by Ivan Turgenev
the Russian By
An Extract from
At the beginning of August the heat often becomes insupportable. At
that season, from twelve to three o'clock, the most determined and
ardent sportsman is not able to hunt, and the most devoted dog begins
to 'clean his master's spurs,' that is, to follow at his heels, his
eyes painfully blinking, and his tongue hanging out to an exaggerated
length; and in response to his master's reproaches he humbly wags his
tail and shows his confusion in his face; but he does not run forward.
I happened to be out hunting on exactly such a day. I had long been
fighting against the temptation to lie down somewhere in the shade, at
least for a moment; for a long time my indefatigable dog went on
running about in the bushes, though he clearly did not himself expect
much good from his feverish activity. The stifling heat compelled me at
last to begin to think of husbanding our energies and strength. I
managed to reach the little river Ista, which is already known to my
indulgent readers, descended the steep bank, and walked along the damp,
yellow sand in the direction of the spring, known to the whole
neighbourhood as Raspberry Spring. This spring gushes out of a cleft in
the bank, which widens out by degrees into a small but deep creek, and,
twenty paces beyond it, falls with a merry babbling sound into the
river; the short velvety grass is green about the source: the sun's
rays scarcely ever reach its cold, silvery water. I came as far as the
spring; a cup of birch-wood lay on the grass, left by a passing peasant
for the public benefit. I quenched my thirst, lay down in the shade,
and looked round. In the cave, which had been formed by the flowing of
the stream into the river, and hence marked for ever with the trace of
ripples, two old men were sitting with their backs to me. One, a rather
stout and tall man in a neat dark-green coat and lined cap, was
fishing; the other was thin and little; he wore a patched fustian coat
and no cap; he held a little pot full of worms on his knees, and
sometimes lifted his hand up to his grizzled little head, as though he
wanted to protect it from the sun. I looked at him more attentively,
and recognised in him Styopushka of Shumihino. I must ask the reader's
leave to present this man to him.
A few miles from my place there is a large village called Shumihino,
with a stone church, erected in the name of St. Kosmo and St. Damian.
Facing this church there had once stood a large and stately manor-
house, surrounded by various outhouses, offices, workshops, stables and
coach-houses, baths and temporary kitchens, wings for visitors and for
bailiffs, conservatories, swings for the people, and other more or less
useful edifices. A family of rich landowners lived in this manor-house,
and all went well with them, till suddenly one morning all this
prosperity was burnt to ashes. The owners removed to another home; the
place was deserted. The blackened site of the immense house was
transformed into a kitchen-garden, cumbered up in parts by piles of
bricks, the remains of the old foundations. A little hut had been
hurriedly put together out of the beams that had escaped the fire; it
was roofed with timber bought ten years before for the construction of
a pavilion in the Gothic style; and the gardener, Mitrofan, with his
wife Axinya and their seven children, was installed in it. Mitrofan
received orders to send greens and garden-stuff for the master's table,
a hundred and fifty miles away; Axinya was put in charge of a Tyrolese
cow, which had been bought for a high price in Moscow, but had not
given a drop of milk since its acquisition; a crested smoke-coloured
drake too had been left in her hands, the solitary 'seignorial' bird;
for the children, in consideration of their tender age, no special
duties had been provided, a fact, however, which had not hindered them
from growing up utterly lazy. It happened to me on two occasions to
stay the night at this gardener's, and when I passed by I used to get
cucumbers from him, which, for some unknown reason, were even in summer
peculiar for their size, their poor, watery flavour, and their thick
yellow skin. It was there I first saw Styopushka. Except Mitrofan and
his family, and the old deaf churchwarden Gerasim, kept out of charity
in a little room at the one-eyed soldier's widow's, not one man among
the house-serfs had remained at Shumihino; for Styopushka, whom I
intend to introduce to the reader, could not be classified under the
special order of house-serfs, and hardly under the genus 'man' at all.
Every man has some kind of position in society, and at least some ties
of some sort; every house-serf receives, if not wages, at least some
so-called 'ration.' Styopushka had absolutely no means of subsistence
of any kind; had no relationship to anyone; no one knew of his
existence. This man had not even a past; there was no story told of
him; he had probably never been enrolled on a census-revision. There
were vague rumours that he had once belonged to someone as a valet; but
who he was, where he came from, who was his father, and how he had come
to be one of the Shumihino people; in what way he had come by the
fustian coat he had worn from immemorial times; where he lived and what
he lived on—on all these questions no one had the least idea; and, to
tell the truth, no one took any interest in the subject. Grandfather
Trofimitch, who knew all the pedigrees of all the house-serfs in the
direct line to the fourth generation, had once indeed been known to say
that he remembered that Styopushka was related to a Turkish woman whom
the late master, the brigadier Alexy Romanitch had been pleased to
bring home from a campaign in the baggage waggon. Even on holidays,
days of general money-giving and of feasting on buckwheat dumplings and
vodka, after the old Russian fashion—even on such days Styopushka did
not put in an appearance at the trestle-tables nor at the barrels; he
did not make his bow nor kiss the master's hand, nor toss off to the
master's health and under the master's eye a glass filled by the fat
hands of the bailiff. Some kind soul who passed by him might share an
unfinished bit of dumpling with the poor beggar, perhaps. At Easter
they said 'Christ is risen!' to him; but he did not pull up his greasy
sleeve, and bring out of the depths of his pocket a coloured egg, to
offer it, panting and blinking, to his young masters or to the mistress
herself. He lived in summer in a little shed behind the chicken-house,
and in winter in the ante-room of the bathhouse; in the bitter frosts
he spent the night in the hayloft. The house-serfs had grown used to
seeing him; sometimes they gave him a kick, but no one ever addressed a
remark to him; as for him, he seems never to have opened his lips from
the time of his birth. After the conflagration, this forsaken creature
sought a refuge at the gardener Mitrofan's. The gardener left him
alone; he did not say 'Live with me,' but he did not drive him away.
And Styopushka did not live at the gardener's; his abode was the
garden. He moved and walked about quite noiselessly; he sneezed and
coughed behind his hand, not without apprehension; he was for ever busy
and going stealthily to and fro like an ant; and all to get food—
simply food to eat. And indeed, if he had not toiled from morning till
night for his living, our poor friend would certainly have died of
hunger. It's a sad lot not to know in the morning what you will find to
eat before night! Sometimes Styopushka sits under the hedge and gnaws a
radish or sucks a carrot, or shreds up some dirty cabbage-stalks; or he
drags a bucket of water along, for some object or other, groaning as he
goes; or he lights a fire under a small pot, and throws in some little
black scraps which he takes from out of the bosom of his coat; or he is
hammering in his little wooden den—driving in a nail, putting up a
shelf for bread. And all this he does silently, as though on the sly:
before you can look round, he's in hiding again. Sometimes he suddenly
disappears for a couple of days; but of course no one notices his
absence…. Then, lo and behold! he is there again, somewhere under the
hedge, stealthily kindling a fire of sticks under a kettle. He had a
small face, yellowish eyes, hair coming down to his eyebrows, a sharp
nose, large transparent ears, like a bat's, and a beard that looked as
if it were a fortnight's growth, and never grew more nor less. This,
then, was Styopushka, whom I met on the bank of the Ista in company
with another old man.
I went up to him, wished him good-day, and sat down beside him.
Styopushka's companion too I recognised as an acquaintance; he was a
freed serf of Count Piotr Ilitch's, one Mihal Savelitch, nicknamed
Tuman (i.e. fog). He lived with a consumptive Bolhovsky man, who kept
an inn, where I had several times stayed. Young officials and other
persons of leisure travelling on the Orel highroad (merchants, buried
in their striped rugs, have other things to do) may still see at no
great distance from the large village of Troitska, and almost on the
highroad, an immense two-storied wooden house, completely deserted,
with its roof falling in and its windows closely stuffed up. At mid-day
in bright, sunny weather nothing can be imagined more melancholy than
this ruin. Here there once lived Count Piotr Ilitch, a rich grandee of
the olden time, renowned for his hospitality. At one time the whole
province used to meet at his house, to dance and make merry to their
heart's content to the deafening sound of a home-trained orchestra, and
the popping of rockets and Roman candles; and doubtless more than one
aged lady sighs as she drives by the deserted palace of the boyar and
recalls the old days and her vanished youth. The count long continued
to give balls, and to walk about with an affable smile among the crowd
of fawning guests; but his property, unluckily, was not enough to last
his whole life. When he was entirely ruined, he set off to Petersburg
to try for a post for himself, and died in a room at a hotel, without
having gained anything by his efforts. Tuman had been a steward of his,
and had received his freedom already in the count's lifetime. He was a
man of about seventy, with a regular and pleasant face. He was almost
continually smiling, as only men of the time of Catherine ever do
smile—a smile at once stately and indulgent; in speaking, he slowly
opened and closed his lips, winked genially with his eyes, and spoke
slightly through his nose. He blew his nose and took snuff too in a
leisurely fashion, as though he were doing something serious.
'Well, Mihal Savelitch,' I began, 'have you caught any fish?'
'Here, if you will deign to look in the basket: I have caught two perch
and five roaches…. Show them, Styopka.'
Styopushka stretched out the basket to me.
'How are you, Styopka?' I asked him.
'Oh—oh—not—not—not so badly, your honour,' answered Stepan,
stammering as though he had a heavy weight on his tongue.
'And is Mitrofan well?'
'Well—yes, yes—your honour.'
The poor fellow turned away.
'But there are not many bites,' remarked Tuman; 'it's so fearfully hot;
the fish are all tired out under the bushes; they're asleep. Put on a
worm, Styopka.' (Styopushka took out a worm, laid it on his open hand,
struck it two or three times, put it on the hook, spat on it, and gave
it to Tuman.) 'Thanks, Styopka…. And you, your honour,' he continued,
turning to me, 'are pleased to be out hunting?'
'As you see.'
'Ah—and is your dog there English or German?'
The old man liked to show off on occasion, as though he would say, 'I,
too, have lived in the world!'
'I don't know what breed it is, but it's a good dog.'
'Ah! and do you go out with the hounds too?'
'Yes, I have two leashes of hounds.'
Tuman smiled and shook his head.
'That's just it; one man is devoted to dogs, and another doesn't want
them for anything. According to my simple notions, I fancy dogs should
be kept rather for appearance' sake … and all should be in style too;
horses too should be in style, and huntsmen in style, as they ought to
be, and all. The late count—God's grace be with him!—was never, I
must own, much of a hunter; but he kept dogs, and twice a year he was
pleased to go out with them. The huntsmen assembled in the courtyard,
in red caftans trimmed with galloon, and blew their horns; his
excellency would be pleased to come out, and his excellency's horse
would be led up; his excellency would mount, and the chief huntsman
puts his feet in the stirrups, takes his hat off, and puts the reins in
his hat to offer them to his excellency. His excellency is pleased to
click his whip like this, and the huntsmen give a shout, and off they
go out of the gate away. A huntsman rides behind the count, and holds
in a silken leash two of the master's favourite dogs, and looks after
them well, you may fancy…. And he, too, this huntsman, sits up high,
on a Cossack saddle: such a red-cheeked fellow he was, and rolled his
eyes like this…. And there were guests too, you may be sure, on such
occasions, and entertainment, and ceremonies observed…. Ah, he's got
away, the Asiatic!' He interrupted himself suddenly, drawing in his
'They say the count used to live pretty freely in his day?' I asked.
The old man spat on the worm and lowered the line in again.
'He was a great gentleman, as is well-known. At times the persons of
the first rank, one may say, at Petersburg, used to visit him. With
coloured ribbons on their breasts they used to sit down to table and
eat. Well, he knew how to entertain them. He called me sometimes.
"Tuman," says he, "I want by to-morrow some live sturgeon; see there
are some, do you hear?" "Yes, your excellency." Embroidered coats,
wigs, canes, perfumes, eau de Cologne of the best sort, snuff-boxes,
huge pictures: he would order them all from Paris itself! When he gave
a banquet, God Almighty, Lord of my being! there were fireworks, and
carriages driving up! They even fired off the cannon. The orchestra
alone consisted of forty men. He kept a German as conductor of the
band, but the German gave himself dreadful airs; he wanted to eat at
the same table as the masters; so his excellency gave orders to get rid
of him! "My musicians," says he, "can do their work even without a
conductor." Of course he was master. Then they would fall to dancing,
and dance till morning, especially at the écossaise-matrador. … Ah—
ah—there's one caught!' (The old man drew a small perch out of the
water.) 'Here you are, Styopka! The master was all a master should be,'
continued the old man, dropping his line in again, 'and he had a kind
heart too. He would give you a blow at times, and before you could look
round, he'd forgotten it already. There was only one thing: he kept
mistresses. Ugh, those mistresses! God forgive them! They were the ruin
of him too; and yet, you know, he took them most generally from a low
station. You would fancy they would not want much? Not a bit—they must
have everything of the most expensive in all Europe! One may say, "Why
shouldn't he live as he likes; it's the master's business" … but
there was no need to ruin himself. There was one especially; Akulina
was her name. She is dead now; God rest her soul! the daughter of the
watchman at Sitoia; and such a vixen! She would slap the count's face
sometimes. She simply bewitched him. My nephew she sent for a soldier;
he spilt some chocolate on a new dress of hers … and he wasn't the
only one she served so. Ah, well, those were good times, though!' added
the old man with a deep sigh. His head drooped forward and he was
'Your master, I see, was severe, then?' I began after a brief silence.
'That was the fashion then, your honour,' he replied, shaking his head.
'That sort of thing is not done now?' I observed, not taking my eyes
He gave me a look askance.
'Now, surely it's better,' he muttered, and let out his line further.
We were sitting in the shade; but even in the shade it was stifling.
The sultry atmosphere was faint and heavy; one lifted one's burning
face uneasily, seeking a breath of wind; but there was no wind. The sun
beat down from blue and darkening skies; right opposite us, on the
other bank, was a yellow field of oats, overgrown here and there with
wormwood; not one ear of the oats quivered. A little lower down a
peasant's horse stood in the river up to its knees, and slowly shook
its wet tail; from time to time, under an overhanging bush, a large
fish shot up, bringing bubbles to the surface, and gently sank down to
the bottom, leaving a slight ripple behind it. The grasshoppers chirped
in the scorched grass; the quail's cry sounded languid and reluctant;
hawks sailed smoothly over the meadows, often resting in the same spot,
rapidly fluttering their wings and opening their tails into a fan. We
sat motionless, overpowered with the heat. Suddenly there was a sound
behind us in the creek; someone came down to the spring. I looked
round, and saw a peasant of about fifty, covered with dust, in a smock,
and wearing bast slippers; he carried a wickerwork pannier and a cloak
on his shoulders. He went down to the spring, drank thirstily, and got
'Ah, Vlass!' cried Tuman, staring at him; 'good health to you, friend!
Where has God sent you from?'
'Good health to you, Mihal Savelitch!' said the peasant, coming nearer
to us; 'from a long way off.'
'Where have you been?' Tuman asked him.
'I have been to Moscow, to my master.'
'I went to ask him a favour.'
'Oh, to lessen my rent, or to let me work it out in labour, or to put
me on another piece of land, or something…. My son is dead—so I
can't manage it now alone.'
'Your son is dead?'
'He is dead. My son,' added the peasant, after a pause, 'lived in
Moscow as a cabman; he paid, I must confess, rent for me.'
'Then are you now paying rent?'
'Yes, we pay rent.'
'What did your master say?'
'What did the master say! He drove me away! Says he, "How dare you come
straight to me; there is a bailiff for such things. You ought first,"
says he, "to apply to the bailiff … and where am I to put you on
other land? You first," says he, "bring the debt you owe." He was angry
'What then—did you come back?'
'I came back. I wanted to find out if my son had not left any goods of
his own, but I couldn't get a straight answer. I say to his employer,
"I am Philip's father"; and he says, "What do I know about that? And
your son," says he, "left nothing; he was even in debt to me." So I
The peasant related all this with a smile, as though he were speaking
of someone else; but tears were starting into his small, screwed-up
eyes, and his lips were quivering.
'Well, are you going home then now?'
'Where can I go? Of course I'm going home. My wife, I suppose, is
pretty well starved by now.'
'You should—then,' Styopushka said suddenly. He grew confused, was
silent, and began to rummage in the worm-pot.
'And shall you go to the bailiff?' continued Tuman, looking with some
amazement at Styopka.
'What should I go to him for?—I'm in arrears as it is. My son was ill
for a year before his death; he could not pay even his own rent. But it
can't hurt me; they can get nothing from me…. Yes, my friend, you can
be as cunning as you please—I'm cleaned out!' (The peasant began to
laugh.) 'Kintlyan Semenitch'll have to be clever if—'
Vlass laughed again.
'Oh! things are in a sad way, brother Vlass,' Tuman ejaculated
'Sad! No!' (Vlass's voice broke.) 'How hot it is!' he went on, wiping
his face with his sleeve.
'Who is your master?' I asked him.
'Count Valerian Petrovitch.'
'The son of Piotr Ilitch?'
'The son of Piotr Ilitch,' replied Tuman. 'Piotr Hitch gave him Vlass's
village in his lifetime.'
'Is he well?'
'He is well, thank God!' replied Vlass. 'He has grown so red, and his
face looks as though it were padded.'
'You see, your honour,' continued Tuman, turning to me, 'it would be
very well near Moscow, but it's a different matter to pay rent here.'
'And what is the rent for you altogether?'
'Ninety-five roubles,' muttered Vlass.
'There, you see; and it's the least bit of land; all there is is the
'And that, they say, they have sold,' observed the peasant.
'There, you see. Styopka, give me a worm. Why, Styopka, are you asleep
Styopushka started. The peasant sat down by us. We sank into silence
again. On the other bank someone was singing a song—but such a
mournful one. Our poor Vlass grew deeply dejected.
Half-an-hour later we parted.