The first toast proposed after luncheon, was as our reader may easily and naturally imagine, to the health and prosperity of the noble landed proprietor from the government of Kherson; then, to the welfare and happy settlement on his estate of his newly acquired peasants; and last, not least, to the health of his intended spouse, the boisterous hip, hip, hurrahs, which followed the last toast, forcing a pleasant smile from the lips of our hero.
Immediately after his health had been drank, he was at once surrounded by every one present, one and all of whom begged and entreated him to prolong his sojourn in Smolensk for, at least, two weeks.
“No, no, Pavel Ivanovitch! say what you like, but give way to our persuasions, for you cannot deny our proverbs, and if you leave us you would but cool our huts—enter upon the threshold and retreat! No, no, you had better stop and spend your time with us! We will marry you if you like; what do you say to that Ivan Gregorievitch, shall we marry him?”
“We’ll marry him, we’ll find him a wife,” his Excellency the President rejoined. “However much you might feel inclined to struggle with hands and feet against it, we are determined to marry you! No, excellent papa, there is no getting out of this, since you have fallen among us, you must not complain. We are not jesting with you.”
“Well, gentlemen, why should I struggle, with hands and feet?” said Tchichikoff, smiling. “Matrimonial ties are not to be rejected thoughtlessly, provided the bride could be found.”
“We’ll find you a bride. How should we not? We shall find everything, all—whatever your heart may wish for.”
“Ah! in such a case—”
“Bravo! he will stay!” was the general shout. “Vivat! hurra to our Pavel Ivanovitch Tchichikoff! Hip! hip! hurrah!” And all approached him again to shake hands and touch glasses. Tchichikoff made his response to everybody. “Stop, stop, once more!” said those of a more lively disposition, and touched glasses again; they then assailed him for a third time, and touched glasses for a third time.
In a very short time afterwards they became all very gay and lively. The President, who was a most amiable man when in a cheerful disposition, embraced Tchichikoff several times and in the excess of his overflowing heart, said to him, “Oh, you are my darling—my mother!” and then he would smack his fingers at him, and begin to dance and sing around him.
After the champagne, they had some sparkling Hungarian wine, which considerably heightened the good-humour of the company. They had now entirely forgotten their game of whist; they were arguing loudly, shouting, singing and speaking of everything, not even excluding politics, nor the military preparations that were carried on already at that time with hostile intentions towards Turkey; which, as a matter of course, led them further on to express their mutual disapprobation of the Emperor’s conduct, and which free expressions at any other time they would have severely resented even from their children.
In this instance, they conversed freely and decided the most important questions of state, which would have considerably embarrassed even a Menschikoff and a Nesselrode. Tchichikoff never felt so happy and well-disposed as on this occasion, and fancied himself to be really a landed proprietor of the beautiful province of Kherson; he began to speak of a variety of improvements; on the system of English and American improvements in agriculture and machinery; on the happiness and beatitude of two loving hearts, and even began to recite to Sobakevitch the verses of Werther to Charlotte, to which declamation the other could do nothing better than wink with his eyes, because, after the meal he had made of the sturgeon, he felt a great inclination for a doze.
Tchichikoff now began to feel that he was becoming rather too free and communicative, and therefore accepted the droschki of the Procurator. The coachman of the imperial gentleman proved to be a fellow of a sharp intellect, and displayed it on the road, for he did not guide his horses with both hands, but contrived to do so with his left only, whilst with his right, he managed to help the gentleman to keep his seat on the equipage. In this manner, our hero drove home in a strange carriage, whilst a thousand stranger ideas kept continually crossing his mind. A fair bride, with golden hair, rosy cheeks with a mole on both, a splendid estate and villages in the fair province of Kherson, and a large fortune to match it. Selifan even received some sundry instructions concerning his new method of administration, to call together all the recently acquired serfs, and to pass them in review one by one, and show them the land and hut allotted to them in their new settlement by their noble lord and master.
Selifan listened silently and for a long while, but then he left the room, saying to Petruschka, “Petruschka, go and undress your master.” Petruschka began to take off his boots, and his master succeeded in undressing himself properly; and after turning over several times in his bed, which in consequence creaked most unmercifully, he fell asleep, under the positive impression that he was a landed proprietor of the fair province of Kherson.
Meanwhile, Petruschka carried into the lobby the pantaloons and the snuff-coloured dress-coat with the brass buttons, and having spread them across a wooden stand, he began to whip and brush so well and much that the landing of the staircase was soon filled with a cloud of dust.
As he was on the point of taking the clothes off, he happened to glance down the landing and saw Selifan, who was returning from the stable; their glances met, and they at once understood one another as if by intuition. “Our master is fast asleep, now is our time to go and look about a little.” To take the dress-coat and trowsers into the room was done in an instant, and immediately after Petruschka had rejoined his friend below, and both went out together.
Not a word was said about where they intended to go, and on the road they talked of the most indifferent subjects. Their walk was not a long one; they simply crossed the street and entered the house opposite to the inn; they then approached a low smoky glass door, which led, as it were, into a cellar, where they beheld a number of strange-looking people sitting around wooden tables; some were well shaved, others again wore their beard long, according to the national custom; some were dressed in a sheep-skin with the wool inside, others again simply in shirt-sleeves, and here and there a few in a common felt cloak.
What Petruschka and Selifan did there, we cannot say, but when they left the house in about an hour after they entered it, they made their appearance in the open street, arm-in-arm, preserving a strict silence, but helping and upholding one another most carefully, and cleverly avoiding each stone and turning. Hand-in-hand and holding each other strongly, they remained for more than a quarter of an hour at the foot of the staircase; at last, being convinced that they were right, they began the ascent, in which they succeeded to their mutual satisfaction after many exertions.
They now entered the room, and Petruschka stood musingly for a few minutes before his bedstead, which, as our reader may perhaps recollect, was of the most wretched description; he was thinking how he should lie down in order to sleep with the greatest degree of comfort, at last he laid himself down perfectly across the bed, so that his feet rested upon the floor. Selifan laid himself down also upon the same bed, but so that his head rested upon the stomach of his comrade, and thus forgot completely that he had no right to sleep in this room at all, but ought to have gone down in the lower hall or in his stable to watch his horses.
In this position they both fell immediately fast asleep, and began to snore as loudly and as deeply as any Russian bear could possibly snore; their deep notes were answered from the other room by their master, in a fine, nasal, steam-pipe whistle. Soon after, the whole of the establishment had sunk as it were into a magic slumber, with the exception, however, of one lonely window, in which a light was yet glimmering; this room was occupied by the lieutenant who had arrived with his own carriage and horses. According to the head-waiter’s information, he came from Rizan, and was evidently passionately fond of boots, or he had already ordered four pair of Wellingtons and was now busily engaged in trying on the fifth pair.
He had already several times approached his bed with the evident object of laying down to his rest, but it was impossible—he could not succeed; the boots were too well-made, and he continued yet for a considerable time to look at and admire his boots, which were very well made indeed; the heels especially seemed to keep his attention awake, because they were extensively high—according to the latest fashion.