We will not attempt to conceal from our reader that reflections like those which concluded the last chapter preoccupied the mind of our friend Tchichikoff, at the time when he was casting his eyes around the company before him; the consequence was, that after mature consideration, he closed in with the ranks of the stout men, where he met with faces he was already acquainted with—the Procurator with his dark and heavy eyebrows, who was continually winking his left eye, as if he meant to say, “Follow me into the other room, my friend, and there will I tell you something.” However, he was a serious and sober-minded man; next was the Commissary of Police, a middle-sized man, but sharp and acute, and with all that a philosopher; the Presiding Magistrate, a very judicious and amiable man, who was met by every one with much affability, and treated like an old acquaintance. Tchichikoff bowed low to all of them in turn, though rather lower than they had done, but not without something pleasing in his peculiar mode of salutation.
In this group of men he also made the acquaintance of Mr. Maniloff, a landowner of agreeable and polite manner, and of Mr. Sobakevitch, also a landed proprietor, who at first sight appeared of rather stiff, if not of clumsy carriage, and who, whilst replying to the civilities of Tchichikoff, accidentally trod upon his toe, saying at the same time, “I beg your pardon.” After these introductions, he was presented with a playing card, and invited to join a game of whist, which he accepted as a matter of course, with his usual bow of politeness.
The players took their seats around the green table, which they did not leave until suppertime. All conversation was strictly prohibited, as usually happens when the mind is given up to serious occupations. Although the Postmaster was generally a talkative person, yet, from the instant he felt the cards in his hands, he ceased to be so, and his face assumed the expression of a meditating philosopher. He compressed his upper lip upon the lower one, and kept them in that position nearly during the whole time the game lasted. If he played a court card, he could not help knocking audibly with the knuckles of his hand upon the table, and whispering at the same time, if it was a queen, “off starts the pope’s wife:” if it was a king, “here goes the mouzhik from Tambov!” To this the Presiding Magistrate would coolly reply; “And I will have her! And I shall pull his beard.”
At the same time, and whilst playing a trump card, or knocking against the table, various expressions were made use of, such as, “Ah! bilá ne bilá! I don’t know what to play, so I come out with a diamond;” or simply exclamations of, “Hearts! heartlings! spades! spadelings! club! clublings!” and a variety of other words, epithets and names, with which they had christened in their own immediate circles the various colours of the playing cards.
At the termination of their game, they had as usual in such cases, a few disputes, which they settled in rather a loud voice. Our guest and friend, Mr. Tchichikoff, of course took part in the dispute, but he did so with considerable ability, and so well, that though every one heard him protesting, yet all were obliged to agree that he did so with very good taste indeed. He never said, “you played this or that card,” but “I believe you were pleased to play the ace,” and “I had the honour of covering your knave, Sir,” or something equally civil. And in order to convince his opponents still more upon the subject of their argument, he invariably presented to them his silver snuff-box, on the bottom of which they could perceive tonquin-beans which were placed there on purpose to increase the flavour of his snuff.
The attention of our stranger was particularly attracted by the two landed proprietors, Maniloff and Sobakevitch, of whom we have already had occasion to make mention. He availed himself of the first favourable opportunity to take the Presiding Magistrate and the Postmaster aside, and tried to learn from them all the information they could give him about these two gentlemen. A few questions and answers which passed between them, showed that our hero not only possessed the propensities of an inquisitive disposition, but also cherished a wish for positive information; because he first of all inquired how many serfs each of these landowners possessed, and in what suburbs their estates were situated, and then only bethought himself of asking the Christian names of those in whom he appeared to take such a lively interest.
This mode of taking an interest in persons is rather unusual in Russia, for we always begin our inquiries by asking for the Christian names of father and son first, and then only let our real intentions peep out. However, notwithstanding the omission of this general rule, Tchichikoff succeeded in a very brief time indeed, in completely captivating the good graces of the two gentlemen-farmers. Maniloff, who was yet in the prime of life, with eyes as sweet as sugar, and which he was continually winking when he laughed, was actually charmed with our friend’s person and manners. He pressed his hand warmly and long, and begged of him most urgently to do him the honour of visiting him on his estate, which according to him was not more than fifteen wersts from the gates of the town. To this very polite invitation, Tchichikoff replied by a very civil inclination of the head, and a truly affectionate pressure of the hand, adding that he would not only be happy to do so, but that he considered it even to be his sacred duty to do himself that honour.
Sobakevitch also invited our guest, but he did so in a rather laconic manner, simply saying: “And don’t forget me;” whilst he attempted a bow, accompanied by a scratch with his left foot; this manoeuvre drew the attention of Tchichikoff to his feet, which were shod in such a pair of gigantic boots, that we really believe it would be impossible to meet with a couple of feet proportioned to their size, especially now-a-days, when even Russians begin to look more at shape and fashion.
On the following day, Tchichikoff went to dine and spend the evening with the Commissary of Police, where at three o’clock in the afternoon they sat down to a game of whist, and never rose till two hours after midnight. Here, however, he had the advantage of making the acquaintance of Mr. Nosdrieff, also an owner of some estates, a man of about thirty years of age, and of a very lively and volatile disposition, who, after three or four words, treated our stranger en frère. With the Commissary of Police, Nosdrieff appeared to be also very familiar and on fraternal terms; when they took their seats for the purpose of playing their long game, however, the Commissary of Police and the Procurator had the habit of very carefully examining his tricks, and followed very attentively every card he played.
Upon the following day, Tchichikoff went to pay a visit, and remained to tea at the chief magistrate’s, who received his guests in a dressing gown, which looked somewhat greasy and worn out. Among the company there were also two ladies, whose names our guest did not catch. He also called in the evening upon the Vice-Governor; he dined at the great dinner of the public contractor, and at the modest table of the Procurator, whose dinner must have cost a great deal; and he supped at the Mayor’s, whose supper was worth the two dinners. In a word, Tchichikoff had no two hours time to stay at home, so much was he engaged in town, and if he returned to his hotel, it was only for the purpose of taking necessary rest.
In all respects, our traveller appeared to be welcome everywhere, for he knew how to make himself comfortable in all positions; in short, he proved a man of considerable experience and tact, as well as a complete man of the world. It did not matter to him what question or argument was brought forward; he never seemed embarrassed or at a loss how to sustain the subject; if horses and races were on the tapis, he knew how to give his opinion on races in general, and horse-breeding in particular; if dogs were praised, he was not at a loss to say something about the perfections of the canine race; if the proceedings of the Imperial Courts of Inquiry were discussed, he proved that these cases, as well as the general conduct of the Imperial employés, were familiar to him; if the game of billiards was brought forward, even upon the billiard-table he did not give a miss; if benefactors were praised, he also knew how to acknowledge their merits, even with apparent tears in his eyes; if comments upon distilleries and spirits were expressed, he also knew how to find fault with the spirits of wine, &c.; if the indiscretions of custom-house officers and inspectors were complained of, even them he knew how to judge and condemn, just as if he had himself been a custom-house officer or inspector.
But it was remarkable that he knew how to express and clothe his comments and opinions in such a pleasing and unpretending manner that he never compromised his position. His voice was neither too loud, nor did he whisper, he spoke exactly as a man ought to speak; in a word, you might have turned him any way, and still you would have found him a gentleman, and of course all the Imperial employés of the higher ranks in the town of Smolensk were pleased and satisfied with the appearance and manners of the new and distingué personage who had arrived among them.
The Lord-Lieutenant’s opinion of Tchichikoff was, that he believed him a man of strictly honourable intentions; the Procurator pronounced him a very practical man; the colonel of the garrison said that he was a learned gentleman; the Presiding Magistrate was convinced that he was a man of deep knowledge and great modesty; the Commissary of Police affirmed that Tchichikoff was very civil and amiable; but his wife proclaimed him to be the most amiable and well-bred man she had seen for some time. And even Sobakevitch, who seldom had a good opinion of any one, nevertheless, after his return home from town late at night, and whilst undressing and preparing to retire, said to his wife, a slender lady of not very prepossessing appearance: “My darling heart, I have spent the evening at his Excellency’s the Lord-Lieutenant, I have dined with the Commissary of Police, and have made the acquaintance of Pavel Ivanovitch Tchichikoff, a Councillor of State; an exceedingly amiable gentleman!” whereupon the conjugal couple fell asleep.
Thus our hero had gained golden opinions from all manner of men in the good town of Smolensk, without in any way making known anything which might inform them as to the immediate object of his visit to that town. He was equally reserved as to his antecedents, but we fortunately are well acquainted with them, and for a better comprehension of the following story, we think it will be advisable to let our readers into the secret of Mr. Tchichikoff’s birth, parentage, and education.