On arriving at the inn, Tchichikoff ordered his coachman to halt, mainly for too reasons; on the one hand, he wished that his jaded horses should have a little rest, and on the other, that he himself should have something to eat, and recruit his exhausted strength.
The author must confess that he very much envies the appetite and the stomach of such men as his hero. He entertains the greatest indifference for all those gentlemen of the haut ton, who inhabit either St. Petersburgh or Moscow, and who waste their time in anxiously thinking about what they would like to eat to-morrow, and what dinner they could imagine for the day after, and preparing themselves for that dinner by undergoing the operation of swallowing a pill on the evening previous; who gulp down oysters and devour lobsters, together with a variety of other marine and land curiosities, and end by going on a journey for health, either to Baden Baden, or the Caucasus.
No, these gentlemen have never had the good fortune to excite my envy; but our men of the middle rank, who at one inn ask for cold ham, at another for roast pork, and at a third for a tail, or a head of a sturgeon, or a lump of smoked sausage with onions in it, and then, without any further ceremony, at any hour of the day sit down to table and eat and drink heartily, such men indeed enjoy the enviable blessings of heaven, a sound stomach and a good appetite. I remember many a gentleman belonging to, what we term in Russia, the haut ton, who would have gladly parted with the half of his numerous serfs, and the half of his mortgaged and non-mortgaged fortune, with all its foreign and domestic improvements, on one condition, namely: that he should receive in return, such a stomach and appetite as the gentlemen of the middle rank possesses; but what a pity that no monetary sacrifices, nor the gift of their estates with or without foreign improvements will ever obtain them in return such a stomach as the gentleman of the less exalted position can boast of.
The inn which received Tchichikoff under its hospitable wooden roof, had an entrance verandah which rested upon four pillars, resembling some old-fashioned church chandeliers; the aspect of the whole, was a dark, smoky-looking structure, altogether, not unlike the miserable huts of the peasantry, only in larger dimensions; the fresh workmanship of the carved cornices which ornamented the windows, and the large entrance door, formed a striking contrast with the dark walls of the gloomy house, upon the shutters of which a variety of flower-pots were painted upon, what was once, a sky-blue ground.
After ascending a narrow, dark and inconvenient staircase, Tchichikoff arrived at a spacious landing, where he opened a creaking door, and was encountered by an enormously stout old woman dressed in a yellow and flame coloured print dress, who officiously addressed the stranger with: “step in here if you please!” In this room his eye fell upon familiar objects, such as are to be met with at every small country inn, of which there are again uncountable numbers on the high roads of Russia.
Among these familiar objects we may mention, an immense hooped samovar, smoothly plained fir walls, a three legged, but large cupboard, covered with an array of tea-pots, cups and saucers standing in a corner, neatly painted china easter eggs, hanging before the images of the saints suspended by pink and blue ribbons, a large favourite cat with her new born offspring, a looking glass, which instead of reflecting two eyes showed the curious party to be in possession of four, and instead of a face something not unlike a muffin, and finally numerous small bundles of fine herbs, which had been hung up to dry close by the lamps burning before the images. Any one on approaching these simples, and inhaling their perfumes could not have resisted a sneeze in consequence.
“Have you a little bit of sucking pig?” such was the question with which Tchichikoff addressed himself to the fat old woman.
“I have some, your glory!” was the short reply.
“With cream and horse-raddish?”
“Yes, your glory! prepared with cream and horse-raddish.”
“Let me have it then!”
The landlady hurried off, and soon returned again with a plate and a napkin so unmercifully stiffened, that it crackled like dried bark; she produced a knife with a bone handle, which from age and use had become of a very dark yellow colour, its blade was as thin as a penknife, a fork with two prongs only, and lastly a salt box, which it was impossible for her to make stand upright upon the table.
Our hero, begun immediately, as was his habit, to enter into conversation with the hostess, and inquired with apparent solicitude, if she kept the hotel herself, or whether it was her husband who did so; how large the income was, and whether her sons lived with her in the house; whether the eldest was a single, or married man, and what sort of wife he had got, whether she brought a large, or a small marriage portion into the family; and if the father-in-law was satisfied, or displeased that he received but trifling presents at the wedding, in a word, he omitted no question that could possibly have been put.
From these and similar inquiries, it will be obvious that he was also anxious to know what sort of landowners lived in her neighbourhood, and he was consequently informed that there existed in the vicinity a great variety of landed proprietors, for instance: the Blochins, the Potchitaeffs, the Milnoffs, Tcheprakoff, a Colonel in the army, Sobakevitch.
“Ah! you know Mr. Sobakevitch?” Tchichikoff demanded, interrupting her, and he was informed that the old woman knew, not only Sobakevitch, but also Mr. Maniloff, and that Maniloff was, in her opinion, more of a gentleman than Sobakevitch; that the former, when putting up at her inn, would always order a roast chicken, or demand some cold veal; and if she had any sheep’s liver, he would even ask for that, and yet scarcely touch anything; whilst Sobakevitch was accustomed to ask for only one dish, but sit down to it, and eat it all, and even ask an addition of the same, and for the same price.
When he had thus questioned and conversed with the old landlady, whilst continuing to eat his sucking pig, of which there remained but one small piece more, the noise of carriage wheels arriving at the inn was heard. He rose and looked out of the window, and beheld a light britchka drawn by a troika, three beautiful and well-fed horses, pulled up before the inn.
Two gentlemen alighted from this carriage. The one was fair and of high stature; the other less tall and of dark complexion. The fair man was dressed in a dark cloth paletot; the other wore a simple Turkish morning coat, commonly called an archaluck. At a distance, a second miserable looking empty vehicle, drawn by four long-haired and poor looking horses, followed the first, the harness was in a wretched condition, and the horses’ collars were tattered, and tied up with strings.
The fair complexioned gentleman immediately entered the house and walked up-stairs; whilst his darker companion remained below, seeking for something in his britchka, and speaking to the servant. At the same time he made signs with his hand to the driver of the other vehicle, which was now gradually approaching. The voice of the speaker below seemed familiar to Tchichikoff, and whilst he was frying to recognise him, the fair man had had already time to find the door, and entered the room.
He was a man of tall stature, with careworn or rather jaded features, and wore a pair of small Scotch-coloured moustachios. From his pallid complexion it could easily be perceived that if he had not smelled much gunpowder, he must have been perfectly familiar with the smoke of tobacco. He bowed civilly to Tchichikoff, which the other returned as civilly. In the course of a few minutes they would have infallibly spoken, and have become well acquainted one with other, because the commencement was already made, and they would have expressed at the same time, with mutual satisfaction, that the dust on the high road had been completely laid by the heavy rain of the preceding night, and that it was now cool and pleasant travelling, but at that moment the dark-complexioned traveller entered the room, threw his cap upon the table, and passed his hand through his rich black hair.
He was a man of the middle stature, well made, and of gentlemanly appearance, with a highly healthy-coloured complexion, with teeth as white as snow, and a pair of whiskers as black as ebony. He was fresh as milk and blood can possibly be; health seemed to gleam out of every one of his features.
“Bah! bah! bah!” he exclaimed suddenly, and opening his arms as he beheld Tchichikoff, “What good fortune.”
Tchichikoff recognized in the speaker, Mr. Nosdrieff, the same gentleman with whom he had the pleasure of dining at the Procurator’s house, and who in a very brief time indeed had placed himself on such a familiar footing with our hero, that he had called him several times thou, which is, by the bye, not unusual in Russia, though it would shock the ear of an Englishman. However, Tchichikoff on his side, had given no provocation to this familiarity.
“Where have you been?” said Nosdrieff; but without awaiting a reply, he continued: “My dear fellow, I have just returned from a fair. Congratulate me! I have nearly ruined myself by gambling. Would you believe it, I never lost so much in my life before? And the result is, that I have been obliged to travel with common post-horses. Just look through the window, and convince yourself, my dear fellow!”
Here he with his hand turned Tchichikoff’s head towards the window, and nearly made him hit himself against the framework.
“Do you see what miserable looking wretches they are? I can assure you they had every difficulty in dragging themselves along the road, and I was therefore obliged to get into that fellow’s britchka.”
With this polite remark, he pointed with his finger towards his travelling companion.
“Are you not yet acquainted? My brother-in-law, Mr. Muschnieff. I have been speaking to him of you, my dear Tchichikoff all the morning. I told him, mind, we are sure to meet that delightful gentleman, Pavel Ivanovitch. But, my dear fellow, if you could only imagine how much I have lost by gambling! Would you believe it, I lost not only four of my finest race-horses, but also a considerable amount in bank-notes—all gone I Now I have neither my watch nor chain.”
Tchichikoff looked at him, and really found it was as he said, he had neither his watch nor his chain. It even seemed to him as if one of his whiskers was less frill than the other.
“And if I had had but twenty roubles more in my pocket at the time,” continued Nosdrieff, “but the trifling sum of a twenty-rouble note, I should have won back again, all, no, not merely all, but I am sure, that at this moment I should have had thirty or forty thousand roubles more in my pocket-book, this I can affirm, upon my word, as a gentleman!”
“Now then, softly, you said the same then and there,” said the fair man, “and when I gave you a fifty-rouble note, you lost it in no time.”
“I should not have lost it; by Heaven, I should not have lost it, without a mistake of my own, I could not have lost it. If I had only doubled my stake after the parole, I should have ruined the croupier.”
“However, you did nothing of the kind,” added his brother-in-law.
“Certainly not, because as I told you, I bent my corners too rashly. And you think, perhaps, that the major plays well?”
“I don’t care how he plays, but the fact is, that he has won your money.”
“Never mind with his infernal good luck, I could play as well. But let him come and try his chance with me at any other game, and you will soon be able to see how I shall treat him. I must confess this fair was one of the finest I have been at for some time. The tradesmen themselves agree that they never saw so many people in their town, and that seldom have they known such a run of business.
“All that I sent to the market, from my estate, has been sold at the most advantageous prices. I sincerely regret, that you, my dear fellow, were not with us. Imagine only, about three wersts from town, a regiment of dragoons was lying in their barracks. All the officers of that regiment and a few more from other places, in all, about forty men besides myself; we were always together, but when we sat down to drink—then it was, my dear fellow, that I should have liked to see you among us.
“What a nice fellow that Stabz-Capitän Pozelueff is!” Nosdrieff ran on. “We were always together. We had some excellent wine supplied to us by the celebrated merchant Ponomareff! But, by the bye, I must tell you, he is a great scoundrel, and you ought not to buy anything in his shop; he has the habit of mixing with his wines, heaven knows what stuff, he put in some sandal-wood, bad spirits, and even some of that raw Kahetian wine of the Caucasus, the rascal! but then I must confess, whenever he produces a bottle of what he calls extra fine, and which he usually keeps in a secret place, then you may depend on tasting something palateable, and fancy yourself in paradise. The champagne we had at his house was so delicious, that that with which the Lord Lieutenant treated us to the other day, was as bad as a bottle of stale ginger-beer compared with it. Only fancy, it was not Cliquot. He also produced from his usual hiding store an extra bottle of claret, which he called bonbon. Its flavour was that of a rose, or a whole bouquet if you like. Oh, we had such a spree with that fellow! and a prince, who happened to arrive after us demanded some champagne, and could not get any in the whole town, for we, I mean the officers and I, had drunk every bottle of it. Would you believe it, my dear fellow, that I for my own account drank seventeen bottles of champagne during our dinner!
“Now then, I am sure you could not have drunk seventeen bottles all by yourself,” his brother-in-law interrupted him.
“On the faith of a gentleman, I did as I said, I drank them all,” answered Nosdrieff.
“You may say what you like, but I tell you, that you could not even empty ten bottles of champagne.”
“Very well then, will you lay a wager to that effect?”
“Why should I bet with you about it?”
“Now then, come, stake your new rifle, which you bought at the fair.”
“No, I won’t.”
“Just lay me a wager about it!”
“I won’t even try.”
“It’s well you won’t try, else you would remain without your rifle as you now are without your cap. Oh, my dear fellow Tchichikoff, you can have no idea how much I regret that you were not with us! I know you could never have parted with my friend Lieutenant Kuvschinikoff, I am sure you would have soon become intimate. He is not such a man as our Procurator, or all the other niggards of our province, who tremble at each copek they spend. That fellow spends his fortune like a prince, and is ready to play any game. Ah, my dear Tchichikoff, why did you not come to the fair. Really you are a humbug! pardon my saying it, but I could not help it, allow me to embrace you, my dear fellow, because I like you amazingly!” and he embraced Tchichikoff, only to go on as follows.
“Muschnieff, my dear fellow, just look at us, here we are both, Providence brought us together; what is he to me and what am I to him? But my dear fellow, you have no idea, how many carriages there were at every evening party, all en gros. I joined a lottery and won two pots of pomatum, a china tea-cup and saucer, and a guitar; but I played later again and lost all, and six silver roubles besides.
“Yes, my dear fellow, we have been at some of the most delicious evening parties. I also made some purchases at the fair, fortunately I did so, whilst I had yet some money in my pockets. But by the bye, where are you driving to?”
“I am on the road to a gentleman’s house in the neighbourhood,” answered Tchichikoff.
“Cut him, my dear fellow! and come with me!”
“Thank you, but I cannot accept your invitation, I have some business.”
“Bah, what business can you have! you only pretend that, oh, you sly old father Opodildoc Ivanovitch!”
“Really, I have some business to attend to of a very important nature too.”
“I lay a wager, you are telling me a fib! now tell me at least where are you going to?”
“I have no objection to tell you that I am going to visit Sobakevitch.”
Here Nosdrieff burst into a fit of laughter, with such a ringing voice as a man of perfect health only can enjoy, and at the same time displayed a range of teeth as white as sugar to the last; his cheeks became flushed and trembling, and the effect of his loud outburst could have caused a neighbour in a third room, separated by two doors, to startle from his slumbers, and exclaim: “What the deuce is the matter with that fellow?”
“What do you find so laughable in that,” demanded Tchichikoff, partly vexed at the loud outburst.
But Nosdrieff continued to laugh as loudly as before, adding: “pray have mercy, or else I shall burst from laughing!”
“There is nothing laughable in that, I should think; besides I gave him a promise that I would come and visit him,” said Tchichikoff.
“But, my dear fellow, allow me to assure you that you will be disgusted with your own existence, if you go to see him, he is a regular Jew killer! and I know your disposition; you are too hasty in your judgment, if you hope to meet there any playmen, or a bottle of good bonbon claret. Listen, my dear fellow! send Sobakevitch to the deuce, and come with me! I promise to give you a famous treat! I have some excellent wine from that scoundrel Ponomareff, who was immensely civil to me, and assured me that I should not be able to get any thing nearly so good as his claret and champagne, were I to search for it throughout the town and fair; for all that I believe him to be a great rogue, and that he has taken me in most unmercifully. I told him as much, and added besides; you and all the public contractors are, in my opinion, the greatest rogues on earth! At all this, my dear fellow, he used to laugh whilst stroking his carroty beard.
“But, my dear fellow, I nearly forgot to tell you; I know now you will not be able to refuse me your admiration, I am going to show you something, which I tell you beforehand, I won’t part with, were you even to offer me ten thousand roubles on the spot.
“Halloa, Porphir,” he shouted whilst approaching the window, and addressing his servant by this name, who was below, holding a knife and a crust of bread in one hand, and a piece of smoked sturgeon in the other, which piece he had contrived cleverly to cut off whilst fumbling about in his master’s carriage.
“Halloa, Porphir,” shouted Nosdrieff again, “bring me that little dog out of the carriage! You shall see, my dear fellow, what a beautiful dog that is,” he said, while turning himself again towards Tchichikoff. “It is like a stolen dog, the owner would have rather liked to part with himself than with that dog. I gave him that wretched mare, which as you know, I took in exchange from Captain Hvostireff.”
Tchichikoff, however, had never in his life known, or seen either the wretched mare, or the Captain Hvostireff.
“Would your glory like to take any thing?” asked the landlady civilly.
“Nothing. Oh, my dear fellow, what fun we had to be sure! However, old woman, let me have a small glass of something. What have you got?”
“Some anisette, if your glory wishes.”
“Very well, let me have some anisette,” said Nosdrieff.
“Give me a small glass as well!” said his fair brother-in-law.
“At the theatre, I heard an actress sing like a canary-bird; the lieutenant who sat next to me whispered his favorite motto into my ear, and said: ‘this young bird would be an excellent subject for a favourable opportunity!’ I fancy there were at least fifty large booths upon the Market Place. And Fenardi spun a windmill, at least four hours at a time.”
Here he took a small glass of liqueur from the hands of the landlady, who bowed very low at the moment.
“Ah, give him here!” he exclaimed, as he beheld Porphir entering the room with a small dog in his hands. Porphir was, as nearly as possible, dressed like his master, namely, he wore a similar Turkish morning coat, with the only difference, that it looked greasy.
“Bring him here—put him on the floor!”
Porphir deposited the little dog upon the floor, who stretched out his fore paws and began to smell the ground.
“Here is the dog,” said Nosdrieff, laying hold of his skin and holding him up in his hand. The young dog howled forth a rather plaintive tune.
“But you have not done what I told you,” said Nosdrieff, turning towards Porphir, whilst minutely examining the dog’s stomach; “it seems you have neglected to clean him?”
“Pardon me, Sir, I have combed him.”
“Where then do those fleas come from?”
“I can’t say, your glory. They must have got upon him somehow whilst he was lying in the carriage.”
“Nonsense, stuff, you idle fellow, you appear to have forgotten to do as I told you, and have given him some of your own jumpers besides. Look here, my dear Tchichikoff, just examine his ears, now just feel them with your own hand.”
“Never mind, I can see without feeling: he is of a good breed,” answered Tchichikoff.
“Nay, oblige me, only just feel his ears!”
Tchichikoff, in order to oblige him, complied with the request, and felt the ears of the young dog, and then added: “yes, it will be a fine dog.”
“And his nose, can you feel how cold it is? just try it with your hand.”
Tchichikoff not wishing to offend him, even felt the dog’s nose, saying: “yes, he seems to have a fine scent.”
“A thorough-bred bull-dog,” continued Nosdrieff, “and I must confess I longed to have a real English bull-dog, long ago. Here, Porphir, take him away again.”
Porphir took the young bull-dog gently under the stomach, and carried it back again into the carriage.
“I say, Tchichikoff, you must now come as far as my house, it is only five wersts off, and we shall be there in no time, and later if you like you may proceed to Sobakevitch’s.”
“And why should I not,” thought Tchichikoff to himself, “I’ll really drive as far as Nosdrieff’s estate and see what it is like. He is not worse than anybody else; he is a good a gentleman as any, and besides, he is a gambler and has lost. To judge by appearances he seems rather clever, consequently, it might easily happen that I shall easily obtain what I want.”
“Very well then,” he added aloud, “I will, but on the express condition that you will not detain me, because my time is precious.”
“Ah, my soul, that is right! I am delighted my dear fellow, allow me to embrace you, to kiss you.”
Hereupon Nosdrieff and Tchichikoff embraced and kissed one another on the cheek—as is the custom between intimate friends in Russia.
“And we shall all have a delightful journey home!”
“Pray, no, I hope you will excuse me,” said his fair brother-in-law, “I must hasten homewards.”
“Nonsense, stuff, my dear fellow, I shall not let you off.”
“Really, I must, else my wife will be angry with me, and besides, now you will be able to take a seat in Mr. Tchichikoff’s britchka.”
“No, no, no, and don’t you think of escaping us!”
Mushnieff, Nosdrieff’s fair-complexioned brother-in-law, was one of those men whose dominant character seemed to be a spirit of contradiction. Scarcely has a person had time to open his mouth, when he will be already to contradict him, it is therefore obvious that they will never agree upon any point that is in just opposition to their different and separate opinion, they will therefore never call a foolish man a wise one, and especially such men would as a matter of course never consent to dance to another’s whistle; but in the end, it will always appear that their general character is a weak disposition, and that at last they will agree upon the very thing they originally had been contradicting, namely, they will affirm the fool to be a wise man, and the next thing they will do, is to go and dance most heartily after another man’s whistle, in a word, they begin roughly and end smoothly.
“Nonsense!” said Nosdrieff, in reply to some observation of his brother-in-law; he then took his travelling cap, put it on his head and the fair gentleman followed the two others.
“I hope you will excuse me, but your glories have not paid me for the liqueurs,” said the old landlady.
“Ah, very well, my good woman. I say my dear brother-in-law, just pay that old woman will you. I have not a copek in my pocket,” said Nosdrieff.
“How much is it?” demanded the brother-in-law.
“A rouble only, may it please your glory,” said the hostess.
“Stuff! nonsense!” shouted Nosdrieff, “give her only half-a-rouble; that will be quite sufficient for the trash.”
“It’s rather little, your honour,” said the old woman; however, she took the money with a curtsey, and hurried to open the door as fast as her bodily constitution would permit her. She had sustained no loss in taking what was given to her, because she took care to demand four times the value of her had spirits.