Tchichikoff remained after Nosdrieff’s departure in the most unpleasant frame of mind. He was inwardly angry with himself; he scolded himself for having accepted Nosdrieff’s invitation, and thus uselessly losing his time. But what vexed him most was that he had imprudently begun to speak of his all-important object, like a child, like a fool; because this business was not of a nature to be entrusted to Nosdrieff—Nosdrieff, a man without any worth or sense; he could compromise him, he could tell stories, make additions, and spread, heaven knows what calumnies about, and thus place him in the greatest difficulties—it was neither right nor well! “I have made a regular ass of myself,” said he to himself.
He spent a very sleepless night. Some very small, but also very daring insects, kept biting him unmercifully, so much so, that he could not help scratching the wounded spots, and prompted by utter agony, adding each time, “I wish you to the devil and your master, Nosdrieff, as well!” After a very short but sound slumber, he awoke very early the next morning. The first occupation he undertook was to slip into a morning-gown and into his boots, he then went across the court-yard into the stable, and ordered Selifan to put the horses immediately in his britchka. On returning from the stable he met Nosdrieff, who made his appearance also in a long morning-gown, and with a Turkish pipe in his mouth.
Nosdrieff accosted him in a friendly manner, and inquired how he had passed the night.
“Tolerably,” answered Tchichikoff, rather dryly.
“And I, my dear fellow,” continued Nosdrieff, “I have passed a most wretched night, I have been victimised by an army of insects, and I now feel as if I had been sleeping in a barrack. Imagine, I dreamt that I had been regularly horsewhipped, yes, truly, and by whom do you think? This you will never guess; by my intimate friends, Colonel Pozelueff and Lieutenant Kuvschinikoff.”
“Yes,” thought Tchichikoff to himself, “it would be an excellent thing if you were to receive a thrashing in reality.”
“By heaven, and it feels painful even now! When I awoke I really felt pains all over me, and such an unpleasant itching, no doubt the confounded fleas have again been at me. You had better go now and dress yourself, and I will be with you almost immediately. I have only to go and scold my manager, the rogue.”
Tchichikoff went into his room to wash and dress himself. When he had done so, he entered the dining-room, where he found the table laid with a tea service and a bottle of brandy. In this room, his eyes also met with the remains of the dinner and supper of the preceding day; it seemed as if the broom had not made its appearance there; the floor was strewn with bread crumbs, and tobacco ashes were even still lying on the table cloth.
The host himself did not fail to make his appearance soon after; he had no other dress on him but a loose Turkish morning-gown, which rather displayed than concealed his broad chest, upon which a regular beard seemed to grow freely. Holding in one hand his long Turkish pipe and in the other a cup of tea, he would have made a characteristic subject for a painter, who hates gentlemen of propriety, with curled hair, like a hairdresser’s sign-board, or a head shorn à la diable m’emporte.
“Now then, what are you thinking about?” said Nosdrieff, after a momentary silence, “will you, or will you not play for my dead serfs?”
“My dear fellow, I have already told you once for all, I won’t play, but if you like I am ready to buy them.”
“I won’t sell them, because it would not be acting in a friendly manner towards you; but I’m still disposed to play for them as long as you like. Come, let us have a turn, if but one only!”
“As I told you before, no.”
“And you won’t barter, either?”
“No, I won’t.”
“Now, listen and don’t be so obstinate, let us have a game of draughts, if you win they shall all be yours; and, I remember now that I have got a number of dead serfs, that ought to be struck out from the census list of the living. Holloa, Porphir, bring me the draught-board here.”
“Tis a useless trouble, I shall not play.”
“But that is not playing at cards; there can be no chance or shuffling; all depends upon ingenuity. I must even tell you beforehand, that I am no player at all, and that you might as well give me a price in advance.”
Tchichikoff thought to himself, “Well, I’ll venture to play a game with him! I used to play once at draughts tolerably well, besides, there is no chance for him to cheat. Very well, then, in order to oblige you I’ll play you a game.”
“My dead serfs against a hundred roubles.”
“Why? it will be high enough, if I lay fifty against them?”
“No, fifty roubles is quite a ridiculous stake. I would rather, in order to make up a round sum, include a couple of my thorough-bred dogs, or a gold watch-guard.”
“Very well,” Tchichikoff answered.
“How many draughtsmen will you give me in advance?” demanded Nosdrieff.
“How did you come upon this idea? certainly none.”
“At least give me the two first moves.”
“No, I won’t, I am a bad player myself.”
“I believe you, my boy, you and a bad player!” exclaimed Nosdrieff, whilst pushing forward a draughtsman.
“I have not played draughts for a long while,” said Tchichikoff, whilst also advancing a draughtsman.
“I believe you, my boy, you and a bad player,” said Nosdrieff, pushing forward another draughtsman.
“I have not been playing for a very long while,” Tchichikoff said, also advancing a draughtsman.
“I believe you, my boy, you and a bad player,” said Nosdrieff, whilst again moving a draughtsman, and at the same time he advanced a second one with the sleeve of his Turkish morning-gown.
“‘Tis long ago since I took them last in my hands—oh, eh! my dear fellow, what is this? put that back!” said Tchichikoff.
“This draughtsman there,” said Tchichikoff, but at the same time he saw another before his very nose, ready to enter and become a king, but from where it came, and how it could have so suddenly advanced, it was impossible for Tchichikoff to account. “No,” said Tchichikoff, rising from table, “it is impossible to play with you! To advance three draughtsmen at once is against the rules of the game altogether.”
“How do you mean, three men at once? That was a mistake. One of them might have advanced accidentally, I’ll move it back if you like.”
“But where does that other come from?”
“This one here, ready to become a king.”
“Well, I’m sure, don’t you recollect it?”
“Certainly not, my dear fellow, I have noticed every move, and I remember them all; you have only just now advanced it. Its place is here.”
“How, where is its place?” said Nosdrieff, blushing deeply, “but, my dear fellow, it seems to me that you would like to take me in.”
“No, not I, my dear fellow, but it is evident that you want to do so with me, only you are rather unsuccessful.”
“For whom do you take me?” said Nosdrieff, “do you think that I could be capable of shuffling?”
“I do not take you for anybody, but from henceforth I shall never play with you again.”
“But stop, you can’t back out of this game, you have began it, you must play it out,” said Nosdrieff hotly.
“I have the right to refuse, because you have not been playing as it becomes a gentleman.”
“You lie, for you cannot prove it!”
“No, my dear fellow, it’s you who are the liar!”
“I have not been shuffling, you dare not refuse to continue, and you must finish the game.”
“You cannot compel me to do that,” said Tchichikoff coolly, and approaching the table, he upset the draughtsmen.
Nosdrieff jumped from his seat in a rage, and drew so close to Tchichikoff that he made him step back two paces.
“I shall oblige you to play it out. It matters little, that the draughtsmen are mixed. I remember every move. We will arrange them again as they were.”
“No, my dear fellow, there is an end to it, I shall not play with you.”
“Then you positively refuse to finish the game?”
“You must allow yourself that it is impossible to play with you.”
“Now, you obstinate fellow, tell me once more, will you or will you not play?” spoke Nosdrieff wildly, whilst walking still closer up to Tchichikoff.
“I will not!” Tchichikoff exclaimed, but at the same time he raised his hands towards his face ready for any contingency, because the matter threatened to become rather hot. This precaution was taken in good time, because Nosdrieff in his excitement had raised his hand, and it might easily have happened, that one of the full and agreeable cheeks of our hero, would have been covered with dishonour, which could not be washed away; but he fortunately succeeded in escaping the blow, and seized the madly infuriated Nosdrieff by both hands, and held him tightly.
“Porphir! Ivan!” shouted Nosdrieff in his madness, whilst striving to liberate himself from Tchichikoff’s powerful grasp.
Hearing these names, Tchichikoff, in order not to have the servants witnesses to a scandalous scene, and feeling convinced also, that to holding Nosdrieff any longer would be of no advantage to him, he let loose his hands. At that same moment, Porphir entered the room followed by Ivan, a herculean looking fellow, with whom it would not have been advisable to pick a quarrel.
“Then you refuse to finish the game?” said Nosdrieff. “Give me a positive answer quickly, you obstinate blockhead!”
“It is impossible to finish the game,” answered Tchichikoff, and looked out of the window at the same time; he beheld his britchka, which was standing there quite ready, and Selifan seemed to wait but for a signal to drive up to the door; but it was impossible for Tchichikoff to leave the room, the door was guarded by two powerful slaves and tools of Nosdrieffs.
“Then you positively refuse to finish the game?” demanded again Nosdrieff, with a face as red hot as fire.
“If you had been playing as becomes a gentleman, I would have finished it, but now I cannot.”
“Ah! you say you cannot, you humbug, when you see that you are likely to lose the game, then it is that you cannot play! Horsewhip him,” he shouted, in a hoarse and infuriated voice, whilst turning towards Porphir and Ivan, and seizing himself a long cherry pipe tube. Tchichikoff became as pale and white as a sheet. He had evidently an intention to say something, but he felt, that his lips moved without speaking a word.
“Horsewhip him!” Nosdrieff again shouted, rushing forward, with the cherry tube uplifted in his hand, all excited and perspiring, as if he was about to storm an impregnable fortress. “Beat him!” he shouted in the same voice with which, in the heat of an onset some valorous lieutenant would address his men and say, “forward, children,” and whose daring has become so well known throughout the regiment, that special orders are always given that he should be kept back with the rear guard, whenever an action of importance is undertaken.
But the fortress, against which Nosdrieff was storming, was far from being impregnable, on the contrary, its outworks betrayed her inward weakness, and its fear was so great, that the commander-in-chief—the soul—went to hide himself in his heels.
The chair with which Tchichikoff attempted to defend himself, was wrenched from his hands by Nosdrieff’s serfs, and bereft of this last hope he closed his eyes and felt neither dead nor alive, yet he tried to grasp once more at the Tcherkessian pipe of his brutal host, and heaven knows, what the consequences might have been. But providence seemed to pity the position as well as the ribs, shoulders, and all the well-formed portions of our hero.
At this unexpected yet opportune moment, the sounds of post-horse bells were heard loudly ringing in the court-yard, and the wheels of a carriage rolled quickly over the stones before the entrance of the house. It was a telega, drawn by three horses, that had arrived so suddenly; shortly after, heavy footsteps were heard quickly approaching the room in which the actors of our present narrative were so dramatically collected.
They all looked involuntarily out of the window, and beheld a stranger in moustachios, dressed in a half military and half plain coat, alighting from the telega. Having taken his information in the anteroom, he entered at the very moment when Tchichikoff had not yet recovered from his stupefaction, and when he was in the most pitiable position in which a mortal man can possibly be.
“Allow me to ask which of you two gentlemen is Mr. Nosdrieff,” said the stranger, looking with some astonishment at Nosdrieff, who stood there with the cherry pipe tube in his uplifted hand, and then at Tchichikoff, who had scarcely begun to recover from his disadvantageous position.
“Allow me first to ask you with whom I have the honour of speaking?” said Nosdrieff, whilst approaching the stranger.
“I am a commissioner of the military police.”
“And what do you wish?”
“I come to inform you that in obedience to higher commands, I shall consider you my prisoner until proper inquiries will have been instituted into the affair in which you are compromised.”
“What nonsense! What affair do you mean?” demanded Nosdrieff.
“You were inculpated in an affair, or rather a riot, in which a certain lieutenant of the guards, by name Maksimoff was insulted and even horsewhipped, whilst in a state of intoxication.”
“That is perfectly false, Sir! I never saw in the whole course of my life your lieutenant Maksimoff!”
“My dear Sir, allow me to inform you that I am an officer. You may call your servants liars but not me.”
Tchichikoff did not wait to hear what Nosdrieff would reply to this observation, but seized his cap, passed stealthily behind the back of the commissary of the military police, and left the room. He was soon seated in his britchka, and ordered Selifan to drive off as fast as his horses could gallop.