“The proverb says, ‘for a friend seven miles even are no distance,'” said Nosdrieff as he entered the room and took off his hat. “I was just passing the inn, saw a light in your room, thought to myself, I’ll call upon him, he is surely not in bed yet, and here I am. Ah, delightful! you have yet your tea on the table; I shall have great pleasure to take a cup with you. I have made a very indifferent dinner to-day, and feel the consequences even now, just give orders to your servant to bring me a pipe. Where is your pipe?”
“I don’t smoke,” said Tchichikoff, dryly.
“Nonsense! as if I did not know that you are an inveterate smoker. Halloa! what’s that fellow’s name? Halloa, Vachramei, where are you?”
“His name is not Vachramei, but Petruschka.”
“How is this? but you used to have a servant of the name of Vachramei formerly.”
“I never had a servant of that name in my life.”
“Just so, my friend Derebischkin has a Vachramei. By the bye, imagine only what a lucky fellow that Derebischkin is. An aunt of his, having quarrelled with her own son for marrying the daughter of one of her serfs, has disinherited him, and left the whole of her property to my friend Derebischkin. When I heard of it, I could not help wishing for a couple of such aunts. But what is the matter with you, my dear fellow, why have you become a stranger, and are no more seen among us? Of course I know that you are sometimes engaged on scientific subjects, and like to play the original, and read and study, (why Nosdrieff came to the conclusion that our hero was fond of reading, and studying scientific subjects, is impossible for us to tell, and still less for Tchichikoff himself). “Ah, my dear fellow Tchichikoff, if you could but have witnessed it—it would have been excellent food for your satirical wit, (why Tchichikoff was possessed of satirical wit, it was also impossible to say.) Imagine only, my dear fellow, we were gambling a little the other evening at Lichatcheff’s house, we had such a lark there! My friend Perependeiff, who was with me, said what a pity that our Tchichikoff is not with us, he would have heartily enjoyed the fun—(meanwhile it must be observed that Tchichikoff never in his whole life knew a man of the name of Perependeiff.) However, I hope, my dear fellow, you will agree with me, that you acted very ungentlemanly to me on the last occasion, when we played that game of draughts, in which I was the winner. Yes, my dear fellow, I cannot help saying, you regularly did me out of it. However, the devil knows I cannot get angry on any account. It is but recently, that I and the President….”
“Halloa! and by the bye, I must tell you, my dear fellow, that the whole town is against you, they are under the impression that you are a manufacturer of spurious bank notes, they pressed hard upon me, but I defended you like a brother, I made them believe we were school-fellows, and that I knew your father; you may depend upon it, my dear fellow, I made them swallow a regular blue pill.”
“What do you say, I am suspected of making false bank notes?” exclaimed Tchichikoff in a fit of amazement, as he rose from his chair.
“But what pleasure could you also find in frightening them nearly out of their senses?” continued Nosdrieff. “I can assure you, my dear fellow, they are nearly all mad from fear; they believe you also to be a highwayman, and an imperial spy. As for the Procurator, the poor fellow died in consequence of your reputation, and is to be buried to-morrow. Will you attend the funeral? To speak the truth, they are horribly alarmed at the new Governor-General, who has been appointed by the Emperor. However, my dear fellow, I cannot help making the observation; but you play a hazardous game.”
“What hazardous game do you mean?” Tchichikoff again asked, rather alarmed.
“Well, I mean your projected elopement with the present Governor-General’s daughter. For my part, I must confess, I expected as much of you, by heavens I thought you would do it! The first time I saw you both together at the ball, I thought to myself, I’m sure Tchichikoff is not the fellow to take so much trouble for nothing. However, allow me to tell you, that I do not exactly approve of your choice, I cannot find anything particularly attractive in that fair girl. I would have liked her cousin, Anastasia Bikousova better, she is a charming little thing!”
“But stop, stop, what nonsense are you talking there? What did you say—I was going to elope with the Lord Lieutenant’s daughter?” Tchichikoff stammered, opening his eyes widely.
“Well, my dear fellow, now don’t you presume to be so very mysterious about the matter. I must confess, I came here with an intention. I am ready to assist you in the speculation. Be it so: I am willing to hold the nuptial crown over your head, I am ready to place my carriage and the relay horses at your disposal, but you must lend me a sum of five thousand roubles. I want them, I want them desperately, my dear fellow!”
During the whole time the prattling of Nosdrieff lasted, Tchichikoff continued to rub his eyes, wishing to convince himself whether he was under the impression of a dream, or whether he was listening to something in reality. Manufacturer of false bank notes, the elopement with the Governor-General’s daughter, the death of the Imperial Procurator, which he was given to understand was caused by him, the appointment and speedy arrival of a new Lord-Lieutenant, all this was calculated to alarm him considerably. If matters have come to this point, he thought to himself, I have no reason to tarry any longer here, and it is the highest time for me to leave town immediately.
He tried to rid himself as soon as possible of Nosdrieff’s company, in which he at last succeeded, but not without some considerable difficulty. He then called in his servant Selifan, and gave him instructions to be ready by the break of day, in order that they should have no impediments in leaving Smolensk by six o’clock in the morning, everything should be packed and ready, the britchka well greased, the horses cleaned, &c., &c.
Selifan answered: “very well, Pavel Ivanovitch,” but remained nevertheless for a few moments immoveable at the door. Tchichikoff ordered Petruschka to draw forward from under the bed his portmanteau, which was covered with a thick layer of dust, he began to assist his servant in the packing of all his property indiscriminately into it, such as stockings, shirts, and other clean and unwashed linen, boot-jacks, an almanack—all these effects were placed into the portmanteau as they happened to come under their hands; he intended to have everything absolutely ready in the evening, so that nothing should prevent or delay his departure in the morning.
Selifan who had, as we before said, remained silently standing at the door, when he saw the preparation for his master’s departure carried on so vigorously, at last left the room in a hurry.
Hurriedly, as hurriedly as it is possible to imagine it, he descended the staircase, imprinting the marks of his wet footsteps on the stairs, on arriving below he stopped short, and began to scratch the back of his head for a considerable rime.
What this scratching of his head meant, or what it in general was meant for, is difficult to say, but it is a characteristic trait of persons in his condition. Was it the disappointment, that he would not be able to go the next evening once more with his brother servant across the street to the cellar like imperial dram-shop, or had it, perhaps, happened that he had already succeeded during their protracted sojourn in Smolensk, in forming a tender attachment of the heart with some neighbour’s kitchen-maid, and that he would have to bid farewell to his fair girl, and that there would be an end to their tender conversation before the gate, where with his balalaika in his hand he used to give her an evening song.
Or, again was he simply sorry to leave a place to which he had just begun to accustom himself, and feel cozy and comfortable near the kitchen fire wrapped in his greasy sheep-skin, eating porridge and sour cabbage soup with fat meat-pies; leave all these comforts for the purpose of travelling again in rain and storm, and be tossed about on his master’s britchka?
Heaven alone knows what it meant, but it has many and innumerable meanings with the Russian people, when they begin to scratch the back of their head.