The travellers took their seats in their respective carriages. Tchichikoff’s britchka drove in a line with that in which Nosdrieff was seated with his brother-in-law, and thus they had every facility for continuing their conversation during their journey to Nosdrieff’s estate. These two carriages were followed at a slight distance behind by Nosdrieff’s dilapidated conveyance. In it were seated his servant Porphir, and his new acquisition the young bull-dog.
As the conversation of the three travellers could be but of little interest to the reader, we will omit it altogether, and say a word instead about Nosdrieff, whose fate it will perhaps be to play an important part in this narrative.
Nosdrieff’s face we premise to be already a little familiar to our reader. Men like him could easily be met with by everybody, who will take the trouble and travel in Russia. They are what are called men who have cut their eye teeth. Their reputation begins from their boyhood, when they were much admired by their school-fellows, but for all that never escaped a sound thrashing occasionally. In their face, there is always something open, straightforward, if not impudent, to be seen. They soon succeed in ingratiating themselves, and ere you have had time to recover from your surprise they call you already “my dear fellow.” They seem to establish their friendly relations for an eternity; but it will always happen that those who have been imprudent enough to form an intimacy with them, will, on the very evening of the day, at some friendly supper or rout, fall out with them. They are always very great talkers, hard drinkers, and what is termed, jolly good fellows, and with all that, men of prepossessing appearance.
Nosdrieff, at thirty-five years of age, was in all these talents as accomplished as he was when only eighteen or twenty; exceedingly fond of dissipation. His marriage did not in the least interfere with his pleasures, nor change him, so much the less, since his wife, shortly after their marriage; quitted this world for a better one, leaving behind her two little children, which were of no earthly use or consolation to him. His infants, however, were properly taken care of by a housekeeper. He never could stay at home for more than twenty-four hours at a time. His sense of divination was so acute that he could smell at a distance of twenty or thirty miles where a fair was to be held, or a ball or rout to be given. In no time he was sure to be there, lead on a dispute, create a disturbance at the green table, because he, like other men of his description, had a passion for gambling. He was fond of card-playing, as we have seen already in the first chapter; and he did not play without a little cheating, because he knew so many different tricks and finesses, and for that very reason the game often ended in another sort of play; he either got a sound thrashing, or his full and glossy whiskers pulled about so much so, that very often he had to return home with only one of his hairy ornaments, and that even of a spare appearance.
But the constitution of his full and rosy cheeks was so excellent, that with an extraordinary fertility of growth, a new pair of whiskers soon made their appearance again, and even finer and stronger than the former.
But the strangest feature in his character was—and this could perhaps only happen in Russia—that a very short time after, he could coolly meet again the very same friends who had but recently horsewhipped him, and meet them as if nothing had been the matter between them; and as the phrase goes, he said nothing, and they said nothing about it.
Nosdrieff was in some respects also an historical personage. He never went to an evening party without there being some talk about him afterwards. Some event or another was sure to take place wherever he went; he would either be obliged to leave the room under an escort of strangers, or be forcibly led away by his own friends, who ventured to introduce him. If either of these cases did not happen, it might be depended upon that something else was sure to occur and make him notorious, and which to any other person would not happen under any circumstances; he would either get tipsy to such a degree as to do nothing else but laugh continually, or commit himself to such a degree that at last he will begin to blush at them himself.
Strange to say, he would try to impose upon persons without the least advantage to himself: he would of a sudden protest, that once he possessed a horse or a dog of a green or a blue colour, and such and similar nonsense; so that those who have been listening to him, will leave him and say, “what falsehoods that man is telling, to be sure!”
There are people, who have a passion for injuring their fellow-men frequently without any provocation. Some of us Russians, for an example, men of rank, of prepossessing appearance and with large decorations on their breasts, will often give you unquestionable assurances of friendship whilst pressing your hand warmly, speak to you about scientific things, which require deep study—and then, the very next moment, and in your presence, they will go and play you some base trick. And they will injure you as meanly as a man of the fifteenth degree of the Russian nobility—which by the bye is the lowest, though this was not at all what you could have expected from a man wearing a star or two on his breast, discussing scientific things which require deep study and serious meditation. So great will your surprise be at his conduct, that you will remain abashed, shrug your shoulders, and say nothing.
Nosdrieff had exactly such a passion, whoever was the more acquainted or befriended by him, was sure to be the chosen victim of this despicable passion of his; he launched some of his monstrous nonsense, anything more stupid could scarcely be imagined, yet he succeeded either in breaking off some promise of marriage or some contract of sale, and what not; and in doing all that, he never called himself your enemy; on the contrary, if fate would have it, that you should meet him again, he would accost you like an old friend, and even say, “halloah! here you are at last, but you are not my dear fellow, because you never come to see me.”
Nosdrieff was in many respects also a multifarious man, to use a common phrase, we may call him, a man up to anything and everything. At the same instant he would propose to you, to go and drive wherever you like, If even to the end of the world, or in search of Sir John Franklin, then again he would be ready to enter into any speculation with you, exchange with you everything that could possibly be exchanged,—a rifle, a dog, a horse, not that he had any object of gain in it, not at all, it was simply another trait of his restless and foolish character.
If fate would have it so, that he might meet an inexperienced player or a flat at any of the towns or fairs which he used to visit, and that he should win of him his money in a gambling match, he would buy all and everything that would be first brought under his notice or be offered to him; he then purchased indiscriminately, horse-collars, perfumes, and neckerchiefs for the nurse of his children, a stallion, grapes, a silver mouth bason, Irish linen, buckwheat flour, tobacco, holster-pistols, Dutch herrings, oil paintings, mechanical instruments, pots and saucepans, boots, china tea-services—in fact, as long as his money lasted, he would continue his purchases.
However, it was a rare occurrence when any of this great variety of articles were ever sent to his home; it happened nearly invariably that all these goods passed the very day of their purchase into the hands of some more fortunate gambler, very frequently even he would have to make the addition of his favourite Turkish pipe, with its amber mouth-piece and other ornaments, and he had even known extreme cases, when he had to part with his carriage, horses, and coachman, so that he, the master, was left behind, possessing for the time being nothing he could call his own but his clothes, running about to find some friend to give him a place in his carriage and drive him home—and this seems very much to have been the case with him in this instance, when he met with Tchichikoff at the inn.
Meanwhile, the three carriages had arrived before the gates of Nosdrieff’s house. In the house there had been no preparations made for their reception. In the centre of the dining room there was a scaffolding on which two mouzhiks were standing, and whitewashing the wall and ceiling, whilst singing the tune of some interminable song. Nosdrieff immediately gave orders that the workmen as well as the scaffoldings should quit the room, and hastened into an adjoining apartment to give the necessary instructions to that effect. His guests heard Him give his commands for the preparation of a dinner to his cook; when this was audibly heard by Tchichikoff, he began to feel an appetite, as well as the conviction that they should not be able to sit to table before five o’clock.
Nosdrieff, after returning to his guests offered to show them all and everything on his estate, and in his village; and, in little more than two hours he had positively shown them everything worth seeing, so that there remained nothing else to be looked at. First of all they went to examine his stables, where they saw two mares, the one a grey silver-coloured animal, the other a chesnut one, then a black stallion, not a showy looking horse at all, but for which Nosdrieff swore that he had paid ten thousand roubles.
“You could never have paid ten thousand roubles for that animal,” his brother-in-law observed coolly. “It is not worth even a thousand.”
“By Heaven, I gave ten thousand for him,” said Nosdrieff.
“You may invoke Heaven as a witness as much as you like, I don’t care,” his fair-complexioned brother-in-law persisted.
“Very well then, let us have a wager about it,” exclaimed Nosdrieff.
But his brother-in-law did not like to lay him a wager.
Nosdrieff then showed them some empty stalls, in which he used to keep excellent race-horses formerly. In the same stable they also saw a goat, who, according to a proverbial faith, was deemed indispensable in a stable near the horses, and it seemed that this goat was on excellent terms with his fellow-animals, for it walked about under their stomachs as if quite at home. After this, Nosdrieff led them away, showed them a young wolf, whom he kept tied to a pole.
“Here is a whelp,” said he, “I feed him purposely with raw meat. I want to bring him up to become a perfect wild beast.”
They then went to look at a pond, in which, according to Nosdrieff, there were such enormously large fish, that two men would have every difficulty in pulling out one of them.
In this, however, his brother seemed not inclined to contradict him.
“Tchichikoff, my dear fellow, come along, I’ll show you a pair of beautiful dogs,” said Nosdrieff, whilst leading on; “their muscular strength will amaze you, their power of scent is as sharp as—a needle!”
“Just look at that plain,” said Nosdrieff, whilst pointing with his finger to a field before them, “there is such a number of hares that you can scarcely see the ground; I caught one the other day with my own hands by his hind legs.”
“I venture to say, that you will never catch a hare with your hands!” observed his brother-in-law.
“But I tell you I caught one, and caught one purposely with my own hands!” answered Nosdrieff. “But now come along and I will show you, my dear fellow,” he continued whilst turning towards Tchichikoff, “the frontier line of my estate.”
When they had walked a considerable distance, they really arrived at the boundary mark of his estate, which consisted of a wooden post with a small board fixed to it.
“Here we are, at the frontier!” said Nosdrieff, “all, what you can possibly see on that side, is mine, and even on the other side, all that extensive forest which looms there in the distance, and that, which is beyond the forest, all is mine.”
“But since when has that forest become yours?” inquired his brother-in-law. “You have bought it lately? for it was not yours some time ago?”
“Just so; I bought it quite recently,” answered Nosdrieff.
“How did you manage to buy it so quickly, so suddenly?”
“It’s a fact, I bought it about three days ago, and the deuce, I paid a handsome price for it.”
“But, if I remember well, you were just at that time at the fair?”
“Oh, what a simpleton you are! Is it then impossible to be at the same time at a fair, whilst buying a piece of land? Well, then, I was at the fair, whilst my manager bought the forest and land.”
“Ah, your manager! that is another affair,” said his brother-in-law, but even then he seemed to question the matter as a fact, and shook his head.