After such strong arguments as those with which we concluded the last chapter, Tchichikoff could not doubt any longer that the old lady would give way and consent to his proposal.
“Truly,” replied the old matron, with an air of simplicity, “and considering that I am a poor and inexperienced widow, who have no regular insight into business matters, I think it will be better for me not to be in a hurry in this bargain; I shall wait a little time, some other purchaser may come, and, meanwhile I should be able to obtain some information about the prices.”
“For shame, for shame, my good lady! It’s really a shame. What are you speaking now, pray consider? Who ever will come upon the idea of buying your dead serfs? What benefit could possibly be derived from them?”
“They might perhaps be turned to some account in a household—” replied the old woman, but did not finish her phrase, but looked him into the face as if frightened at the idea herself, and yet anxious to know what he would say in reply.
“Turn the dead to account in a household! Wherever have you heard of that before? Would you perhaps use them as guys in your orchards to frighten the sparrows away?”
“The holy powers be with us! What strange language you douse to be sure!” exclaimed the widow whilst crossing herself.
“Where else would you like to put them? however, I will leave you their skeletons as well as their graves; I only want you to transfer them to me on paper. Well then, what do you say? Will you agree? pray give me an answer at least!”
The old lady began to reflect again.
“What are you thinking about, Anastasia Petrovna?”
“I really do not know what to decide upon, you had better buy some flax of me.”
“What am I to do with your flax? I am really surprised at you; I speak to you of quite a different matter, and you want to stuff me with flax! Everything in proper time, I will call at some other time, and then I shall have no objection to deal with you for your flax. Now, then, Anastasia Petrovna, how is it to be?”
“By my saints, the goods you want, are so very strange, so very unusual!”
Here Tchichikoff outstepped the bounds of patience, and rising from his chair, he upset it in his fury, and wished the old woman to the devil.
At the name of the devil, the old woman became unusually alarmed.
“Oh, pray do not mention him! the Lord preserve us!” she exclaimed, whilst trembling violently with a pale face. “It is only three nights ago since I dreamt of the evil one all night long. I happened to come upon the idea of wishing to tell my own fortune by a pack of cards, just shortly after I had said my evening prayers, and it seems that the Lord has sent him out against me to punish me for my wickedness. Oh, he was so frightfully ugly; and his horns seemed by far larger than those of my oxen.”
“I am only surprised that you don’t dream of them by scores. Prompted by a feeling of Christian humanity, I intended, on seeing a poor and lonely widow striving against difficulties—no, I will not do it now, and may what will become of you and of your whole village!”
“Oh, how you do swear, to be sure!” said the widow, whilst looking terrified.
“But it is quite impossible to keep my temper with you. Without wishing to give you offence, I cannot help quoting an old proverb, and compare you to a farm-yard animal,—the species of which, out of respect for you, I will forbear mentioning—lying on a hay-stack, not eating itself, and preventing others from doing so. I should have liked to purchase even some of your household produce, because I am in the habit of contracting also for imperial supplies.”
In saying this he slightly imposed upon the old lady; however, it seemed to slip quite accidentally from his tongue, without any premeditation; it served, however, to further his views, quite unexpectedly. Contractors for the supply of the imperial army, the sense which these words conveyed, had a very strong effect upon the nervous system of Anastasia Petrovna, at least, it made her articulate the following words in almost a nearly supplicating voice:
“But, my good Sir, what is the cause of your great anger and impatience? If I had known beforehand that you were a gentleman of such a hot temper, I would, of course, not have given you the slightest provocation.”
“I too have a reason to be angry with you? Bah, you are mistaken, the thing is not worth an egg-shell, and wherefore should I lose my good temper?”
“Very well, then, my good Sir, I am ready to let you have them for fifteen roubles, in bank notes; but pray remember me in your contracts of supply; if you should want to purchase some rye-flour, oatmeal, or some wheat, and some cattle, then please do not forget to treat me as a friend.”
“I shall not take any advantage over you, my worthy woman,” said Tchichikoff; meanwhile he used his hand to wipe away the perspiration from his forehead, which was running down his face in three large streams. He inquired of her, if she had perchance, an agent in town, or a friend whom she could intrust with the signature of the contract of sale in her name, and any other authorization that might be deemed necessary in the completion of the document.
“To be sure I have, the proto-pope’s father, Kirilla’s son, serves in the very government office in which you will have to sign the papers,” answered the widow. Tchichikoff asked her to address him a letter of authorization, and in order to avoid her any further trouble, offered to compose and write it out for her.
“It would be a good thing,” thought Lady Korobotchka, “if he would contract for some of my grains and cattle, I must try to please him now: let me see? yes, there is some of yesterday’s paste still left. I’ll go and tell Fetinia to make him some pancakes; it would be also a good idea to bake him a sweet cake stuffed with eggs, I know they bake it well in my house, and besides it will take but little time and trouble.”
The good old lady left the room with the intention of carrying out her hospitable projects about the sweet egg cakes, to which no doubt she meant to make the addition of a few more of the eatables that are generally stored up in the household of Russian families living in the country. Tchichikoff made use of this opportunity, and entered the reception-room in which he had passed the night, with the intention of taking the necessary writing materials from his dressing-case. The reception-room was already swept, and in good order, the luxurious feather-bed had been removed, a table was placed before the sofa, and covered with a white cloth. After depositing his dressing-case upon the table, Tchichikoff sat down to rest himself a little, because he felt himself as wet from perspiration as if he had been plunged into the river; every article of his dress, beginning from the shirt down to his stockings, was ringing wet.
“Ough! how mercilessly the old tiger cat has treated me to be sure!” said he, after taking breath again, and opening his dressing-case.
The author is of opinion, that there are a great many readers, who are sufficiently inquisitive to wish to know something more about the construction of the inner compartments of this dressing-case, made in the French style by some Russian mechanic. If we are right, why should we not gratify them? Here then is the interior arrangements: in the centre, you may imagine you behold the shaving apparatus, such as brushes and soap box, next to them, six or seven partitions for razors; then on either side, a square opening for ink and sand-stands, with a hollow or curved shelf for pens, pencils, sealing wax, and all such things of longitude; then again a few more partitions, with and without covers, for such articles as are of a shorter kind, and they were filled with visiting cards, invitations to christenings and funerals, playbills, and a variety of other small articles, which he secured to keep as souvenirs. All this upper division, with its various compartments could be taken out, and you would have seen a space occupied by heaps of writing paper of all sizes, then followed a small but hidden box of money, which was opened by a secret spring fixed in the side of the case. He always had the habit of opening this money-safe so hurriedly, that it was quite impossible to see how much money he carried about with him when travelling. After having produced the necessary material, Tchichikoff arranged his pen and began to write. At that moment Lady Korobotchka entered the room.
“What a pretty dressing-case you have, my good Sir,” said the widow to him, whilst sitting down close to him. “No doubt you bought that pretty box in Moscow?”
“Yes, my lady, in Moscow,” answered Tchichikoff, continuing to write.
“Thought as much; for everything is well made there. About three years ago, my sister bought some warm shoes for her children, and they were so well made, that they have lasted them even till now; the material is excellent in Moscow! Oh, ye saints, what a collection of stamped papers you have there!” she continued, whilst casting a look into his dressing-case.
And she was right, he had a large quantity of stamped paper.
“I wish you would make me a present, if but of a sheet! I am quite out of it for the present; it might happen that I shall have to write a petition, and have no suitable paper.”
Tchichikoff explained to her that the paper was not of that description, that it could only be used for the purpose of drawing up contracts of sale, but not petitions. However, in order to quiet as well as to please her, he presented her with an old sheet of trifling value.
When he had written the letter he requested her to sign it, and demanded at the same time a list of the names of those of her dead serfs, as he was shortly about to consider as his property. It appeared, however, that Lady Korobotchka was not in the habit of keeping any accounts or lists, but could remember the name of everyone by heart; Tchichikoff was, therefore, obliged to note them down as she dictated their names in due rotation.
The names of a few of his future dependants did puzzle him considerably, but much more so their surnames, which seemed to have been given to them by their lawful mistress as distinguishing marks of their various professions. After having taken down their names with the different items, Tchichikoff stopped to take breath, and inhaled a savoury perfume, like that of melted butter.
“Will you please to come and take a little luncheon now?” said his amiable hostess.
Tchichikoff looked round, and saw the table covered with a variety of good things, such as mushrooms, fish, pies, muffins, pancakes, to which there was a variety of sweet and fat sauces, sauces mixed with sweet onions, sauces mixed with poppy-seed, cream and butter sauces, sprat and other small fish sauces.
“Pray taste this pie with egg and meat stuffing, first,” said Lady Korobotchka.
Tchichikoff seated himself at once to the strongly-recommended pie with egg and meat stuffing, and after having eaten nearly the half of it, he began to praise it very much. And indeed, the pie was really very excellently prepared, and considering the bother he had to come to an understanding with the old lady, it seemed particularly delicious.
“And now some pancakes or muffins, if you please?” said she again.
In reply to this, Tchichikoff rolled up three pancakes at once, and after dipping them in the melted butter, he dispatched them into his mouth, and wiped his greasy lips and hands upon the clean napkin. After repeating this operation twice or three times, he begged his hostess to order his horses to be put to his britchka. Anastasia Petrovna immediately called her servant Fetinia, gave her the necessary instructions, and ordered her at the same time to bring a fresh supply of hot pancakes.
“Your pancakes are delicious, indeed,” said Tchichikoff, whilst helping himself freely to some more of the hot ones that were put before him.
“Yes, they bake them well at my house,” replied his hostess; “it is only a pity that we have such bad harvests, which makes the flour so very dear. But why do you hurry yourself so much, my dear Sir?” she said to Tchichikoff, when she saw him take up his travelling-cap, “your carriage cannot yet be ready and waiting?”
“That will soon be done, my good lady. I keep my coachman always alive to his duty.”
“Well, then, pray do not forget me in your contracts for the imperial supplies.”
“I shall not forget you, my excellent lady, I shall not forget you,” repeated Tchichikoff, whilst walking out of the house.
“Do you by chance buy pig’s grease?” inquired the widow, whilst following him from behind.
“Why should I not buy some? of course I do, but that will be at some other time.”
“I shall have some pig’s grease to offer to you at Christmas.”
“I will buy some of you, I will, indeed, I am ready to buy anything of you later, even pig’s grease.”
“You may, perhaps, also like to buy some birds’ feathers of all descriptions of me. I shall have a quantity at Michaelmas next.”
“Very well, very well, my good lady,” answered Tchichikoff.
“There, you see, my good Sir, your britchka is not yet ready,” said his hostess, when they had arrived upon, the door-step.
“Oh, never mind, it will soon be ready. Pray tell me only how we shall have to drive to come upon the high road?”
“How should I explain that to you? Let me see,” said the old lady after a moment’s reflection; “it is rather difficult to describe because there are so many turnings; perhaps I had better give you a little girl to show you the road. I dare say you will have a small seat for her to sit upon on your carriage?”
“Yes, to be sure I have.”
“Very well, then, I will intrust you with one of my little girls; she knows the road well enough, but look you here! do not decoy her, for some of the merchants have already carried one of my girls off.”
Tchichikoff promised her that he would not kidnap the girl, and Lady Korobotchka, tranquillized by his assurance, began now to look around her in the court-yard of the house; she fixed her eyes, first upon the housekeeper, who was carrying across the court a large vessel with honey, and then upon a peasant who made his appearance at the gates, and by degrees the old lady was soon completely devoted to her household concerns.
“Ah, here is my britchka at last,” exclaimed Tchichikoff, as be saw his carriage driving up. “Well, you idiot, what the deuce has kept you so long? It seems the fumes of yesterday have not yet quite evaporated.”
Selifan made no reply to this observation.
“Farewell, my excellent lady! But stop, where is your little girl?”
“Come here, Pelagey,” said the widow addressing herself to a little girl of about eleven years, who was standing close by, dressed in a home-woven woollen frock, and with bare feet, which, at a distance might have been mistaken for boots, so much they were besmeared with fresh mud. “Go with this gentleman, and lead him upon the high road.”
Selifan assisted her to get upon his seat, in doing this she put one of her dirty feet upon the carriage steps, and after leaving a mark behind, she at last took her seat next to Selifan. After he had seen her safely seated, Tchichikoff in his turn put his foot upon his carriage steps, and after making it visibly incline on the right hand side—because he was rather weighty—he at last took his seat comfortably, and said: “Oh! now I am all right! farewell, my good lady!”
The horses moved on, and the carriage left the court-yard. Selifan was sulky during the whole journey, but at the same time very careful and attentive in the observance of his duty as a driver, which always happened when he had been negligent or drunk. His horses were exceeding clean, as well as their harness and the britchka. The horse collar of one of the three horses, which was usually put on its neck in so dilapidated a state, that the hemp was visible under the leather, was now cleverly sewn up. During the whole time he continued to be speechless, and now and then only lifted his whip, but without addressing any lecture to his tiger-spotted idler, who stood as much as ever in want of a correction; however, the usually talkative driver, held his reins loosely in his hand, and used the whip only occasionally, and then only passed it across their backs as a matter of form. Yet from his sulkily-compressed lips were heard at intervals monosyllables of an ill-tempered meaning, such as, “Now then, now, you raven! take care! speed on!” but nothing else.
Even the other side horse, as well as the leader seemed to feel some discontent, when they heard nothing of that to which they had been accustomed: either words of reproof or approbation. The tiger-spotted idler seemed rather disgusted, because he felt the most unpleasant touches tickling his fat sides.
“Now then, now then, what the deuce is the matter with him! he is harder at me than ever!” thought the idler to himself, whilst pointing his ears. “He knows where to hit, and no mistake! He won’t beat me in a straight-forward manner upon the back, but picks and chooses the most sensible parts, he hits my ears, and keeps annoying my flanks.”
“Is it to the right?” was the dry question which Selifan addressed to the little girl sitting next to him, whilst pointing with his whip towards a dark road, looming in the distance among some verdoyant com fields.
“No, no, I will show you where,” answered the little girl.
“Where is it?” demanded Selifan, after having driven for some distance.
“That is the road,” replied the child, whilst pointing with her hand.
“Eh, you little stupid!” said Selifan; “that is to the right; she does not even know what right and left means.”
Although the day was fair, the road was wet and heavy, and so muddy, that the wheels of the britchka were soon thickly covered with it, which considerably increased the weight of the carriage; besides, the soil was of a dayish nature and exceedingly sticky. This was the chief cause that they could not reach the high road before mid-day. Without the assistance of the little girl, they would not have been able to progress so fast, because the narrow paths and turnings were innumerable, and led in all directions, like captured lobsters when thrown out of a bag, and Selifan, if alone, might have driven heaven knows where. Soon after, the little girl pointed to some building at a distance and said, “There is the high road!”
“And what are those buildings?” inquired Selifan.
“That is an inn,” answered the child.
“Now we shall be able to find the road ourselves,” said Selifan, “you can be off home again.” He stopped his horses, and helped her to get down from his seat, murmuring through his teeth, “Eh, you little black-leg!”
Tchichikoff gave her some coppers, the value of about a penny, and she soon disappeared in one of the next turnings. The poor little child seemed overjoyed, not so much about the trifle which she had received, as from the pleasure she had enjoyed in sitting and riding in such a beautiful carriage, drawn by such handsome horses.