On driving up to the entrance-hall, Tchichikoff perceived the lord of the mansion standing upon the door steps, clad in a long parrot-green coloured surtout, holding his hands over his forehead in lieu of an eye-shade, no doubt for the purpose of concentrating his sight, for the purpose of more minutely examining the arriving carriage. Whilst the britchka was driving nearer towards the house, the eyes of the master seemed to dilate and brighten up by degrees, and his smiles increase in proportion.
“Pavel Ivanovitch,” shouted Maniloff, for it was he, when he beheld Tchichikoff stepping out from the carriage; “at last you have been kind enough to remember us.”
Both friends embraced each other most heartily, and Maniloff led his guest into the house. Although the time necessary for going from the outer premises into the anteroom, thence into the dining-room, until they arrived in the regular reception-room, would be rather short, yet we think it an opportune moment, and will endeavour to make the best use of it and say a few words en passant about the owner of the estate and mansion. But here we must observe that such an undertaking is fraught with many difficulties. It is far easier to delineate a strongly-marked character; to picture such a one is easy, for you have simply to throw the following characteristics upon the canvass, such as, black and piercing eyes, overshadowing eye-brows, a frowning forehead, a black, or fire-coloured large cloak thrown as if carelessly over the left shoulder—like Zamiel in “Der Freischütz”—and the portrait is finished; but there are men in this world, and they are numerous, who at first sight are very much alike, but if you look closer, you will find many unattainable traits and peculiarities in them, which are particularly their own; to describe this species of men is a very difficult task indeed. With them, it is necessary to use strenuous exertions and the greatest attention, before you are able to delineate even a portion of the fine and nearly imperceptible traits of their character, and in general, it is requisite to set about into such an undertaking with an experienced mind and eye.
Heaven alone, therefore, could, with any correctness portray the character of Maniloff. He seemed to belong to that class of men which we term in Russia among the good-natured ones, “neither a clown in town, nor a fool in the village.” At first sight, he was a man of rather prepossessing appearance, and of a pleasing countenance; but these advantages seemed to have been too much sugared by nature. In his manners and demeanour there was something which courted acquaintance and friendship; he smiled enticingly; he was fair, and had blue eyes. In the beginning of a conversation with him it was impossible not to say: “What an agreeable and kind-hearted man!” and the following moment you would say nothing; whilst in the third you would most likely exclaim: “The devil understand the man, and what he means!” and you will leave him; if you have not that good fortune, you are sure to feel a killing ennui. You will not hear from his lips anything amusing, not even an insinuation, which you may hear from any one else, provided you touch but slightly the chord which is most in harmony with his interests.
Every one has his hobby-horse in conversation, as in other matters; the one has all his passion concentrated upon dogs and horses; another fancies he is an herculean admirer of music, and acutely feels all its delicate passages; a third is a passé maître in gastronomy; a fourth endeavouring to play a rôle, if but an inch loftier, then the one assigned to him by nature and his position in society; a fifth, with more moderation in his wishes, meditates how he could manage to be seen on the promenade walking side by side with an imperial colonel, or aide-de-camp, thus to show himself off to his friends known and unknown, in a word, every one has his peculiar ways and manners; but Maniloff had none.
At home he was accustomed to speak but little, for he seemed always busy thinking and meditating, but what about? that also might be known in Heaven. Nor could it be said that he busied himself in the management of his property, for he never took the trouble to visit his fields or his estate in general; thus, then, agriculture was left to go and find its own way. If his steward spoke to him, and suggested an alteration or improvement, saying, “This or that could or might be done for the better.” “Yes, not a bad idea, that of yours, steward,” would be his invariable reply, and he continued to smoke his Turkish pipe, a habit which he had contracted at an early age, while serving in the Caucasus, where he was pronounced to be one of the quietest, nicest, and best-bred officers in the regiment; “Yes, not a bad idea, indeed,” would he repeat in conclusion.
If one of his peasants came to him, and whilst speaking to his lord and master, scratched his head, and stroked his beard, saying: “Would your glory allow me to go to town in search of work, and better my condition?” “Go,” he would reply, and continue to smoke his pipe, for the idea never occurred to him that his serf came to ask him the privilege of absenting himself, for the purpose of becoming a drunkard.
Sometimes Maniloff would also lean over his balcony, and look silently upon the lawn and noisy brook before him, and then add: “How well it would be if there was a subterranean walk leading from the house, or a stone bridge across the murmuring brook, upon which I should have liked to see little shops on either side, occupied by tradesmen, who could satisfy my peasants’ wants.” At such and similar thoughts and wishes, his eyes used to fill to overflowing with their peculiar sweetness, and his countenance expressed the greatest satisfaction; these projects, however, remained what they originally were—thoughts and wishes.
In his study, there was always the same book lying on the same place, with a mark on its seventeenth page, which he had acquired the habit of reading for these last two years. In his house there was continually something wanting, either here or there; in the drawing-room there was some superb furniture covered with rich silken damask, which no doubt must have been very expensive; two chairs, however, were to be seen there, uncovered with this material, no doubt for want of it, and therefore, were left to exhibit their uncovered carcases; nevertheless, Maniloff had every time the politeness to caution his guests not to seat themselves upon any one of them; because, said he, they were not yet ready.
In some of the rooms there was even no furniture at all, although he had often spoken of the necessity of furnishing them, especially during the first weeks after his marriage: “My darting,” he used to say to his wife, “my darling, it will be necessary to provide these rooms with proper furniture, if only temporarily, until we get more settled.” In the evenings, a candlestick of fashionable appearance—dark bronze, with three small figures, representing the graces, and richly ornamented with mother-of-pearl, would be placed on the table; but, next to it another one—a common brass invalid, shaky, bent down on one side, and greasy all over, yet, without either the master, the mistress, or any of the domestics being aware of it. His wife—however, they seemed perfectly satisfied with each other. Although more than eight years had elapsed since they had lived in happy matrimony, still they continued to be upon petits soins one for another, and exchanged all sorts of sweet-meats and affections, which were offered and accepted in the most touching tones of voice, as for an example: “My darling, open your rosy lips, and I will put this sweet little bit into your mouth.” And of course, the pretty little mouth was gracefully opened at such a loving request.
Birth-days were celebrated by exchanging all kinds of agreeable surprises, such as knitted articles and embroideries in silk, wool and pearls, and other ornamental knick-nacks. And very frequently too, whilst the husband was sitting in his easy-chair and his wife on the sofa, either the one or the other party would suddenly rise, heaven knows from what impulse, and leave—he his pipe, and she her needlework, if she happened to have some of it in her hands just at that moment—for the purpose of impressing a tender and such a long and affectionate kiss, that it would have been easy to smoke a pachito during the time this affectionate demonstration lasted.
In short, they were what is commonly called on the happiest terms. Of course, we could observe, that there are many other occupations in a house besides continued kissing and bickering, fating birth-days, and exchanges of presents; and many and various are the questions that could be put as regards a household in general. Why, for instance, is the kitchen department so much neglected? Why are the provision stores so indifferently attended to? Why is the housekeeper dishonest, and why are the servants so slovenly and negligent? Why does the whole batch of domestics sleep so mercilessly long, and waste the time during which they are awake? But all these facts and observations were beneath the notice of Madame Maniloff, for she was well-bred and brought up. And a good education, as is well known everywhere, can only be obtained in a private institution; and in these institutions, as it is well known again, three principal occupations, or subjects, constitute the foundation of female perfections: the French language, as indispensable to conjugal happiness; the pianoforte, as a medium to create some pleasant moments to a husband; and at last, and not least, a general knowledge of household matters: knitting purses, braces, and embroidering generally, for the purpose of exchanging presents.
There are many changes and improvements in various methods of teaching these indispensable branches of human perfections, particularly in the present time; all these, however, depend more or less on the clever or judicious management of the proprietors of these modern and fashionable institutions. In some of these places, the three branches above-named are classed in the following order: first, the piano forte, then the French language, and at last, household knowledge. But in some again it also happens that housekeeping obtains the first rank, i.e., knitting and embroidering of presents; then follows the French language, and the series is concluded most harmoniously by the pianoforte. It is obvious, therefore, that methods of teaching exist in great variety.
It will not be superfluous to observe also that Madame Maniloff—but I think I will stop here with my further remarks, for I must confess I am afraid to speak of ladies; besides, it is high time to return to the gentlemen, who have been already standing for some moments before the door of the reception-room, mutually inviting one another to step in the first.
“Pray do not so much incommode yourself on my account; I shall step in after you,” said Tchichikoff.
“No, my dear Pavel Ivanovitch! pray advance; you are my guest,” replied Maniloff, pointing civilly with his hand towards the door.
“Do not incommode yourself, I beg you will not. Step before me, if you please,” said Tchichikoff.
“No, pardon me, but I shall not suffer such a civil and well-bred guest as you are to follow after me.”
“Why, you overwhelm me with civilities! Pray pass on.”
“Never mind, do me the favour to walk in first.”
“But, my dear Sir, why all these ceremonies?”
“Because—and if you please,” said Maniloff again, using now one of his most enticing smiles, whilst continuing his civil gesticulations.
At last, both friends entered the room backwards, at the same time squeezing one another gently against the door.
“Allow me to introduce you to my wife,” said Maniloff. “My darling, allow me to introduce to you our friend Pavel Ivanovitch Tchichikoff.”
And in truth, Tchichikoff now beheld for the first time a lady, whom he had not observed during the moments that elapsed whilst he was exchanging complimentary gestures with his host. She was pretty, and dressed with taste. The light gris de perle coloured morning capotte became her exceedingly well; her finely-shaped hand was in the act of throwing some needlework hastily upon the table, and snatching up instead a fine batiste pocket-handkerchief with prettily-embroidered corners and initials. She rose slightly from her seat on the sofa, and gracefully welcomed her guest; and Tchichikoff hastened with evident eagerness to kiss her hand in the old Russian fashion.
Madame Maniloff spoke in a slightly affected tone of voice, and assured her guest that he caused them a real pleasure indeed by his arrival, and that her husband had not allowed a day to pass without speaking of him, his friend, continually.
“Yes,” added Maniloff, “my wife has already several times inquired after you, and even often said, ‘Why does your Petersburg friend not come?’ ‘Wait a little longer, my darling, he is sure to arrive, for he gave me his promise.’ At last, you have been kind enough to gratify us with your presence. Indeed, you cause us quite a delight, as pleasant as a May-day, or ‘birth-day of the heart.'”
Tchichikoff, on hearing that his host’s exaltation had already attained such a pitch as to call his arrival a gratification as pleasant as a “birth-day of the heart,” became a little confused, and answered civilly, and in a dignified tone of voice, that he could not boast of a princely name nor of an exalted position.
“You possess all,” Maniloff interrupted, whilst sweetly smiling as usual, “you possess all, and even more.”.
“How did you like our town?” added Madame Maniloff. “Have you spent your time pleasantly?”
“A very charming and pleasant town, my lady,” answered Tchichikoff, “and I have spent a most agreeable week indeed; I have been in the choicest company.”
“And how did you like our Lord-Lieutenant?” Madame Maniloff again inquired.
“Is he not one of the most civil and amiable men in our province?” added, in his turn, Mr. Maniloff.
“That is perfectly true,” said Tchichikoff; “he is a highly accomplished and estimable man. How well he knows how to enter into the spirit of his exalted position, and how well he understands all his arduous duties! It is desirable to see many more such men administering our country!”
“And how kind and civil he is in his receptions, and how delicate and condescending in his manners;” Maniloff added again, with a smiling face, whilst satisfaction made him nearly close his eyes, like a cat when gently tickled with the finger behind the ear.
“A very condescending and agreeable man indeed,” continued Tchichikoff; “and how clever he is, to be sure! I never anticipated that much of him. How well and tastefully he embroiders various household ornaments! He showed me a purse of his own knitting, and I must confess that I doubt whether a lady could do it much better.”
“And the Vice-Governor, is he not an amiable gentleman?” questioned Maniloff, again closing his eyes slightly.
“A very, very deserving man indeed,” replied Tchichikoff.
“But allow me to ask you, how did you like the Commissioner of Police? Am I not right in saying he is a very agreeable man?”
“An exceedingly agreeable man, and, at the same time, what a learned, what a well-informed man! I spent an evening at his house, where we played a game at whist with the imperial Procurator and the President of the Courts of Justice: we were assembled till the last cock crowed, and I agree with you, he is indeed a most estimable man.”
“And pray, what is your opinion of his wife?” inquired Madame Maniloff. “She is a charming lady?”
“Oh, Madame, she is one of the most worthy ladies with whom I have the honour to be acquainted,” replied Tchichikoff with an air of conviction.
After enumerating all these persons in due rotation, and in the manner described, they did not fail to bestow equal praise also upon the President of the Courts of Justice, the Postmaster-General, and, in fact, upon all the higher employés in the town of Smolensk, who, in their opinion, seemed to be one and all the most respectable and praiseworthy persons in the province, if not in the vast Russian Empire.
“And pray, do you spend all your time here in the country?” demanded Tchichikoff, in his turn, at last, and with the evident attempt to change the subject of conversation.
“Mostly here,” replied Maniloff. “Sometimes, however, we go to town to spend a day or two and pay a few visits, just for the sake of a little recreation and intercourse with civilized society. One is apt to become boorish from living continually shut up in a country residence.”
“True, very true,” said Tchichikoff.
“Naturally,” continued Maniloff. “It would be a different life if we had some pleasant neighbours, or acquaintance with persons with whom, in some respects, we could have some friendly intercourse and exchange opinions, talk about life and good company, or have an argument on some scientific subject, and thus stir up the dormant spirit, which again, as you well know, would give an impulse—”
Here he intended to express something more, and be if possible more explicit; but finding that he had lost the thread of his own ideas, he began to gesticulate with his hand in the air, and then continued to speak:
“Then of course the country and retirement would have many still more pleasant attractions. But we have no such persons around us. The only recreation we enjoy now and then is a book or a newspaper.”
Tchichikoff fully agreed with Maniloff’s opinion, and added, “That there can be nothing pleasanter than to live in retirement, to delight in the scenes of nature, and to read now and then a good book as a recreation.”
“But allow me to tell you,” said Maniloff, “that having no such friend with whom to exchange—”
“Oh, to be sure, that is true indeed!” interrupted Tchichikoff, “for what are all the treasures of this world? ‘Care not so much for money as for good connections!’ said some clever man somewhere.”
“And you know it, Pavel Ivanovitch!” said Maniloff, whilst giving to his face not only more than its usual expression of sweetness, but even, if possible, an expression not unlike the mixture concocted by a clever physician of the world, who mercilessly sweetens his drugs, in the hope of pleasing is patients all the more. “Then, one feels a sensation—or something not unlike the ‘heart’s rejoicing’—something like that which I feel now, when chance gives me the felicity—nay, allow me to say, the exceptional gratification of seeing you here, and being delighted with your very pleasant conversation—”
“Pray pardon me, but why do you call me and my conversation so pleasant? I am an humble man, and nothing else,” replied Tchichikoff, with great humility.
“Oh, my dear Pavel Ivanovitch, allow me to be candid. I would give away the half of my property, if I could possess but the half of the accomplishments that you can boast of.”
“On the contrary, I on my part would esteem it as the highest—”
It is impossible to say to what extent the expressions of mutual esteem and admiration would have been carried between the two friends, if the entrance of a servant had not interrupted them, who came to announce that dinner was ready.
“Allow me to invite you to our table,” said Maniloff, respectfully.
“You will excuse us, if we cannot ask you to a dinner like those you have been accustomed to partake of in the metropolis: with us all is simplicity—a modest; meal à la Russe, but offered with a candid heart,” added Madame Maniloff.
Hereupon the two men had again a slight and polite difference as to who should enter before the other, but at last Tchichikoff entered the dining-room backwards.