the Russian By
An Extract from
I have already had the honour, kind readers, of introducing to you
several of my neighbours; let me now seize a favourable opportunity (it
is always a favourable opportunity with us writers) to make known to
you two more gentlemen, on whose lands I often used to go shooting—
very worthy, well-intentioned persons, who enjoy universal esteem in
First I will describe to you the retired General-major Vyatcheslav
Ilarionovitch Hvalinsky. Picture to yourselves a tall and once slender
man, now inclined to corpulence, but not in the least decrepit or even
elderly, a man of ripe age; in his very prime, as they say. It is true
the once regular and even now rather pleasing features of his face
have undergone some change; his cheeks are flabby; there are close
wrinkles like rays about his eyes; a few teeth are not, as Saadi,
according to Pushkin, used to say; his light brown hair—at least, all
that is left of it—has assumed a purplish hue, thanks to a composition
bought at the Romyon horse-fair of a Jew who gave himself out as an
Armenian; but Vyatcheslav Ilarionovitch has a smart walk and a ringing
laugh, jingles his spurs and curls his moustaches, and finally speaks
of himself as an old cavalry man, whereas we all know that really old
men never talk of being old. He usually wears a frock-coat buttoned up
to the top, a high cravat, starched collars, and grey sprigged trousers
of a military cut; he wears his hat tilted over his forehead, leaving
all the back of his head exposed. He is a good-natured man, but of
rather curious notions and principles. For instance, he can never treat
noblemen of no wealth or standing as equals. When he talks to them, he
usually looks sideways at them, his cheek pressed hard against his
stiff white collar, and suddenly he turns and silently fixes them with
a clear stony stare, while he moves the whole skin of his head under
his hair; he even has a way of his own in pronouncing many words; he
never says, for instance: 'Thank you, Pavel Vasilyitch,' or 'This way,
if you please, Mihalo Ivanitch,' but always 'Fanks, Pa'l 'Asilitch,' or
''Is wy, please, Mil' 'Vanitch.' With persons of the lower grades of
society, his behaviour is still more quaint; he never looks at them at
all, and before making known his desires to them, or giving an order,
he repeats several times in succession, with a puzzled, far-away air:
'What's your name?… what, what's your name?' with extraordinary sharp
emphasis on the first word, which gives the phrase a rather close
resemblance to the call of a quail. He is very fussy and terribly
close-fisted, but manages his land badly; he had chosen as overseer on
his estate a retired quartermaster, a Little Russian, and a man of
really exceptional stupidity. None of us, though, in the management of
land, has ever surpassed a certain great Petersburg dignitary, who,
having perceived from the reports of his steward that the cornkilns in
which the corn was dried on his estate were often liable to catch fire,
whereby he lost a great deal of grain, gave the strictest orders that
for the future they should not put the sheaves in till the fire had
been completely put out! This same great personage conceived the
brilliant idea of sowing his fields with poppies, as the result of an
apparently simple calculation; poppy being dearer than rye, he argued,
it is consequently more profitable to sow poppy. He it was, too, who
ordered his women serfs to wear tiaras after a pattern bespoken from
Moscow; and to this day the peasant women on his lands do actually wear
the tiaras, only they wear them over their skull-caps…. But let us
return to Vyatcheslav Ilarionovitch. Vyatcheslav Ilarionovitch is a
devoted admirer of the fair sex, and directly he catches sight of a
pretty woman in the promenade of his district town, he is promptly off
in pursuit, but falls at once into a sort of limping gait—that is the
remarkable feature of the case. He is fond of playing cards, but only
with people of a lower standing; they toady him with 'Your Excellency'
in every sentence, while he can scold them and find fault to his
heart's content. When he chances to play with the governor or any
official personage, a marvellous change comes over him; he is all nods
and smiles; he looks them in the face; he seems positively flowing with
honey…. He even loses without grumbling. Vyatcheslav Ilarionovitch
does not read much; when he is reading he incessantly works his
moustaches and eyebrows up and down, as if a wave were passing from
below upwards over his face. This undulatory motion in Vyatcheslav
Ilarionovitch's face is especially marked when (before company, of
course) he happens to be reading the columns of the Journal des
Débats. In the assemblies of nobility he plays a rather important
part, but on grounds of economy he declines the honourable dignity of
marshal. 'Gentlemen,' he usually says to the noblemen who press that
office upon him, and he speaks in a voice filled with condescension and
self-sufficiency: 'much indebted for the honour; but I have made up my
mind to consecrate my leisure to solitude.' And, as he utters these
words, he turns his head several times to right and to left, and then,
with a dignified air, adjusts his chin and his cheek over his cravat.
In his young days he served as adjutant to some very important person,
whom he never speaks of except by his Christian name and patronymic;
they do say he fulfilled other functions than those of an adjutant;
that, for instance, in full parade get-up, buttoned up to the chin, he
had to lather his chief in his bath—but one can't believe everything
one hears. General Hvalinsky is not, however, fond of talking himself
about his career in the army, which is certainly rather curious; it
seems that he had never seen active service. General Hvalinsky lives in
a small house alone; he has never known the joys of married life, and
consequently he still regards himself as a possible match, and indeed a
very eligible one. But he has a house-keeper, a dark-eyed, dark-browed,
plump, fresh-looking woman of five-and-thirty with a moustache; she
wears starched dresses even on week-days, and on Sundays puts on muslin
sleeves as well. Vyatcheslav Ilarionovitch is at his best at the large
invitation dinners given by gentlemen of the neighbourhood in honour of
the governor and other dignitaries: then he is, one may say, in his
natural element. On these occasions he usually sits, if not on the
governor's right hand, at least at no great distance from him; at the
beginning of dinner he is more disposed to nurse his sense of personal
dignity, and, sitting back in his chair, he loftily scans the necks and
stand-up collars of the guests, without turning his head, but towards
the end of the meal he unbends, begins smiling in all directions (he
had been all smiles for the governor from the first), and sometimes
even proposes the toast in honour of the fair sex, the ornament of our
planet, as he says. General Hvalinsky shows to advantage too at all
solemn public functions, inspections, assemblies, and exhibitions; no
one in church goes up for the benediction with such style. Vyatcheslav
Ilarionovitch's servants are never noisy and clamorous on the breaking
up of assemblies or in crowded thoroughfares; as they make a way for
him through the crowd or call his carriage, they say in an agreeable
guttural baritone: 'By your leave, by your leave allow General
Hvalinsky to pass,' or 'Call for General Hvalinsky's carriage.' …
Hvalinsky's carriage is, it must be admitted, of a rather queer design,
and the footmen's liveries are rather threadbare (that they are grey,
with red facings, it is hardly necessary to remark); his horses too
have seen a good deal of hard service in their time; but Vyatcheslav
Ilarionovitch has no pretensions to splendour, and goes so far as to
think it beneath his rank to make an ostentation of wealth. Hvalinsky
has no special gift of eloquence, or possibly has no opportunity of
displaying his rhetorical powers, as he has a particular aversion, not
only for disputing, but for discussion in general, and assiduously
avoids long conversation of all sorts, especially with young people.
This was certainly judicious on his part; the worst of having to do
with the younger generation is that they are so ready to forget the
proper respect and submission due to their superiors. In the presence
of persons of high rank Hvalinsky is for the most part silent, while
with persons of a lower rank, whom to judge by appearances he despises,
though he constantly associates with them, his remarks are sharp and
abrupt, expressions such as the following occurring incessantly:
'That's a piece of folly, what you're saying now,' or 'I feel myself
compelled, sir, to remind you,' or 'You ought to realise with whom you
are dealing,' and so on. He is peculiarly dreaded by post-masters,
officers of the local boards, and superintendents of posting stations.
He never entertains any one in his house, and lives, as the rumour
goes, like a screw. For all that, he's an excellent country gentleman,
'An old soldier, a disinterested fellow, a man of principle, vieux
grognard,' his neighbours say of him. The provincial prosecutor alone
permits himself to smile when General Hvalinsky's excellent and solid
qualities are referred to before him—but what will not envy drive men
However, we will pass now to another landed proprietor.
Mardary Apollonitch Stegunov has no sort of resemblance to Hvalinsky; I
hardly think he has ever served under government in any capacity, and
he has never been reckoned handsome. Mardary Apollonitch is a little,
fattish, bald old man of a respectable corpulence, with a double chin
and little soft hands. He is very hospitable and jovial; lives, as the
saying is, for his comfort; summer and winter alike, he wears a striped
wadded dressing-gown. There's only one thing in which he is like
General Hvalinsky; he too is a bachelor. He owns five hundred souls.
Mardary Apollonitch's interest in his estate is of a rather superficial
description; not to be behind the age, he ordered a threshing-machine
from Butenop's in Moscow, locked it up in a barn, and then felt his
mind at rest on the subject. Sometimes on a fine summer day he would
have out his racing droshky, and drive off to his fields, to look at
the crops and gather corn-flowers. Mardary Apollonitch's existence is
carried on in quite the old style. His house is of an old-fashioned
construction; in the hall there is, of course, a smell of kvas, tallow
candles, and leather; close at hand, on the right, there is a sideboard
with pipes and towels; in the dining-room, family portraits, flies, a
great pot of geraniums, and a squeaky piano; in the drawing-room, three
sofas, three tables, two looking-glasses, and a wheezy clock of
tarnished enamel with engraved bronze hands; in the study, a table
piled up with papers, and a bluish-coloured screen covered with
pictures cut out of various works of last century; a bookcase full of
musty books, spiders, and black dust; a puffy armchair; an Italian
window; a sealed-up door into the garden…. Everything, in short, just
as it always is. Mardary Apollonitch has a multitude of servants, all
dressed in the old-fashioned style; in long blue full coats, with high
collars, shortish pantaloons of a muddy hue, and yellow waistcoats.
They address visitors as 'father.' His estate is under the
superintendence of an agent, a peasant with a beard that covers the
whole of his sheepskin; his household is managed by a stingy, wrinkled
old woman, whose face is always tied up in a cinnamon-coloured
handkerchief. In Mardary Apollonitch's stable there are thirty horses
of various kinds; he drives out in a coach built on the estate, that
weighs four tons. He receives visitors very cordially, and entertains
them sumptuously; in other words, thanks to the stupefying powers of
our national cookery, he deprives them of all capacity for doing
anything but playing preference. For his part, he never does anything,
and has even given up reading the Dream-book. But there are a good
many of our landed gentry in Russia exactly like this. It will be
asked: 'What is my object in talking about him?…' Well, by way of
answering that question, let me describe to you one of my visits at
I arrived one summer evening at seven o'clock. An evening service was
only just over; the priest, a young man, apparently very timid, and
only lately come from the seminary, was sitting in the drawing-room
near the door, on the extreme edge of a chair. Mardary Apollonitch
received me as usual, very cordially; he was genuinely delighted to see
any visitor, and indeed he was the most good-natured of men altogether.
The priest got up and took his hat.
'Wait a bit, wait a bit, father,' said Mardary Apollonitch, not yet
leaving go of my hand; 'don't go … I have sent for some vodka for
'I never drink it, sir,' the priest muttered in confusion, blushing up
to his ears.
'What nonsense!' answered Mardary Apollonitch; 'Mishka! Yushka! vodka
for the father!'
Yushka, a tall, thin old man of eighty, came in with a glass of vodka
on a dark-coloured tray, with a few patches of flesh-colour on it, all
that was left of the original enamel.
The priest began to decline.
'Come, drink it up, father, no ceremony; it's too bad of you,' observed
the landowner reproachfully.
The poor young man had to obey.
'There, now, father, you may go.'
The priest took leave.
'There, there, that'll do, get along with you….'
'A capital fellow,' pursued Mardary Apollonitch, looking after him, 'I
like him very much; there's only one thing—he's young yet. But how are
you, my dear sir?… What have you been doing? How are you? Let's come
out on to the balcony—such a lovely evening.'
We went out on the balcony, sat down, and began to talk. Mardary
Apollonitch glanced below, and suddenly fell into a state of tremendous
'Whose hens are those? whose hens are those?' he shouted: 'Whose are
those hens roaming about in the garden?… Whose are those hens? How
many times I've forbidden it! How many times I've spoken about it!'
Yushka ran out.
'What disorder!' protested Mardary Apollonitch; 'it's horrible!'
The unlucky hens, two speckled and one white with a topknot, as I still
remember, went on stalking tranquilly about under the apple-trees,
occasionally giving vent to their feelings in a prolonged clucking,
when suddenly Yushka, bareheaded and stick in hand, with three other
house-serfs of mature years, flew at them simultaneously. Then the fun
began. The hens clucked, flapped their wings, hopped, raised a
deafening cackle; the house-serfs ran, tripping up and tumbling over;
their master shouted from the balcony like one possessed: 'Catch 'em,
catch 'em, catch 'em, catch 'em, catch 'em, catch 'em, catch 'em!'
At last one servant succeeded in catching the hen with the topknot,
tumbling upon her, and at the very same moment a little girl of eleven,
with dishevelled hair, and a dry branch in her hand, jumped over the
garden-fence from the village street.
'Ah, we see now whose hens!' cried the landowner in triumph. 'They're
Yermil, the coachman's, hens! he's sent his Natalka to chase them
out…. He didn't send his Parasha, no fear!' the landowner added in a
low voice with a significant snigger. 'Hey, Yushka! let the hens alone;
catch Natalka for me.'
But before the panting Yushka had time to reach the terrified little
girl the house-keeper suddenly appeared, snatched her by the arm, and
slapped her several times on the back….
'That's it! that's it!' cried the master, 'tut-tut-tut!… And carry
off the hens, Avdotya,' he added in a loud voice, and he turned with a
beaming face to me; 'that was a fine chase, my dear sir, hey?—I'm in a
regular perspiration: look.'
And Mardary Apollonitch went off into a series of chuckles.
We remained on the balcony. The evening was really exceptionally fine.
Tea was served us.
'Tell me,' I began, 'Mardary Apollonitch: are those your peasants'
huts, out there on the highroad, above the ravine?'
'Yes … why do you ask?'
'I wonder at you, Mardary Apollonitch? It's really sinful. The huts
allotted to the peasants there are wretched cramped little hovels;
there isn't a tree to be seen near them; there's not a pond even;
there's only one well, and that's no good. Could you really find no
other place to settle them?… And they say you're taking away the old
'And what is one to do with this new division of the lands?' Mardary
Apollonitch made answer. 'Do you know I've this re-division quite on my
mind, and I foresee no sort of good from it. And as for my having taken
away the hemp-ground, and their not having dug any ponds, or what not—
as to that, my dear sir, I know my own business. I'm a plain man—I go
on the old system. To my ideas, when a man's master—he's master; and
when he's peasant—he's peasant. … That's what I think about it.'
To an argument so clear and convincing there was of course no answer.
'And besides,' he went on, 'those peasants are a wretched lot; they're
in disgrace. Particularly two families there; why, my late father—God
rest his soul—couldn't bear them; positively couldn't bear them. And
you know my precept is: where the father's a thief, the son's a thief;
say what you like…. Blood, blood—oh, that's the great thing!'
Meanwhile there was a perfect stillness in the air. Only rarely there
came a gust of wind, which, as it sank for the last time near the
house, brought to our ears the sound of rhythmically repeated blows,
seeming to come from the stable. Mardary Apollonitch was in the act of
lifting a saucer full of tea to his lips, and was just inflating his
nostrils to sniff its fragrance—no true-born Russian, as we all know,
can drink his tea without this preliminary—but he stopped short,
listened, nodded his head, sipped his tea, and laying the saucer on the
table, with the most good-natured smile imaginable, he murmured as
though involuntarily accompanying the blows: 'Tchuki-tchuki-tchuk!
'What is it?' I asked puzzled. 'Oh, by my order, they're punishing a
scamp of a fellow…. Do you happen to remember Vasya, who waits at the
'Why, that waited on us at dinner just now. He with the long whiskers.'
The fiercest indignation could not have stood against the clear mild
gaze of Mardary Apollonitch.
'What are you after, young man? what is it?' he said, shaking his head.
'Am I a criminal or something, that you stare at me like that? "Whom he
loveth he chasteneth"; you know that.'
A quarter of an hour later I had taken leave of Mardary Apollonitch. As
I was driving through the village I caught sight of Vasya. He was
walking down the village street, cracking nuts. I told the coachman to
stop the horses and called him up.
'Well, my boy, so they've been punishing you to-day?' I said to him.
'How did you know?' answered Vasya.
'Your master told me.'
'The master himself?'
'What did he order you to be punished for?'
'Oh, I deserved it, father; I deserved it. They don't punish for
trifles among us; that's not the way with us—no, no. Our master's not
like that; our master … you won't find another master like him in all
'Drive on!' I said to the coachman.' There you have it, old Russia!' I
mused on my homeward way.