Lebedyan by Ivan
the Russian By
An Extract from
One of the principal advantages of hunting, my dear readers, consists
in its forcing you to be constantly moving from place to place, which
is highly agreeable for a man of no occupation. It is true that
sometimes, especially in wet weather, it's not over pleasant to roam
over by-roads, to cut 'across country,' to stop every peasant you meet
with the question, 'Hey! my good man! how are we to get to Mordovka?'
and at Mordovka to try to extract from a half-witted peasant woman (the
working population are all in the fields) whether it is far to an inn
on the high-road, and how to get to it—and then when you have gone on
eight miles farther, instead of an inn, to come upon the deserted
village of Hudobubnova, to the great amazement of a whole herd of pigs,
who have been wallowing up to their ears in the black mud in the middle
of the village street, without the slightest anticipation of ever being
disturbed. There is no great joy either in having to cross planks that
dance under your feet; to drop down into ravines; to wade across boggy
streams: it is not over-pleasant to tramp twenty-four hours on end
through the sea of green that covers the highroads or (which God
forbid!) stay for hours stuck in the mud before a striped milestone
with the figures 22 on one side and 23 on the other; it is not wholly
pleasant to live for weeks together on eggs, milk, and the rye-bread
patriots affect to be so fond of…. But there is ample compensation
for all these inconveniences and discomforts in pleasures and
advantages of another sort. Let us come, though, to our story.
After all I have said above, there is no need to explain to the reader
how I happened five years ago to be at Lebedyan just in the very thick
of the horse-fair. We sportsmen may often set off on a fine morning
from our more or less ancestral roof, in the full intention of
returning there the following evening, and little by little, still in
pursuit of snipe, may get at last to the blessed banks of Petchora.
Besides, every lover of the gun and the dog is a passionate admirer of
the noblest animal in the world, the horse. And so I turned up at
Lebedyan, stopped at the hotel, changed my clothes, and went out to the
fair. (The waiter, a thin lanky youth of twenty, had already informed
me in a sweet nasal tenor that his Excellency Prince N——, who
purchases the chargers of the—regiment, was staying at their house;
that many other gentlemen had arrived; that some gypsies were to sing
in the evenings, and there was to be a performance of Pan Tvardovsky
at the theatre; that the horses were fetching good prices; and that
there was a fine show of them.)
In the market square there were endless rows of carts drawn up, and
behind the carts, horses of every possible kind: racers, stud-horses,
dray horses, cart-horses, posting-hacks, and simple peasants' nags.
Some fat and sleek, assorted by colours, covered with striped horse-
cloths, and tied up short to high racks, turned furtive glances
backward at the too familiar whips of their owners, the horse-dealers;
private owners' horses, sent by noblemen of the steppes a hundred or
two hundred miles away, in charge of some decrepit old coachman and two
or three headstrong stable-boys, shook their long necks, stamped with
ennui, and gnawed at the fences; roan horses, from Vyatka, huddled
close to one another; race-horses, dapple-grey, raven, and sorrel, with
large hindquarters, flowing tails, and shaggy legs, stood in majestic
immobility like lions. Connoisseurs stopped respectfully before them.
The avenues formed by the rows of carts were thronged with people of
every class, age, and appearance; horse-dealers in long blue coats and
high caps, with sly faces, were on the look-out for purchasers;
gypsies, with staring eyes and curly heads, strolled up and down, like
uneasy spirits, looking into the horses' mouths, lifting up a hoof or a
tail, shouting, swearing, acting as go-betweens, casting lots, or
hanging about some army horse-contracter in a foraging-cap and military
cloak, with beaver collar. A stalwart Cossack rode up and down on a
lanky gelding with the neck of a stag, offering it for sale 'in one
lot,' that is, saddle, bridle, and all. Peasants, in sheepskins torn at
the arm-pits, were forcing their way despairingly through the crowd, or
packing themselves by dozens into a cart harnessed to a horse, which
was to be 'put to the test,' or somewhere on one side, with the aid of
a wily gypsy, they were bargaining till they were exhausted, clasping
each other's hands a hundred times over, each still sticking to his
price, while the subject of their dispute, a wretched little jade
covered with a shrunken mat, was blinking quite unmoved, as though it
was no concern of hers…. And, after all, what difference did it make
to her who was to have the beating of her? Broad-browed landowners,
with dyed moustaches and an expression of dignity on their faces, in
Polish hats and cotton overcoats pulled half-on, were talking
condescendingly with fat merchants in felt hats and green gloves.
Officers of different regiments were crowding everywhere; an
extraordinarily lanky cuirassier of German extraction was languidly
inquiring of a lame horse-dealer 'what he expected to get for that
chestnut.' A fair-haired young hussar, a boy of nineteen, was choosing
a trace-horse to match a lean carriage-horse; a post-boy in a low-
crowned hat, with a peacock's feather twisted round it, in a brown coat
and long leather gloves tied round the arm with narrow, greenish bands,
was looking for a shaft-horse. Coachmen were plaiting the horses'
tails, wetting their manes, and giving respectful advice to their
masters. Those who had completed a stroke of business were hurrying to
hotel or to tavern, according to their class…. And all the crowd were
moving, shouting, bustling, quarrelling and making it up again,
swearing and laughing, all up to their knees in the mud. I wanted to
buy a set of three horses for my covered trap; mine had begun to show
signs of breaking down. I had found two, but had not yet succeeded in
picking up a third. After a hotel dinner, which I cannot bring myself
to describe (even Aeneas had discovered how painful it is to dwell on
sorrows past), I repaired to a café so-called, which was the evening
resort of the purchasers of cavalry mounts, horse-breeders, and other
persons. In the billiard-room, which was plunged in grey floods of
tobacco smoke, there were about twenty men. Here were free-and-easy
young landowners in embroidered jackets and grey trousers, with long
curling hair and little waxed moustaches, staring about them with
gentlemanly insolence; other noblemen in Cossack dress, with
extraordinarily short necks, and eyes lost in layers of fat, were
snorting with distressing distinctness; merchants sat a little apart on
the qui-vive, as it is called; officers were chatting freely among
themselves. At the billiard-table was Prince N——a young man of two-
and-twenty, with a lively and rather contemptuous face, in a coat
hanging open, a red silk shirt, and loose velvet pantaloons; he was
playing with the ex-lieutenant, Viktor Hlopakov.
The ex-lieutenant, Viktor Hlopakov, a little, thinnish, dark man of
thirty, with black hair, brown eyes, and a thick snub nose, is a
diligent frequenter of elections and horse-fairs. He walks with a skip
and a hop, waves his fat hands with a jovial swagger, cocks his cap on
one side, and tucks up the sleeves of his military coat, showing the
blue-black cotton lining. Mr. Hlopakov knows how to gain the favour of
rich scapegraces from Petersburg; smokes, drinks, and plays cards with
them; calls them by their Christian names. What they find to like in
him it is rather hard to comprehend. He is not clever; he is not
amusing; he is not even a buffoon. It is true they treat him with
friendly casualness, as a good-natured fellow, but rather a fool; they
chum with him for two or three weeks, and then all of a sudden do not
recognise him in the street, and he on his side, too, does not
recognise them. The chief peculiarity of Lieutenant Hlopakov consists
in his continually for a year, sometimes two at a time, using in season
and out of season one expression, which, though not in the least
humorous, for some reason or other makes everyone laugh. Eight years
ago he used on every occasion to say, "'Umble respecks and duty," and
his patrons of that date used always to fall into fits of laughter and
make him repeat ''Umble respecks and duty'; then he began to adopt a
more complicated expression: 'No, that's too, too k'essk'say,' and with
the same brilliant success; two years later he had invented a fresh
saying: 'Ne voo excite _voo_self pa, man of sin, sewn in a
sheepskin,' and so on. And strange to say! these, as you see, not
overwhelmingly witty phrases, keep him in food and drink and clothes.
(He has run through his property ages ago, and lives solely upon his
friends.) There is, observe, absolutely no other attraction about him;
he can, it is true, smoke a hundred pipes of Zhukov tobacco in a day,
and when he plays billiards, throws his right leg higher than his head,
and while taking aim shakes his cue affectedly; but, after all, not
everyone has a fancy for these accomplishments. He can drink, too …
but in Russia it is hard to gain distinction as a drinker. In short,
his success is a complete riddle to me…. There is one thing, perhaps;
he is discreet; he has no taste for washing dirty linen away from home,
never speaks a word against anyone.
'Well,' I thought, on seeing Hlopakov, 'I wonder what his catchword is
The prince hit the white.
'Thirty love,' whined a consumptive marker, with a dark face and blue
rings under his eyes.
The prince sent the yellow with a crash into the farthest pocket.
'Ah!' a stoutish merchant, sitting in the corner at a tottering little
one-legged table, boomed approvingly from the depths of his chest, and
immediately was overcome by confusion at his own presumption. But
luckily no one noticed him. He drew a long breath, and stroked his
'Thirty-six love!' the marker shouted in a nasal voice.
'Well, what do you say to that, old man?' the prince asked Hlopakov.
'What! rrrrakaliooon, of course, simply rrrrakaliooooon!'
The prince roared with laughter.
'What? what? Say it again.'
'Rrrrrakaliooon!' repeated the ex-lieutenant complacently.
'So that's the catchword!' thought I.
The prince sent the red into the pocket.
'Oh! that's not the way, prince, that's not the way,' lisped a fair-
haired young officer with red eyes, a tiny nose, and a babyish, sleepy
face. 'You shouldn't play like that … you ought … not that way!'
'Eh?' the prince queried over his shoulder.
'You ought to have done it … in a triplet.'
'Oh, really?' muttered the prince.
'What do you say, prince? Shall we go this evening to hear the
gypsies?' the young man hurriedly went on in confusion. 'Styoshka will
sing … Ilyushka….'
The prince vouchsafed no reply.
'Rrrrrakaliooon, old boy,' said Hlopakov, with a sly wink of his left
And the prince exploded.
'Thirty-nine to love,' sang out the marker.
'Love … just look, I'll do the trick with that yellow.' … Hlopakov,
fidgeting his cue in his hand, took aim, and missed.
'Eh, rrrakalioon,' he cried with vexation.
The prince laughed again.
'What, what, what?'
'Your honour made a miss,' observed the marker. 'Allow me to chalk the
cue…. Forty love.'
'Yes, gentlemen,' said the prince, addressing the whole company, and
not looking at any one in particular; 'you know, Verzhembitskaya must
be called before the curtain to-night.'
'To be sure, to be sure, of course,' several voices cried in rivalry,
amazingly flattered at the chance of answering the prince's speech;
'Verzhembitskaya, to be sure….'
'Verzhembitskaya's an excellent actress, far superior to Sopnyakova,'
whined an ugly little man in the corner with moustaches and spectacles.
Luckless wretch! he was secretly sighing at Sopnyakova's feet, and the
prince did not even vouchsafe him a look.
'Wai-ter, hey, a pipe!' a tall gentleman, with regular features and a
most majestic manner—in fact, with all the external symptoms of a
card-sharper—muttered into his cravat.
A waiter ran for a pipe, and when he came back, announced to his
excellency that the groom Baklaga was asking for him.
'Ah! tell him to wait a minute and take him some vodka.'
Baklaga, as I was told afterwards, was the name of a youthful,
handsome, and excessively depraved groom; the prince loved him, made
him presents of horses, went out hunting with him, spent whole nights
with him…. Now you would not know this same prince, who was once a
rake and a scapegrace…. In what good odour he is now; how straight-
laced, how supercilious! How devoted to the government—and, above all,
so prudent and judicious!
However, the tobacco smoke had begun to make my eyes smart. After
hearing Hlopakov's exclamation and the prince's chuckle one last time
more, I went off to my room, where, on a narrow, hair-stuffed sofa
pressed into hollows, with a high, curved back, my man had already made
me up a bed.
The next day I went out to look at the horses in the stables, and began
with the famous horsedealer Sitnikov's. I went through a gate into a
yard strewn with sand. Before a wide open stable-door stood the
horsedealer himself—a tall, stout man no longer young, in a hareskin
coat, with a raised turnover collar. Catching sight of me, he moved
slowly to meet me, held his cap in both hands above his head, and in a
sing-song voice brought out:
'Ah, our respects to you. You'd like to have a look at the horses, may
'Yes; I've come to look at the horses.'
'And what sort of horses, precisely, I make bold to ask?'
'Show me what you have.'
We went into the stable. Some white pug-dogs got up from the hay and
ran up to us, wagging their tails, and a long-bearded old goat walked
away with an air of dissatisfaction; three stable-boys, in strong but
greasy sheepskins, bowed to us without speaking. To right and to left,
in horse-boxes raised above the ground, stood nearly thirty horses,
groomed to perfection. Pigeons fluttered cooing about the rafters.
'What, now, do you want a horse for? for driving or for breeding?'
Sitnikov inquired of me.
'Oh, I'll see both sorts.'
'To be sure, to be sure,' the horsedealer commented, dwelling on each
syllable. 'Petya, show the gentleman Ermine.'
We came out into the yard.
'But won't you let them bring you a bench out of the hut?… You don't
want to sit down…. As you please.'
There was the thud of hoofs on the boards, the crack of a whip, and
Petya, a swarthy fellow of forty, marked by small-pox, popped out of
the stable with a rather well-shaped grey stallion, made it rear, ran
twice round the yard with it, and adroitly pulled it up at the right
place. Ermine stretched himself, snorted, raised his tail, shook his
head, and looked sideways at me.
'A clever beast,' I thought.
'Give him his head, give him his head,' said Sitniker, and he stared at
'What may you think of him?' he inquired at last.
'The horse's not bad—the hind legs aren't quite sound.'
'His legs are first-rate!' Sitnikov rejoined, with an air of
conviction;' and his hind-quarters … just look, sir … broad as an
oven—you could sleep up there.' 'His pasterns are long.'
'Long! mercy on us! Start him, Petya, start him, but at a trot, a trot
… don't let him gallop.'
Again Petya ran round the yard with Ermine. None of us spoke for a
'There, lead him back,' said Sitnikov,' and show us Falcon.'
Falcon, a gaunt beast of Dutch extraction with sloping hind-quarters,
as black as a beetle, turned out to be little better than Ermine. He
was one of those beasts of whom fanciers will tell you that 'they go
chopping and mincing and dancing about,' meaning thereby that they
prance and throw out their fore-legs to right and to left without
making much headway. Middle-aged merchants have a great fancy for such
horses; their action recalls the swaggering gait of a smart waiter;
they do well in single harness for an after-dinner drive; with mincing
paces and curved neck they zealously draw a clumsy droshky laden with
an overfed coachman, a depressed, dyspeptic merchant, and his lymphatic
wife, in a blue silk mantle, with a lilac handkerchief over her head.
Falcon too I declined. Sitnikov showed me several horses…. One at
last, a dapple-grey beast of Voyakov breed, took my fancy. I could not
restrain my satisfaction, and patted him on the withers. Sitnikov at
once feigned absolute indifference.
"Well, does he go well in harness?" I inquired. (They never speak of a
trotting horse as "being driven.")
"Oh, yes," answered the horsedealer carelessly.
"Can I see him?"
"If you like, certainly. Hi, Kuzya, put Pursuer into the droshky!"
Kuzya, the jockey, a real master of horsemanship, drove three times
past us up and down the street. The horse went well, without changing
its pace, nor shambling; it had a free action, held its tail high, and
covered the ground well.
"And what are you asking for him?"
Sitnikov asked an impossible price. We began bargaining on the spot in
the street, when suddenly a splendidly-matched team of three posting-
horses flew noisily round the corner and drew up sharply at the gates
before Sitnikov's house. In the smart little sportsman's trap sat
Prince N——; beside him Hlopakov. Baklaga was driving … and how he
drove! He could have driven them through an earring, the rascal! The
bay trace-horses, little, keen, black-eyed, black-legged beasts, were
all impatience; they kept rearing—a whistle, and off they would have
bolted! The dark-bay shaft-horse stood firmly, its neck arched like a
swan's, its breast forward, its legs like arrows, shaking its head and
proudly blinking…. They were splendid! No one could desire a finer
turn out for an Easter procession!
'Your excellency, please to come in!' cried Sitnikov.
The prince leaped out of the trap. Hlopakov slowly descended on the
'Good morning, friend … any horses.'
'You may be sure we've horses for your excellency! Pray walk in….
Petya, bring out Peacock! and let them get Favourite ready too. And
with you, sir,' he went on, turning to me, 'we'll settle matters
another time…. Fomka, a bench for his excellency.'
From a special stable which I had not at first observed they led out
Peacock. A powerful dark sorrel horse seemed to fly across the yard
with all its legs in the air. Sitnikov even turned away his head and
'Oh, rrakalion!' piped Hlopakov; 'Zhaymsah (j'aime ça.)'
The prince laughed.
Peacock was stopped with difficulty; he dragged the stable-boy about
the yard; at last he was pushed against the wall. He snorted, started
and reared, while Sitnikov still teased him, brandishing a whip at him.
'What are you looking at? there! oo!' said the horsedealer with
caressing menace, unable to refrain from admiring his horse himself.
'How much?' asked the prince.
'For your excellency, five thousand.'
'Impossible, your excellency, upon my word.'
'I tell you three, rrakalion,' put in Hlopakov.
I went away without staying to see the end of the bargaining. At the
farthest corner of the street I noticed a large sheet of paper fixed on
the gate of a little grey house. At the top there was a pen-and-ink
sketch of a horse with a tail of the shape of a pipe and an endless
neck, and below his hoofs were the following words, written in an old-
'Here are for sale horses of various colours, brought to the Lebedyan
fair from the celebrated steppes stud of Anastasei Ivanitch Tchornobai,
landowner of Tambov. These horses are of excellent sort; broken in to
perfection, and free from vice. Purchasers will kindly ask for
Anastasei Ivanitch himself: should Anastasei Ivanitch be absent, then
ask for Nazar Kubishkin, the coachman. Gentlemen about to purchase,
kindly honour an old man.'
I stopped. 'Come,' I thought, 'let's have a look at the horses of the
celebrated steppes breeder, Mr. Tchornobai.'
I was about to go in at the gate, but found that, contrary to the
common usage, it was locked. I knocked.
'Who's there?… A customer?' whined a woman's voice.
'Coming, sir, coming.'
The gate was opened. I beheld a peasant-woman of fifty, bareheaded, in
boots, and a sheepskin worn open.
'Please to come in, kind sir, and I'll go at once, and tell Anastasei
Ivanitch … Nazar, hey, Nazar!'
'What?' mumbled an old man's voice from the stable.
'Get a horse ready; here's a customer.'
The old woman ran into the house.
'A customer, a customer,' Nazar grumbled in response; 'I've not washed
all their tails yet.'
'Oh, Arcadia!' thought I.
'Good day, sir, pleased to see you,' I heard a rich, pleasant voice
saying behind my back. I looked round; before me, in a long-skirted
blue coat, stood an old man of medium height, with white hair, a
friendly smile, and fine blue eyes.
'You want a little horse? By all means, my dear sir, by all means….
But won't you step in and drink just a cup of tea with me first?'
I declined and thanked him.
'Well, well, as you please. You must excuse me, my dear sir; you see
I'm old-fashioned.' (Mr. Tchornobai spoke with deliberation, and in a
broad Doric.) 'Everything with me is done in a plain way, you know….
Nazar, hey, Nazar!' he added, not raising his voice, but prolonging
each syllable. Nazar, a wrinkled old man with a little hawk nose and a
wedge-shaped beard, showed himself at the stable door.
'What sort of horses is it you're wanting, my dear sir?' resumed Mr.
'Not too expensive; for driving in my covered gig.'
'To be sure … we have got them to suit you, to be sure…. Nazar,
Nazar, show the gentleman the grey gelding, you know, that stands at
the farthest corner, and the sorrel with the star, or else the other
sorrel—foal of Beauty, you know.'
Nazar went back to the stable.
'And bring them out by their halters just as they are,' Mr. Tchornobai
shouted after him. 'You won't find things with me, my good sir,' he
went on, with a clear mild gaze into my face, 'as they are with the
horse-dealers; confound their tricks! There are drugs of all sorts go
in there, salt and malted grains; God forgive them! But with me, you
will see, sir, everything's above-board; no underhandedness.'
The horses were led in; I did not care for them.
'Well, well, take them back, in God's name,' said Anastasei Ivanitch.
'Show us the others.'
Others were shown. At last I picked out one, rather a cheap one. We
began to haggle over the price. Mr. Tchornobai did not get excited; he
spoke so reasonably, with such dignity, that I could not help
'honouring' the old man; I gave him the earnest-money.
'Well, now,' observed Anastasei Ivanitch, 'allow me to give over the
horse to you from hand to hand, after the old fashion…. You will
thank me for him … as sound as a nut, see … fresh … a true child
of the steppes! Goes well in any harness.'
He crossed himself, laid the skirt of his coat over his hand, took the
halter, and handed me the horse.
'You're his master now, with God's blessing…. And you still won't
take a cup of tea?'
'No, I thank you heartily; it's time I was going home.'
'That's as you think best…. And shall my coachman lead the horse
'Yes, now, if you please.'
'By all means, my dear sir, by all means…. Vassily, hey, Vassily!
step along with the gentleman, lead the horse, and take the money for
him. Well, good-bye, my good sir; God bless you.'
'Good-bye, Anastasei Ivanitch.'
They led the horse home for me. The next day he turned out to be
broken-winded and lame. I tried having him put in harness; the horse
backed, and if one gave him a flick with the whip he jibbed, kicked,
and positively lay down. I set off at once to Mr. Tchornobai's. I
inquired: 'At home?'
'What's the meaning of this?' said I; 'here you've sold me a broken-
'Broken-winded?… God forbid!'
'Yes, and he's lame too, and vicious besides.'
'Lame! I know nothing about it: your coachman must have ill-treated him
somehow…. But before God, I—'
'Look here, Anastasei Ivanitch, as things stand, you ought to take him
'No, my good sir, don't put yourself in a passion; once gone out of the
yard, is done with. You should have looked before, sir.'
I understood what that meant, accepted my fate, laughed, and walked
off. Luckily, I had not paid very dear for the lesson.
Two days later I left, and in a week I was again at Lebedyan on my way
home again. In the café I found almost the same persons, and again I
came upon Prince N——at billiards. But the usual change in the
fortunes of Mr. Hlopakov had taken place in this interval: the fair-
haired young officer had supplanted him in the prince's favours. The
poor ex-lieutenant once more tried letting off his catchword in my
presence, on the chance it might succeed as before; but, far from
smiling, the prince positively scowled and shrugged his shoulders. Mr.
Hlopakov looked downcast, shrank into a corner, and began furtively
filling himself a pipe….