
'My dearest madam,' said my maid, Mashka, 'pray look at yourself in
the mirror, and see how white you are.' 'But I have no time for that,'
I replied, 'as I must be off to tell my friend, Anna Grigorievna, the
news.' Nor did I lose a moment in ordering the koliaska. Yet when my
coachman, Andrusha, asked me for directions I could not get a word
out--I just stood staring at him like a fool, until I thought he must
think me mad. Oh, Anna Grigorievna, if you but knew how upset I am!"
"What a strange affair!" commented the hostess. "What on earth can the
man have meant by 'dead souls'? I confess that the words pass my
understanding. Curiously enough, this is the second time I have heard
speak of those souls. True, my husband avers that Nozdrev was lying;
yet in his lies there seems to have been a grain of truth."
"Well, just think of my state when I heard all this! 'And now,'
apparently said Korobotchka to the Archpriest's wife, 'I am altogether
at a loss what to do, for, throwing me fifteen roubles, the man forced
me to sign a worthless paper--yes, me, an inexperienced, defenceless
widow who knows nothing of business.' That such things should happen!
TRY and imagine my feelings!"
"In my opinion, there is in this more than the dead souls which meet
"I think so too," agreed the other. As a matter of fact, her friend's
remark had struck her with complete surprise, as well as filled her
with curiosity to know what the word "more" might possibly signify. In
fact, she felt driven to inquire: "What do YOU suppose to be hidden
beneath it all?"
"No; tell me what YOU suppose?"
"What _I_ suppose? I am at a loss to conjecture."
"Yes, but tell me what is in your mind?"
Upon this the visitor had to confess herself nonplussed; for, though
capable of growing hysterical, she was incapable of propounding any
rational theory. Consequently she felt the more that she needed tender
comfort and advice.
"Then THIS is what I think about the dead souls," said the hostess.
Instantly the guest pricked up her ears (or, rather, they pricked
themselves up) and straightened herself and became, somehow, more
modish, and, despite her not inconsiderable weight, posed herself to
look like a piece of thistledown floating on the breeze.
"The dead souls," began the hostess.
"Are what, are what?" inquired the guest in great excitement.
"Tell me, tell me, for heaven's sake!"
"They are an invention to conceal something else. The man's real
object is, is--TO ABDUCT THE GOVERNOR'S DAUGHTER."
So startling and unexpected was this conclusion that the guest sat
reduced to a state of pale, petrified, genuine amazement.
"My God!" she cried, clapping her hands, "I should NEVER have guessed it!"
"Well, to tell you the truth, I guessed it as soon as ever you opened
"So much, then, for educating girls like the Governor's daughter at
school! Just see what comes of it!"
"Yes, indeed! And they tell me that she says things which I hesitate
even to repeat."
"Truly it wrings one's heart to see to what lengths immorality has come."
"Some of the men have quite lost their heads about her, but for my
part I think her not worth noticing."
"Of course. And her manners are unbearable. But what puzzles me most
is how a travelled man like Chichikov could come to let himself in for
such an affair. Surely he must have accomplices?"
"Yes; and I should say that one of those accomplices is Nozdrev."
"CERTAINLY I should say so. Why, I have known him even try to sell
his own father! At all events he staked him at cards."
"Indeed? You interest me. I should never had thought him capable of
"I always guessed him to be so."
The two ladies were still discussing the matter with acumen and
success when there walked into the room the Public Prosecutor--bushy
eyebrows, motionless features, blinking eyes, and all. At once the
ladies hastened to inform him of the events related, adducing
therewith full details both as to the purchase of dead souls and as to
the scheme to abduct the Governor's daughter; after which they
departed in different directions, for the purpose of raising the rest
of the town. For the execution of this undertaking not more than half
an hour was required. So thoroughly did they succeed in throwing dust
in the public's eyes that for a while every one--more especially the
army of public officials--was placed in the position of a schoolboy
who, while still asleep, has had a bag of pepper thrown in his face by
a party of more early-rising comrades. The questions now to be debated
resolved themselves into two--namely, the question of the dead souls
and the question of the Governor's daughter. To this end two parties
were formed--the men's party and the feminine section. The men's
party--the more absolutely senseless of the two--devoted its attention
to the dead souls: the women's party occupied itself exclusively with
the alleged abduction of the Governor's daughter. And here it may be
said (to the ladies' credit) that the women's party displayed far more
method and caution than did its rival faction, probably because the
function in life of its members had always been that of managing and
administering a household. With the ladies, therefore, matters soon
assumed vivid and definite shape; they became clearly and irrefutably
materialised; they stood stripped of all doubt and other impedimenta.
Said some of the ladies in question, Chichikov had long been in love
with the maiden, and the pair had kept tryst by the light of the moon,
while the Governor would have given his consent (seeing that Chichikov
was as rich as a Jew) but for the obstacle that Chichikov had deserted
a wife already (how the worthy dames came to know that he was married
remains a mystery), and the said deserted wife, pining with love for
her faithless husband, had sent the Governor a letter of the most
touching kind, so that Chichikov, on perceiving that the father and
mother would never give their consent, had decided to abduct the girl.
In other circles the matter was stated in a different way. That is to
say, this section averred that Chichikov did NOT possess a wife, but
that, as a man of subtlety and experience, he had bethought him of
obtaining the daughter's hand through the expedient of first tackling
the mother and carrying on with her an ardent liaison, and that,
thereafter, he had made an application for the desired hand, but that
the mother, fearing to commit a sin against religion, and feeling in
her heart certain gnawings of conscience, had returned a blank refusal
to Chichikov's request; whereupon Chichikov had decided to carry out
the abduction alleged. To the foregoing, of course, there became
appended various additional proofs and items of evidence, in
proportion as the sensation spread to more remote corners of the town.
At length, with these perfectings, the affair reached the ears of the
Governor's wife herself. Naturally, as the mother of a family, and as
the first lady in the town, and as a matron who had never before been
suspected of things of the kind, she was highly offended when she
heard the stories, and very justly so: with the result that her poor
young daughter, though innocent, had to endure about as unpleasant a
tete-a-tete as ever befell a maiden of sixteen, while, for his part,
the Swiss footman received orders never at any time to admit Chichikov
to the house.
Having done their business with the Governor's wife, the ladies' party
descended upon the male section, with a view to influencing it to
their own side by asserting that the dead souls were an invention used
solely for the purpose of diverting suspicion and successfully
affecting the abduction. And, indeed, more than one man was converted,
and joined the feminine camp, in spite of the fact that thereby such
seceders incurred strong names from their late comrades--names such as
"old women," "petticoats," and others of a nature peculiarly offensive
to the male sex.
Also, however much they might arm themselves and take the field, the
men could not compass such orderliness within their ranks as could the
women. With the former everything was of the antiquated and rough-hewn
and ill-fitting and unsuitable and badly-adapted and inferior kind;
their heads were full of nothing but discord and triviality and
confusion and slovenliness of thought. In brief, they displayed
everywhere the male bent, the rude, ponderous nature which is
incapable either of managing a household or of jumping to a
conclusion, as well as remains always distrustful and lazy and full of
constant doubt and everlasting timidity. For instance, the men's party
declared that the whole story was rubbish--that the alleged abduction
of the Governor's daughter was the work rather of a military than of a
civilian culprit; that the ladies were lying when they accused
Chichikov of the deed; that a woman was like a money-bag--whatsoever
you put into her she thenceforth retained; that the subject which
really demanded attention was the dead souls, of which the devil only
knew the meaning, but in which there certainly lurked something that
was contrary to good order and discipline. One reason why the men's
party was so certain that the dead souls connoted something contrary
to good order and discipline, was that there had just been appointed
to the province a new Governor-General--an event which, of course, had
thrown the whole army of provincial tchinovniks into a state of great
excitement, seeing that they knew that before long there would ensue
transferments and sentences of censure, as well as the series of
official dinners with which a Governor-General is accustomed to
entertain his subordinates. "Alas," thought the army of tchinovniks,
"it is probable that, should he learn of the gross reports at present
afloat in our town, he will make such a fuss that we shall never hear
the last of them." In particular did the Director of the Medical
Department turn pale at the thought that possibly the new
Governor-General would surmise the term "dead folk" to connote
patients in the local hospitals who, for want of proper preventative
measures, had died of sporadic fever. Indeed, might it not be that
Chichikov was neither more nor less than an emissary of the said
Governor-General, sent to conduct a secret inquiry? Accordingly he
(the Director of the Medical Department) communicated this last
supposition to the President of the Council, who, though at first
inclined to ejaculate "Rubbish!" suddenly turned pale on propounding
to himself the theory. "What if the souls purchased by Chichikov
should REALLY be dead ones?"--a terrible thought considering that
he, the President, had permitted their transferment to be registered,
and had himself acted as Plushkin's representative! What if these
things should reach the Governor-General's ears? He mentioned the
matter to one friend and another, and they, in their turn, went white
to the lips, for panic spreads faster and is even more destructive,
than the dreaded black death. Also, to add to the tchinovniks'
troubles, it so befell that just at this juncture there came into the
local Governor's hands two documents of great importance. The first of
them contained advices that, according to received evidence and
reports, there was operating in the province a forger of rouble-notes
who had been passing under various aliases and must therefore be
sought for with the utmost diligence; while the second document was a
letter from the Governor of a neighbouring province with regard to a
malefactor who had there evaded apprehension--a letter conveying also
a warning that, if in the province of the town of N. there should
appear any suspicious individual who could produce neither references
nor passports, he was to be arrested forthwith. These two documents
left every one thunderstruck, for they knocked on the head all
previous conceptions and theories. Not for a moment could it be
supposed that the former document referred to Chichikov; yet, as each
man pondered the position from his own point of view, he remembered
that no one REALLY knew who Chichikov was; as also that his vague
references to himself had--yes!--included statements that his career
in the service had suffered much to the cause of Truth, and that he
possessed a number of enemies who were seeking his life. This gave the
tchinovniks further food for thought. Perhaps his life really DID
stand in danger? Perhaps he really WAS being sought for by some one?
Perhaps he really HAD done something of the kind above referred to?
As a matter of fact, who was he?--not that it could actually be
supposed that he was a forger of notes, still less a brigand, seeing
that his exterior was respectable in the highest degree. Yet who was
he? At length the tchinovniks decided to make enquiries among those of
whom he had purchased souls, in order that at least it might be learnt
what the purchases had consisted of, and what exactly underlay them,
and whether, in passing, he had explained to any one his real
intentions, or revealed to any one his identity. In the first
instance, therefore, resort was had to Korobotchka. Yet little was
gleaned from that source--merely a statement that he had bought of her
some souls for fifteen roubles apiece, and also a quantity of
feathers, while promising also to buy some other commodities in the
future, seeing that, in particular, he had entered into a contract
with the Treasury for lard, a fact constituting fairly presumptive
proof that the man was a rogue, seeing that just such another fellow
had bought a quantity of feathers, yet had cheated folk all round,
and, in particular, had done the Archpriest out of over a hundred
roubles. Thus the net result of Madame's cross-examination was to
convince the tchinovniks that she was a garrulous, silly old woman.
With regard to Manilov, he replied that he would answer for Chichikov
as he would for himself, and that he would gladly sacrifice his
property in toto if thereby he could attain even a tithe of the
qualities which Paul Ivanovitch possessed. Finally, he delivered on
Chichikov, with acutely-knitted brows, a eulogy couched in the most
charming of terms, and coupled with sundry sentiments on the subject
of friendship and affection in general. True, these remarks sufficed
to indicate the tender impulses of the speaker's heart, but also they
did nothing to enlighten his examiners concerning the business that
was actually at hand. As for Sobakevitch, that landowner replied that
he considered Chichikov an excellent fellow, as well as that the souls
whom he had sold to his visitor had been in the truest sense of the
word alive, but that he could not answer for anything which might
occur in the future, seeing that any difficulties which might arise in
the course of the actual transferment of souls would not be HIS fault,
in view of the fact that God was lord of all, and that fevers and other
mortal complaints were so numerous in the world, and that instances
of whole villages perishing through the same could be found on record.
Finally, our friends the tchinovniks found themselves compelled to
resort to an expedient which, though not particularly savoury, is not
infrequently employed--namely, the expedient of getting lacqueys
quietly to approach the servants of the person concerning whom
information is desired, and to ascertain from them (the servants)
certain details with regard to their master's life and antecedents.
Yet even from this source very little was obtained, since Petrushka
provided his interrogators merely with a taste of the smell of his
living-room, and Selifan confined his replies to a statement that the
barin had "been in the employment of the State, and also had served in
In short, the sum total of the results gathered by the tchinovniks was
that they still stood in ignorance of Chichikov's identity, but that
he MUST be some one; wherefore it was decided to hold a final debate
on the subject on what ought to be done, and who Chichikov could
possibly be, and whether or not he was a man who ought to be
apprehended and detained as not respectable, or whether he was a man
who might himself be able to apprehend and detain THEM as persons
lacking in respectability. The debate in question, it was proposed,
should be held at the residence of the Chief of Police, who is known
to our readers as the father and the general benefactor of the town.
On assembling at the residence indicated, the tchinovniks had occasion
to remark that, owing to all these cares and excitements, every one of
their number had grown thinner. Yes, the appointment of a new
Governor-General, coupled with the rumours described and the reception
of the two serious documents above-mentioned, had left manifest traces
upon the features of every one present. More than one frockcoat had
come to look too large for its wearer, and more than one frame had
fallen away, including the frames of the President of the Council, the
Director of the Medical Department, and the Public Prosecutor. Even a
certain Semen Ivanovitch, who, for some reason or another, was never
alluded to by his family name, but who wore on his index finger a ring
with which he was accustomed to dazzle his lady friends, had
diminished in bulk. Yet, as always happens at such junctures, there
were also present a score of brazen individuals who had succeeded in
NOT losing their presence of mind, even though they constituted a
mere sprinkling. Of them the Postmaster formed one, since he was a man
of equable temperament who could always say: "WE know you,
Governor-Generals! We have seen three or four of you come and go,
whereas WE have been sitting on the same stools these thirty years."
Nevertheless a prominent feature of the gathering was the total
absence of what is vulgarly known as "common sense." In general, we
Russians do not make a good show at representative assemblies, for the
reason that, unless there be in authority a leading spirit to control
the rest, the affair always develops into confusion. Why this should
be so one could hardly say, but at all events a success is scored only
by such gatherings as have for their object dining and festivity--to
wit, gatherings at clubs or in German-run restaurants. However, on the
present occasion, the meeting was NOT one of this kind; it was a
meeting convoked of necessity, and likely in view of the threatened
calamity to affect every tchinovnik in the place. Also, in addition to
the great divergency of views expressed thereat, there was visible in
all the speakers an invincible tendency to indecision which led them
at one moment to make assertions, and at the next to contradict the
same. But on at least one point all seemed to agree--namely, that
Chichikov's appearance and conversation were too respectable for him
to be a forger or a disguised brigand. That is to say, all SEEMED to
agree on the point; until a sudden shout arose from the direction of
the Postmaster, who for some time past had been sitting plunged in thought.
"_I_ can tell you," he cried, "who Chichikov is!"
"Who, then?" replied the crowd in great excitement.
"He is none other than Captain Kopeikin."
"And who may Captain Kopeikin be?"
Taking a pinch of snuff (which he did with the lid of his snuff-box
half-open, lest some extraneous person should contrive to insert a not
over-clean finger into the stuff), the Postmaster related the
 To reproduce this story with a raciness worthy of the Russian
original is practically impossible. The translator has not
attempted the task.
"After fighting in the campaign of 1812, there was sent home, wounded,
a certain Captain Kopeikin--a headstrong, lively blade who, whether on
duty or under arrest, made things lively for everybody. Now, since at
Krasni or at Leipzig (it matters not which) he had lost an arm and a
leg, and in those days no provision was made for wounded soldiers, and
he could not work with his left arm alone, he set out to see his
father. Unfortunately his father could only just support himself, and
was forced to tell his son so; wherefore the Captain decided to go and
apply for help in St. Petersburg, seeing that he had risked his life
for his country, and had lost much blood in its service. You can
imagine him arriving in the capital on a baggage waggon--in the
capital which is like no other city in the world! Before him there lay
spread out the whole field of life, like a sort of Arabian Nights--a
picture made up of the Nevski Prospect, Gorokhovaia Street, countless
tapering spires, and a number of bridges apparently supported on
nothing--in fact, a regular second Nineveh. Well, he made shift to
hire a lodging, but found everything so wonderfully furnished with
blinds and Persian carpets and so forth that he saw it would mean
throwing away a lot of money. True, as one walks the streets of St.
Petersburg one seems to smell money by the thousand roubles, but our
friend Kopeikin's bank was limited to a few score coppers and a little
silver--not enough to buy a village with! At length, at the price of a
rouble a day, he obtained a lodging in the sort of tavern where the
daily ration is a bowl of cabbage soup and a crust of bread; and as he
felt that he could not manage to live very long on fare of that kind
he asked folk what he had better do. 'What you had better do?' they
said. 'Well the Government is not here--it is in Paris, and the troops
have not yet returned from the war; but there is a TEMPORARY
Commission sitting, and you had better go and see what IT can do for
you.' 'All right!' he said. 'I will go and tell the Commission that I
have shed my blood, and sacrificed my life, for my country.' And he
got up early one morning, and shaved himself with his left hand (since
the expense of a barber was not worth while), and set out, wooden leg
and all, to see the President of the Commission. But first he asked
where the President lived, and was told that his house was in
Naberezhnaia Street. And you may be sure that it was no peasant's hut,
with its glazed windows and great mirrors and statues and lacqueys and
brass door handles! Rather, it was the sort of place which you would
enter only after you had bought a cheap cake of soap and indulged in a
two hours' wash. Also, at the entrance there was posted a grand Swiss
footman with a baton and an embroidered collar--a fellow looking like
a fat, over-fed pug dog. However, friend Kopeikin managed to get
himself and his wooden leg into the reception room, and there squeezed
himself away into a corner, for fear lest he should knock down the
gilded china with his elbow. And he stood waiting in great
satisfaction at having arrived before the President had so much as
left his bed and been served with his silver wash-basin. Nevertheless,
it was only when Kopeikin had been waiting four hours that a breakfast
waiter entered to say, 'The President will soon be here.' By now the
room was as full of people as a plate is of beans, and when the
President left the breakfast-room he brought with him, oh, such
dignity and refinement, and such an air of the metropolis! First he
walked up to one person, and then up to another, saying: 'What do
YOU want? And what do YOU want? What can I do for YOU? What is
YOUR business?' And at length he stopped before Kopeikin, and
Kopeikin said to him: 'I have shed my blood, and lost both an arm and
a leg, for my country, and am unable to work. Might I therefore dare
to ask you for a little help, if the regulations should permit of it,
or for a gratuity, or for a pension, or something of the kind?' Then
the President looked at him, and saw that one of his legs was indeed a
wooden one, and that an empty right sleeve was pinned to his uniform.
'Very well,' he said. 'Come to me again in a few days' time.' Upon
this friend Kopeikin felt delighted. 'NOW I have done my job!' he
thought to himself; and you may imagine how gaily he trotted along the
pavement, and how he dropped into a tavern for a glass of vodka, and
how he ordered a cutlet and some caper sauce and some other things for
luncheon, and how he called for a bottle of wine, and how he went to
the theatre in the evening! In short, he did himself thoroughly well.
Next, he saw in the street a young English lady, as graceful as a
swan, and set off after her on his wooden leg. 'But no,' he thought to
himself. 'To the devil with that sort of thing just now! I will wait
until I have drawn my pension. For the present I have spent enough.'
(And I may tell you that by now he had got through fully half his
money.) Two or three days later he went to see the President of the
Commission again. 'I should be glad to know,' he said, 'whether by now
you can do anything for me in return for my having shed my blood and
suffered sickness and wounds on military service.' 'First of all,'
said the President, 'I must tell you that nothing can be decided in
your case without the authority of the Supreme Government. Without
that sanction we cannot move in the matter. Surely you see how things
stand until the army shall have returned from the war? All that I can
advise you to do is wait for the Minister to return, and, in the
meanwhile, to have patience. Rest assured that then you will not be
overlooked. And if for the moment you have nothing to live upon, this
is the best that I can do for you.' With that he handed Kopeikin a
trifle until his case should have been decided. However, that was not
what Kopeikin wanted. He had supposed that he would be given a
gratuity of a thousand roubles straight away; whereas, instead of
'Drink and be merry,' it was 'Wait, for the time is not yet.' Thus,
though his head had been full of soup plates and cutlets and English
girls, he now descended the steps with his ears and his tail
down--looking, in fact, like a poodle over which the cook has poured a
bucketful of water. You see, St. Petersburg life had changed him not a
little since first he had got a taste of it, and, now that the devil
only knew how he was going to live, it came all the harder to him that
he should have no more sweets to look forward to. Remember that a man
in the prime of years has an appetite like a wolf; and as he passed a
restaurant he could see a round-faced, holland-shirted, snow-white
aproned fellow of a French chef preparing a dish delicious enough to
make it turn to and eat itself; while, again, as he passed a fruit
shop he could see delicacies looking out of a window for fools to come
and buy them at a hundred roubles apiece. Imagine, therefore, his
position! On the one hand, so to speak, were salmon and water-melons,
while on the other hand was the bitter fare which passed at a tavern
for luncheon. 'Well,' he thought to himself, 'let them do what they
like with me at the Commission, but I intend to go and raise the whole
place, and to tell every blessed functionary there that I have a mind
to do as I choose.' And in truth this bold impertinence of a man did
have the hardihood to return to the Commission. 'What do you want?'
said the President. 'Why are you here for the third time? You have had
your orders given you.' 'I daresay I have,' he retorted, 'but I am not
going to be put off with THEM. I want some cutlets to eat, and a
bottle of French wine, and a chance to go and amuse myself at the
theatre.' 'Pardon me,' said the President. 'What you really need (if I
may venture to mention it) is a little patience. You have been given
something for food until the Military Committee shall have met, and
then, doubtless, you will receive your proper reward, seeing that it
would not be seemly that a man who has served his country should be
left destitute. On the other hand, if, in the meanwhile, you desire to
indulge in cutlets and theatre-going, please understand that we cannot
help you, but you must make your own resources, and try as best you
can to help yourself.' You can imagine that this went in at one of
Kopeikin's ears, and out at the other; that it was like shooting peas
at a stone wall. Accordingly he raised a turmoil which sent the staff
flying. One by one, he gave the mob of secretaries and clerks a real
good hammering. 'You, and you, and you,' he said, 'do not even know
your duties. You are law-breakers.' Yes, he trod every man of them
under foot. At length the General himself arrived from another office,
and sounded the alarm. What was to be done with a fellow like
Kopeikin? The President saw that strong measures were imperative.
'Very well,' he said. 'Since you decline to rest satisfied with what
has been given you, and quietly to await the decision of your case in
St. Petersburg, I must find you a lodging. Here, constable, remove the
man to gaol.' Then a constable who had been called to the door--a
constable three ells in height, and armed with a carbine--a man well
fitted to guard a bank--placed our friend in a police waggon. 'Well,'
reflected Kopeikin, 'at least I shan't have to pay my fare for THIS
ride. That's one comfort.' Again, after he had ridden a little way, he
said to himself: 'they told me at the Commission to go and make my own
means of enjoying myself. Very good. I'll do so.' However, what became
of Kopeikin, and whither he went, is known to no one. He sank, to use
the poet's expression, into the waters of Lethe, and his doings now
lie buried in oblivion. But allow me, gentlemen, to piece together the
further threads of the story. Not two months later there appeared in
the forests of Riazan a band of robbers: and of that band the
chieftain was none other than--"
"Allow me," put in the Head of the Police Department. "You have said
that Kopeikin had lost an arm and a leg; whereas Chichikov--"
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