A Family of Noblemen by Mikhail Saltykov

CHAPTER I

Anton Vasilyev, the manager of a remote estate, was giving his
mistress, Arina Petrovna Golovliov, an account of his trip to Moscow.
He had gone there to collect the money due from those of her peasant
serfs who bought the right to live in the city by paying her a tax.
When he had finished with his report, she told him he might retire, but
he lingered on irresolutely, as though he had something else to say,
yet could not make up his mind to say it.

Arina Petrovna knew her servants through and through; she knew the
meaning of their slightest gestures, she could even divine their inmost
thoughts. And her steward’s manner immediately aroused her disquietude.

“What else?” she asked, looking at him keenly.

“That’s all,” he replied evasively.

“Don’t lie. There is something else. I can see it by your eyes.”

Anton Vasilyev still hesitated and continued to shift from one foot to
the other.

“What is it? Tell me!” she shouted imperiously. “Out with it, out with
it! And don’t wag your whole body like a dog, Telltale!”

Arina Petrovna liked to call her managers and domestics by nicknames.
She used Telltale for Anton Vasilyev, not because she had found him to
carry gossip treacherously, but simply because he had a loose tongue.

The centre of the estate that he managed was an important trading
village in which there were many taverns. He liked to take a glass
of tea in a tavern and boast of his mistress’s great power. And in
the course of his boasting he would sometimes unconsciously blab out
secrets. His mistress was always with a lawsuit on her hands, so that
her trusty’s garrulousness sometimes brought her sly stratagems to the
surface before they could be executed.

“Yes, I have got something else to say,” Anton finally mumbled.

“What is it?” Arina Petrovna asked excitedly.

An imperious woman, with an extraordinarily lively imagination, she
instantly pictured all sorts of disagreeable opposition and antagonism,
and the thought so instantly took complete possession of her that she
turned white and jumped up from her chair.

“Stepan Vladimirych’s house in Moscow has been sold,” Anton said after
a pause.

“Well?”

“It’s been sold.”

“Why? How? Tell me.”

“For debts, I suppose. Of course it can’t be because of something nice.”

“The police, the court, sold it, I suppose?”

“I suppose so. They say it was sold at auction for 8,000 rubles.”

Arina Petrovna dropped back heavily into her armchair and gazed fixedly
at the window panes. She was so stunned by the news that she seemed
to have lost consciousness for a while. Had she heard that Stepan
Vladimirych had killed somebody, or that the Golovliov peasant serfs
had risen in revolt and refused to render the service due her on her
estates, or that serfdom had been abolished, she would not have been so
shocked. Her lips trembled, her eyes stared vacantly into the distance,
but she saw nothing. She did not even see the little girl, Duniashka,
run past the window carrying something hidden under her apron; she did
not see the child stop suddenly on beholding her mistress and wheel
round and then dart back guiltily to where she had come from. Such
suspicious conduct at any other time would have led to a thorough
investigation. Finally Arina Petrovna came to herself and managed to
bring out:

“A good joke, I must say.” After which there again followed several
minutes of ominous silence.

“So the police sold the house for eight thousand?” she asked again.

“Yes, madam.”

“So that’s what he’s done with his patrimony! Splendid! The blackguard!”

Arina Petrovna felt that the news called for a prompt decision, but
nothing occurred to her. Her thoughts ran confusedly in exactly
opposite directions. On the one hand she thought: “The police sold it.
But the police could not have sold it in a minute. An inventory must
first have been taken, then an appraisal made, and then the sale must
have been advertised. Sold for eight thousand when I myself two years
ago paid twelve thousand rubles for it, not a penny less. Had I only
known it was going to be up for sale, I could have bought it myself for
eight thousand rubles.”

Her other thoughts ran: “The police sold it for eight thousand. That’s
what he’s done with his patrimony. To sell one’s patrimony for eight
thousand rubles!”

“Who told you?” she asked, realizing finally that the house had been
sold and the chance to secure it cheaply was gone forever.

“Ivan Mikhailov, the inn-keeper.”

“Why didn’t he let me know in time?”

“I suppose he was afraid.”

“Afraid? I’ll teach him to be afraid. I’ll make him come here from
Moscow, and the moment he comes I’ll have him drafted into the army. He
was afraid!”

Although on the decline, serfdom still existed. Anton Vasilyev had
known his mistress to impose the most peculiar punishments, but, even
so, her present decision was so unexpected that it made him miserable.
He thought of his nickname Telltale. Ivan Mikhailov was an upright
peasant, and Anton never dreamed that misfortune would touch him.
Besides, Ivan Mikhailov was his friend and godfather. Now, all of a
sudden, he was to be made a soldier just because he, Anton Vasilyev,
the Telltale, could not hold his tongue.

“Forgive him–Ivan Mikhailov, I mean,” he pleaded.

“Go away, you mollycoddler,” she shouted in a voice so loud that he
lost all desire to intercede any further for his friend.

CHAPTER II

Arina Petrovna was sixty years old, still of sound health and
accustomed to have her own way in everything. Her manner was severe.
She lived alone, and managed the huge Golovliov estate all by herself,
without having to answer to any one else. She calculated closely,
almost parsimoniously, was not intimate with her neighbors, was
gracious to the local authorities, and exacted implicit obedience
from her children. They were not to do anything without first asking
themselves, “What would mamenka say about it?” She was independent,
inflexible, even stubborn, though her stubbornness was not so much
native as due chiefly to the circumstance that there was not one person
in the whole Golovliov family that could oppose her. Her husband was
a trifling creature, and drank. Arina Petrovna used to say of herself
that she was neither a widow nor a married woman. Some of the children
were in St. Petersburg, the others took after their father and were
relegated to the class of “horrid creatures,” who were unfit for
household duties. In these circumstances Arina Petrovna soon began to
feel all left alone, and grew totally disaccustomed to family life,
although the word “family” was constantly on her lips, and outwardly
she seemed to be exclusively guided in all her work by the desire to
build up the family estate and keep the family affairs in order.

The head of the family, Vladimir Mikhailych Golovliov, was known from
his youth as a dissolute, quarrelsome fellow, with nothing in his
character that would be sympathetic to a serious, active woman like
Arina Petrovna. He led a lazy, good-for-nothing existence, usually
stayed locked up in his room, where he imitated the warble of the
starlings, the crowing of cocks, and the like, and composed ribald
doggerel. In bursts of confidence he would boast that he had been a
friend of the poet Barkov, intimating that the poet had blessed him
on his deathbed. Arina Petrovna disliked her husband’s verses from
the very first. “Nasty stuff!” “Trash!” she called them. And since
Vladimir Mikhailych’s very object in marrying had been to have someone
ever at hand to listen to his poetry, the result was that quarrels
soon began, which grew worse and worse and more frequent until they
ended with Arina Petrovna utterly indifferent and contemptuous of her
clown husband, and Vladimir Mikhailych hating his wife sincerely, with
a hatred considerably mixed with fear. The husband called the wife a
“hag” and a “devil”; the wife called the husband a “windmill” and a
“balalaika without strings.”

They lived together in this way for more than forty years, and it never
occurred to either of them that there was anything unnatural in such a
life. Time did not diminish Vladimir Mikhailych’s quarrelsomeness; on
the contrary, it took on a still sharper edge. Apart from the poetical
exercising in Barkov’s spirit that he did, he began to drink and to
lie in wait eagerly for the servant girls in the corridors. At first
Arina Petrovna looked on this new occupation of her husband’s with
repugnance. She even got wrought up over it, not so much from jealousy
as that she felt it to be an interference with her authority. After a
while, however, she shrugged her shoulders, and merely watched out that
the “dirty wenches” should not fetch brandy for their master.

From that time on, having said to herself once for all that her
husband was not a companion, she directed her efforts exclusively to
one object, the building up of the estate. And in the forty years of
her married life she actually succeeded in multiplying her property
tenfold. With astonishing patience and acumen she kept her eye on the
near and distant villages, found out in secret ways the relations that
existed between the neighboring landowners and the board of trustees,
and always appeared at the auctions like snow on the head. In this
fantastic hunt for new acquisitions Vladimir Mikhailych receded more
and more into the background, turned seedy and at last dropped out of
social life completely. He was now a decrepit old man already, keeping
his bed almost the whole time. On the rare occasions that he left his
room it was only to stick his head through the half-open door of his
wife’s bedroom and shout: “Devil!” After which he would go back and
close himself up in his own room again.

Arina Petrovna was not much happier in her children. She was of a
celibate nature, so to speak, independent and self-sufficient, and her
children were nothing to her but a useless burden. The only times when
she breathed freely was when she was alone with her accounts and her
household affairs, and when no one interfered with her business talks
with her managers, stewards, housekeepers, and so on. In her eyes,
children were one of the preordained things in life that she felt she
had no right to protest against. Nevertheless they did not touch a
single chord in her inner being, which was given over wholly to the
numberless details of the household.

There were four children, one daughter and three sons. Of the oldest
son and the daughter she did not even like to speak; toward the
youngest son she was indifferent. It was only for the middle one,
Porfisha, that she cherished any feeling at all, a feeling not of love,
but of something very akin to fear.

Stepan Vladimirych, the oldest son, passed in the family by the name
of Simple Simon, or The Saucebox. He was very young when he was put
into the class of “horrid creatures,” and from childhood up played the
rôle of half pariah, half clown. Unfortunately he was a bright child,
susceptible to the impressions of his environment. From his father he
inherited an irresistible inclination to play tricks, from his mother
the ability to divine the weak sides of people’s natures. The first
characteristic soon made him his father’s favorite, which still further
intensified his mother’s dislike of him. Often when the mother was
absent on business, the father and the boy would betake themselves
into the study adorned with the portrait of Barkov, read ribald poems,
and gossip, the chief butt of their raillery being the “hag,” that
is to say, Arina Petrovna. The “hag,” instinctively divining their
occupation, would drive up to the front steps very quietly, then
tiptoe to the study door and listen to their fun-making. The murderous
punishment of Simple Simon followed swift and cruel. But Stiopka was
not subdued. He was impervious either to blows or to admonitions,
and in half an hour was back again at his tricks. He would cut up
Aniutka’s, the servant girl’s, scarf, or he would stick flies into
Vasiutka’s mouth while he slept, or he would run into the kitchen and
carry off a cake (Arina Petrovna kept her children half hungry), which
he always divided with his brothers.

“You ought to be killed,” his mother said. “I’ll kill you, and I won’t
have to answer for it either. Even God won’t punish me for it.”

This humiliation, constantly put upon a nature soft, yielding and
forgetful, did not remain without its effect. It did not embitter
him, nor did it make him rebellious. It made him servile, disposed to
buffoonery, with no sense of the fitness of things, and devoid of all
foresight and prudence. Such natures yield to all influences and may
become almost anything–drunkards, beggars, buffoons, even criminals.

At the age of twenty Stepan Golovliov graduated from the gymnasium
in Moscow and entered the university. But his student’s life was a
bitter one. In the first place, his mother gave him just enough money
to keep him from dying of hunger. Secondly, he did not show the least
inclination to work. Instead, he developed an accursed talent, which
expressed itself chiefly in mimickry. And he suffered from a desire
for constant companionship. He hated to be alone a single instant.
So he played the light rôle of hanger-on and parasite, and thanks to
his readiness for any prank he soon became the favorite of the rich
students. However, though they received him into their society, they
looked on him, not as one of them, but as a clown; and the reputation
clung to him. Once placed on such a plane, he naturally slid down lower
and lower, and at the end of the fourth year was thoroughly confirmed
in his clownship. Nevertheless, thanks to his receptive ability and
good memory, he passed the examinations successfully and received his
bachelor’s degree.

When he appeared before his mother with the diploma, she merely
shrugged her shoulders and said: “Well, that’s funny.” Then, after
letting him spend a month in the country, she shipped him back to St.
Petersburg with an allowance of a hundred rubles a month. Now there
began for him endless visits to various government offices. He had
neither patrons nor the determination to make his own way by hard work.
The lad’s mind had lost so completely the habit of concentration that
bureaucratic tasks such as the drawing up of briefs and case abstracts
were beyond his power. After four years of struggle Stepan was forced
to admit that there was no hope of his ever rising above the rank of a
government clerk. In reply to his lamentations, Arina Petrovna wrote
him a stern letter which began with the words: “I was sure that would
happen,” and wound up with a command to return at once to Moscow.
There, at the conclave of Arina Petrovna’s favorite peasants, it was
decided to place Simple Simon in the Aulic Court, entrusting him to
the care of a pettifogger who from time immemorial had been the legal
adviser of the Golovliov family.

What Stepan Vladimirych did in the Aulic Court and how he behaved there
is a mystery. What is certain is that at the end of the third year he
was there no longer. Then Arina Petrovna took a heroic measure. She
“threw her son a bone,” which was also supposed to fill the part of
the “parental blessing,” that is to say, the patrimony. “The bone”
consisted of a house in Moscow, for which she had paid twelve thousand
rubles.

For the first time in his life Stepan Golovliov breathed freely. The
house promised to bring him an income of a thousand silver rubles, a
sum which in comparison with his former income, seemed like genuine
prosperity. He kissed his mamma’s hand effusively, and promised to
justify her kindness, whereupon Arina Petrovna said: “That’s better;
but mind you, you numskull, that’s all you get from me!” But, alas!
so little was he used to handling money, so absurd was his estimation
of real values in life, that before long what he thought to be a
fabulous revenue proved insufficient. In five or six years he was
totally ruined, and was only too glad to enter the militia, which was
then being organized. No sooner, however, did the militia troops reach
Kharkov than peace was concluded, and Golovliov went back to Moscow,
dressed in a somewhat threadbare uniform and high boots. By this time
his house had already been sold, and the only thing he owned was a
hundred rubles. He began “speculating” with this capital, that is, he
tried his luck at cards, but in a short time he lost all he had. Then
he conceived the plan of visiting his mother’s well-to-do peasants who
lived in Moscow. Some of them invited him to dinner, others, yielding
to his importunings, gave him tobacco or lent him small sums of money.
At last the hour came when he found himself before a blind wall, as
it were. He was already almost forty years old, and had to confess to
himself that his nomadic existence was too much for his strength. There
was only one thing left to him, to take the road leading to Golovliovo.

After Stepan Vladimirych, the oldest child, came Anna Vladimirovna,
about whom Arina Petrovna did not like to speak either. The truth
of the matter was, the old lady had placed definite expectations
in Annushka, but she, far from fulfilling her mother’s hopes, had
perpetrated a scandal which set the whole district agog. When Annushka
left the girls’ boarding-school, Arina Petrovna installed her at the
village, hoping to make of her a sort of unpaid private secretary and
bookkeeper, but instead Annushka eloped one fine night with cornet
Ulanov and married him.

“They have married like dogs, without a parent’s blessing!” complained
Arina Petrovna. “Lucky, though, that he submitted to a wedding ceremony
at all. Another man would have taken advantage of her–and vanished
into thin air. A fine chance for catching a bird.”

With her daughter Arina Petrovna dealt as peremptorily as she had with
her hated son. She bestowed “a bone” upon her too, in the shape of five
thousand rubles and a wretched little village of thirty souls and a
manor-house going with it, so dilapidated that the wind blew through
the gaping paneless windows and there was not one sound board in the
flooring. In two years the young couple had gone through the money, and
the cornet took himself off, deserting his wife and two twin girls,
Anninka and Lubinka. Three months later the mother died, and Arina
Petrovna, willy-nilly, had to take the little orphans into her own
house. She installed them in a side-wing and entrusted them to the care
of Palashka, old and one-eyed. “The Lord’s mercy is great,” remarked
Arina Petrovna. “The little orphans won’t eat much of my bread, but
they’ll be a solace to me in my old age. God has given me two daughters
instead of one.” At the same time she wrote to her son, Porfiry
Vladimirych: “Your dear sister died as she lived, indecently, and now
her two children are hanging round my neck.”

What we are going to say may seem cynical, but we feel it our duty to
state that the granting of the heritage to Stepan and Anna did not by
any means impair Arina Petrovna’s financial condition. On the contrary,
in reducing the number of shareholders it contributed indirectly to the
rounding out of the family estate. For Arina Petrovna was a woman of
strict principles, and once having “thrown them a bone,” she considered
her obligations toward her unloved children completely and definitely
settled. In regard to her grandchildren it never entered her mind that
in due time she would have to part with something for them. All she
cared for was to draw all the income possible from the small estate of
her deceased daughter and deposit it in the Chamber of Trustees. “There
I am,” she would say, “laying by money for the orphans. For feeding and
bringing them up I take nothing from them. For the bread they eat it is
God who will pay me.”

As for the younger children, Porfiry and Pavel, they served in St.
Petersburg, the former in a civil capacity, the latter in the army.
Porfiry was married; Pavel was an old bachelor.

Porfiry Vladimirych was known in the family by three nicknames,
Yudushka (diminutive of Judas), Bloodsucker, and Goody-goody Boy, which
had been invented by Simple Simon. From his early childhood Porfiry
had been oddly intent upon currying favor with his “dear mamma” and
showed a tendency to play the sycophant. He would open the door of his
mother’s room softly, creep noiselessly into a corner, and sit there,
as if entranced, with his eyes fixed on his mother while she wrote
or busied herself with accounts. Even in those days Arina Petrovna
regarded her son’s efforts to insinuate himself into her good graces
with vague suspicion. His stare puzzled her. She could not decide what
his eyes expressed, whether venom or filial reverence. “I cannot make
out what is in his eyes,” she sometimes argued with herself. “His
glance is like a noose which he is getting ready to throw. He might
look like that handing a person poison or enticing him into a pitfall.”

In this connection she often recollected highly significant details
of the time she was carrying Porfisha. An old man called Porfisha the
Saint was at that time living in the manor. He had the reputation
of a seer, and Arina Petrovna turned to him whenever she wanted to
learn something about the future. She had asked him when she would be
delivered of the child and whether it would be a boy or a girl; but the
pious old man gave no direct answer. Instead he crowed three times like
a cock and then mumbled:

“Cockerel, cockerel, sharp claw! The cock crows and threatens the
brood-hen; the brood-hen–cluck! cluck!–but it will be too late!”

That was all he said. Three days later (the seer crowed three times!)
Arina Petrovna gave birth to a son (“cockerel! cockerel!”) and named
him Porfiry in honor of the old soothsayer. The first half of the
prophecy had been fulfilled; but what could be the hidden meaning of
the mysterious words, “the brood-hen–cluck! cluck!–but it will be too
late?” Arina Petrovna often pondered over it, whenever her eyes fell on
Porfisha, who sat in his nook with his enigmatic gaze fixed on her.

Meanwhile Porfisha kept on staring, quiet and meek, staring so intently
that his wide-open, motionless eyes began to swim in tears, as if
he vaguely sensed the doubts that tormented his mother’s soul, and
wished to behave so as to disarm her most persistent suspicion. At the
risk of annoying his mother, he constantly hovered about her, and the
expression in his eyes seemed to say: “Look at me! I conceal nothing
from you. I am all obedience and devotion, and, mind you, I am obedient
and devoted not only from fear but also from loyalty.” And although an
inner voice constantly sounded warning that the young scoundrel was
dangerous in spite of his wheedling and fawning, her heart could not
resist such unremitting devotion and her hand involuntarily felt for
the best piece in the dish to bestow upon the affectionate child. And
yet the very sight of him at times awakened a vague fear of something
puzzling and eery.

The exact opposite of Porfiry was his brother, Pavel, the most perfect
embodiment of absolute passivity. As a boy he manifested no inclination
whatever for study, or games, or playing with other boys, but liked
to keep to himself. He would get into a corner, pout, and set to work
building air castles, dreaming that he had gorged himself with oatmeal
so that his legs had become thin and he had no lessons to learn, or
else that he was Davidka, the shepherd, with a growing lump on his
forehead, just like David’s, and cracked a whip and had no lessons to
learn. Arina Petrovna would gaze at him for a long time, and then her
motherly feelings would well up:

“Why do you sit there like a mouse on groats?” she would scold. “Is the
poison working in you already? Why don’t you come over to your mother
and say: ‘Mamenka darling, hug me?'”

Pavel would leave his place of refuge and slowly approach his mother,
as if someone were pushing him from behind. “Mamenka darling,” he would
repeat in a bass voice unnatural in a child, “hug me.”

“Get out of my sight, you sneak. You think if you get into your corner
I don’t understand. You are mistaken, my darling. I see through and
through you. Your plans and projects are as clear as if they were
spread on the palm of my hand.”

And Pavel would just as slowly retrace his steps and bury himself again
in his corner.

Years passed by, and Pavel Vladimirych gradually developed that
apathetic, unaccountably gloomy character which often goes with
absolute passivity. He was, perhaps, good, but he had done nobody any
good; he was, perhaps, not without some intelligence, but he had not
achieved anything intelligent in his life. He was hospitable, but
people did not like to avail themselves of his hospitality. He spent
money readily, but nothing good or pleasant came of his lavishness to
anybody. He never harmed anybody, but that was not considered a merit.
He was honest, but no one had ever heard it said: “How honorably Pavel
Golovliov dealt in that affair!” It must be added that sometimes, not
often, he snarled at his mother, although he feared her like poison. I
repeat, he was an ill-tempered person, but back of his moroseness was
nothing but sheer inertness.

When the brothers reached maturity, the difference in their characters
was most conspicuous in their relation to their mother. Yudushka
punctually every week sent a lengthy epistle to “mother dear,” in
which he informed her in the greatest detail of all the minutiæ of his
life in St. Petersburg, and assured her of his disinterested filial
devotion in the most carefully selected terms. As for Pavel, he wrote
rarely, laconically, and sometimes even enigmatically, pulling every
word out of himself with a pair of tongs, as it were.

“My adorable friend and dear mother,” is what Porfiry Vladimirych
wrote, for instance, “I have received the money from the peasant
Yerofeyev, and I send you my most heartfelt thanks for forwarding the
sum, which, according to your gracious wish, dearest mamenka, is to be
spent for my maintenance. I also kiss your hands with sincere filial
devotion. What worries and grieves me is the thought that you are
straining your precious health all too much by your ceaseless efforts
to satisfy not only our needs, but our whims as well. I don’t know what
brother thinks, but I—-” etc., etc.

As for Pavel, what he wrote on a similar occasion was: “Dear mother, am
in receipt of the money, and, according to my calculations, you still
owe six and a half rubles, for which I beg to be graciously forgiven.”

When Arina Petrovna wrote reprimanding the children for their
extravagance–she did so rather frequently, although there was no
serious necessity for it–Porfisha invariably received her rebuke
submissively and replied: “I am well aware, my dearest friend and
mother, that you bear the heaviest burdens for the sake of us, your
unworthy children. I know that often our behavior does not justify
your motherly solicitude, and what is worse, erring humans that we
are, we often forget it, for which I apologize most devotedly and
sincerely, in the hope that in the course of time I will overcome my
weakness and be more prudent in my expenditure of the funds that you
send, my adorable friend and mother, for my maintenance and for other
purposes.” Pavel would answer back: “Dearest mother, though you have
not as yet paid any of my debts, I accept most submissively the name
of spendthrift which you choose to bestow upon me, whereof I beg most
sincerely to accept my assurance.”

Even the replies that the brothers made to the letter announcing the
death of their sister, Anna Vladimirovna, were quite different from
each other. Porfiry Vladimirych said: “The news of the death of my dear
sister and good playmate, Anna Vladimirovna, has filled my heart with
sorrow, a sorrow aggravated by the thought that a new cross has been
given you to bear, dearest little mother, in the shape of two little
orphans. Is it not sufficient that you, common benefactress to us all,
deny yourself everything and, without sparing your health, concentrate
all your power on the sole object of assuring the family not only
the necessaries of life but also the luxuries? Believe me, it is a
wicked thing to do, but now and then, I confess, I cannot refrain from
grumbling. As far as I can see, the only solace for you, my dearest,
in this state of affairs is to remember as often as you can all that
Christ himself had to undergo.” Pavel’s reply ran: “The news of my
sister, who has fallen a victim, I have received. I hope, however, that
the Most High will rest her in His celestial tent, although this is
uncertain.”

Arina Petrovna reading these letters would try to guess which of the
two sons would be her destruction. At times she felt certain the
danger was coming from Porfiry Vladimirych.

“Look how he wags his tongue, a regular fiend at writing!” she would
exclaim. “Simple Simon’s nickname suits to a tee–Yudushka! Not a word
of truth in all this stuff about my burdens, my cross, and the rest.
Sheer lies! Not an ounce of feeling in his heart!”

At other times Pavel Vladimirych seemed to be her real enemy.

“A fool, and yet look how deftly he tries to make love to mother on
the sly. ‘Whereof I beg most sincerely to accept my assurance!’ Wait a
while! I’ll teach you what ‘accept assurances’ means! I shall deal with
you as I did with Simple Simon, and you’ll find out what I mean by your
‘assurances’!”

In the end a truly tragical cry would burst from her lips. “And for
whom am I hoarding all this wealth? For whom am I gathering all this? I
deny myself sleep and food–for whom?”

Such were the domestic circumstances of the Golovliovs at the time that
the bailiff, Anton Vasilyev, reported to Arina Petrovna that Simple
Simon had dissipated “the bone” flung to him, which, in view of its
loss, might now be called with especial significance the “parental
blessing.”

Arina Petrovna sat in her bedroom, all her senses dazed. A vague,
unaccountable feeling stirred within her, whether pity, born suddenly
and miraculously, for her hated offspring, who, after all, was her son,
or whether merely thwarted despotism, the most expert psychologist
would have been unable to decide. Her sensations were utterly confused
and succeeded each other with bewildering swiftness. Finally, out of
the welter of her thoughts there crystallized one emotion, the fear
that “the horrid creature” would again be hanging round her neck.

“Aniutka has forced her whelps on me, and now this dunderhead is coming
here,” she pondered deeply.

Long she sat silent, her eyes fixed and intent. Dinner was brought in,
but she hardly touched it; a servant came and said the master wanted
brandy. Without looking up she threw him the keys of the store-room.
After the meal she ordered the bath to be prepared for her. Then she
went into the oratory, ordered all the image lamps to be lit, and
shut herself in. These were all clear signs that the mistress was
“in a temper,” and so the house turned as quiet as a churchyard. The
chambermaids walked on tiptoe; Akulina, the housekeeper, ran back and
forth like a lunatic. The preparations for preserving had been set
for after dinner; the berries had been rinsed and made ready, but the
mistress gave no orders either to go ahead or to wait. The gardener,
Matvey, came to ask whether it was time to gather the peaches, but such
was his reception in the maids’ room that he fled precipitately.

Prayers and bath over, Arina Petrovna felt almost reconciled with the
world and had the bailiff summoned again.

“Now tell me, what is the numskull doing?” she asked.

“Well, Moscow is big, it would take more than a year to walk through
it.”

“But he needs something to fill his stomach with, doesn’t he?”

“Our peasants feed him. He eats with one, gets money for tobacco from
another.”

“And who permits them to give him anything?”

“Goodness me, madam! The people don’t complain. They give alms to
strangers. Should they refuse a mite to their own master’s son?”

“I’ll teach them to give mites! I’ll have the blockhead deported to
your estate, and the community will have to maintain him at its own
expense.”

“As you command, madam.”

“What? What did you say?”

“As you command, my lady. If you order it, we shall feed him.”

“That’s better. But talk sensibly.”

A pause ensued. Then the bailiff, true to his nature and his nickname,
lost patience and began to shift from one leg to another, obviously
burning with the desire to unburden his mind of something.

“He’s a clever one, though,” he finally blurted out. “People say he
brought back a hundred rubles from the campaign. It isn’t a fortune,
but still one can live on it for a time.”

“Well?”

“He thought he might improve his situation and went in for a shady
business.”

“Go on, go on, and don’t give me any lies.”

“He went to the German Club. He thought he would find a fool to beat at
cards, but instead he happened on a cunning hawk. He tried to get away,
but was held up in the lobby. Of course, he was plucked clean.”

“I suppose he was roughly handled, too.”

“Of course. The next morning he came to our man, Ivan Mikhailych, and
told the tale himself. It’s queer, he was in high spirits and laughed
as if they had treated him like a lord.”

“Things run from him like water off a duck’s back. But I won’t grieve
over it, provided he does not come within sight of me.”

“But I believe he will.”

“Nonsense, I will not allow him to cross my threshold.”

“But I’m sure he will,” insisted Anton Vasilyev. “He said so in plain
words to Ivan Mikhailych. ‘Enough,’ he says, ‘I am going back to the
old woman to eat her dry crusts.’ And, madam, to speak the truth, where
can he lay his head but here? He cannot keep on forever feeding on our
men in Moscow. And besides, he needs clothing and comforts.”

That was exactly the thing Arina Petrovna dreaded. It was the very
essence of the obscure thought that so deeply alarmed her. “Yes, he
will turn up,” she said to herself, “he has no other place to go to,
there’s no doubt of it.” He would always be there, within her sight,
that accursed, hated stranger of a son. What had been the good of
throwing his portion to him? She had thought that, having received “his
due,” he would drop into eternity. And there he was, rising from the
dead. He would come, make insolent demands, and hang on like a leech,
shocking everybody by his beggarly appearance. And she would have to
meet his demands, because he was a brazen-faced bully, capable of any
violence. You cannot put such a man under restraint; he is capable of
parading in tatters before strangers, of the wildest debauchery, of
running away to the neighbors and telling them the ins and outs of the
family affairs. Should she have him deported to the Suzdal Monastery,
which was said to be a place for ridding parents in distress of the
sight of their refractory children? But the Lord knows whether that
fabulous institution existed at all. People said there were such
things as houses of correction. But how could one get an overgrown dolt
into one of them?

In short, Arina Petrovna was altogether upset by the thought of how the
arrival of Simple Simon was going to disturb her peaceful existence.

“I shall billet him upon you,” was her threat to the bailiff. “Feed him
at your own expense.”

“Why so, madam?”

“Because you stand there croaking: ‘He’s sure to come,'” she mimicked.
“Get out of my sight, you raven!”

Anton Vasilyev turned to go, but Arina Petrovna stopped him:

“Wait a minute. Is it true that he is starting out for Golovliovo?”

“I’m not in the habit of telling lies, madam. He said so plainly–‘I am
going back to the old woman to eat her dry crusts.'”

“He’ll soon find out what kind of crusts the old woman has prepared for
him.”

“But, madam, he won’t live with you long.”

“Why not?”

“Well, madam, he coughs very badly and keeps on clutching the left side
of his chest. He won’t live long.”

“That kind generally lives very long. He’ll outlive us all. The
coughing doesn’t hurt him. Well, we shall see about it later. Leave me
now. I have several matters to attend to.”

Arina Petrovna spent the whole evening pondering over this problem.
Finally she found it best to convoke the family council for the
purpose of deciding what was to be done with Simple Simon. Such
constitutionalism was not her habit. She made up her mind to digress
from the traditions of autocracy solely for the purpose of shielding
herself from public censure, and as she did not doubt the outcome of
the conference, she sat down with a light heart to write to Porfiry and
Pavel asking them to come to Golovliovo immediately.