Nosdrieff’s guests were obliged to return by the same wet and muddy road on which they came. When they had arrived at the house, Nosdrieff led them into his private cabinet, in which, however, there were no traces of such articles as one would expect to see in a private study: namely, books or papers; the principal ornaments seemed to be a collection of swords, and two rifles, the one the value of about three hundred roubles, the other might have cost eight hundred. The brother-in-law looked around him, shook his head, but said nothing.
After this Nosdrieff exhibited some Turkish daggers, upon the one of them was unfortunately the name of a celebrated Russian armourer of the name of Siberiakoff. The exhibition was concluded by a grinding organ, which the owner began to turn with the intention of entertaining his guests with some music. The organ had a rather pleasing tone, but there seemed to be something wrong with it, because the Mazurka which it was just playing ended with “The Marlborough March,” and “Marlborough’s March” again, was suddenly superseded by a mixture of one of Strauss’ waltzes.
Nosdrieff had long since left off turning the handle, yet there seemed to be an obstinate flute in the organ, which would not cease to send forth a long and plaintive tone, which continued for some considerable time to whistle all by itself. To make up for this mishap, Nosdrieff produced his collection of pipes; there was a great variety of them, some of common red and white clay, some meerschaums already coloured, and some others quite new, some of them were carefully sown into doeskin, others again had no doeskin; he also showed them some cherry tubes of great beauty and length, with amber mouth-pieces, and without any; among those with mouth-pieces there was a very valuable one which he had but recently won in a raffle, he did not fail to boast of an embroidered tobacco-pouch, which he had received from a countess, whilst on his road to Smolensk, and who had fallen head over ears in love with him, and if we are to believe still further what he said about this adventure, the lady’s hands were of such a beautiful shape that he could not find better words to express his appreciation, of their perfection but by calling them “fatally superfine,” which no doubt meant with him the highest degree of perfection.
After having shown all he possessed to his guests, he led them into the dining-room, where they took a small glass of liqueur to excite the appetite, and then sat down to dinner, considerably after five o’clock in the afternoon. A good dinner seemed not to be the first condition in the happy existence of Nosdrieff; a variety of dishes did not play a principal rôle upon his table; some of the eatables were too much roasted, whilst others were not sufficiently cooked. It was obvious that his chef de cuisine was accustomed to a kind of freemasonry in his art, and that he had made up the dishes with the first comestibles that came under his hands or notice; if pepper was the nearest article in his reach, he would throw some pepper into the saucepan, if cabbage was at hand, he was sure to stuff the saucepan with cabbage, add some milk, ham, peas, in a word, everything was thrown pell-mell into the boiler, provided it was hot; as for the taste, he was sure that his cookery would have plenty of that.
To make up for any deficiencies of his cook, Nosdrieff stuck to the wine; soup was not yet served, when he had already supplied his guests with some port wine in two large tumblers, and some Haut Sauterne in two others, because in small provincial towns and country places they do not keep simple Sauterne. Nosdrieff then ordered his servant, Porphir—who served at table—to bring in a bottle of Madeira, of such an exquisite taste and dry quality that the Prince Field-Marshal Paskievitch would have been proud to taste it. The Madeira wine was really of a fiery taste, because the wine merchants were too well acquainted with the taste of landed proprietors, who like a strong and dry glass of Madeira, and for that reason they mix it unmercifully with brandy, and sometimes even with the monopolised imperial raw spirit, in the hope that the excellent constitution of a Russian stomach will be able to digest it.
A little later, Nosdrieff ordered that another bottle should be brought in of some particularly good wine, which, according to his words, was both Burgundy and Champagne; this wine he poured out very freely to the right and to the left, to his brother-in-law and to Tchichikoff; Tchichikoff, however, observed with a side glance, that Nosdrieff had taken but little himself of his extra wine. This made him become very cautious, and, as soon as Nosdrieff seemed warmly engaged in conversation with his brother-in-law, he immediately took advantage of the opportunity to pour some of that extra wine into his plate.
In the course of dinner, a roast heath-cock was put upon the table, which, according to Nosdrieff, would have its mild a taste as cream, but which, to the surprise of his guests, had a positive taste of a badly cooked sea-gull. They then tasted some French beaume, a sweet liqueur with such an extraordinary name that it was quite impossible to recollect it, for the host himself, called it the second time by a different appellation.
They had finished dining long since, and had been drinking all sorts of wine, yet the host and his guests remained seated at table. Tchichikoff did not like the idea of beginning a conversation with Nosdrieff, on his all-important subject, in the presence of his brother-in-law, whom he considered a stranger, and the matter on which he intended to speak to Nosdrieff demanded a private, confidential, and friendly interview.
However, the brother-in-law did not look like a dangerous man at the moment, because he seemed to have taken a copious libation, was moving to and fro in his chair, and continually twitching his nose with his left hand. He began to feel uneasy and as if he had a presentiment of an approaching hopeless condition; he at last begun to beg to be allowed to return home, but with such an idle and heavy voice, as if, to use a Russian phrase, “he was pulling a horse-collar upon the horse’s neck with a pair of pincers.”
“Oh, no, no, no! I shall not allow you to go!” said Nosdrieff.
“Pray do not offend me, my good friend, by detaining me, I really must leave you,” his brother-in-law said, “you will very much offend me if you insist upon my staying any longer.”
“Nonsense, folly! we will presently have a small game.”
“Not I, my dear fellow, you may do as you like; my wife will have all sorts of ideas, I shall have to tell her of the fair. I really must give her some pleasant surprise after my long absence. No, oblige me, and do not try to keep me here any longer.”
“Send your wife to the d—l! what’s the use of your going home in your present state?”
“No, brother! she is such an excellent and virtuous wife; she is full of favours for me—would you believe me, I feel the tears coming into my eyes. No, do not keep me any longer, on my honour as a gentleman, I shall leave you, and I give you this assurance like an honest man.”
“Let him depart, of what good could he be?” Tchichikoff whispered slowly to Nosdrieff.
“You are right, by Jove!” said Nosdrieff, “I cannot bear the sight of these nervous fools!” and he added aloud, “well, the d—l be with you; go and make love to your better-half, you slave to gynæocracy!”
“No, brother, you ought not to call me by any of those foreign names,” his brother-in-law replied, “as for my wife, I owe her my existence. She is an amiable and loving woman and is full of such tenderness—she often moves me to tears; no, the more I think of her the more I wish to return to her; she is sure to ask me what I have seen and done at the fair, and I shall have to tell her all, for she is an angel of a woman!”
“Be off then, and tell her as much as you like! there is your cap.”
“Nay, brother Nosdrieff, you are wrong in wanting respect for your own sister; by committing a breach of politeness towards her, you offend me as well, and you know well what an amiable woman my wife is.”
“Therefore, I cannot advise you better than to hasten into her arms as soon as you like, and sooner if possible!”
“Yes, brother, I must leave you, excuse me, but really I cannot stay any longer. My heart would be rejoiced if I could stay, but I must not tarry any longer.”
Nosdrieff’s brother-in-law continued yet for a considerable time to express his regrets and excuses, without noticing that he had been already seated for some time in his own carriage, that he had long since departed from Nosdrieff’s house, and that nothing but open fields and the high road were before him. It might be easily imagined, that his wife heard but little of what he had seen and done at the fair.