For more than a week already the newly arrived gentleman had been living in the town, driving about to soirées and dinners and thus passing his time, as they say, very pleasantly. At last he decided to transfer his visits outside of town and call on the landowners Manilov and Sobakevich, to whom he had given his word. Perhaps he was impelled to it by some other, more essential reason, some more serious matter, closer to his heart. . . But of all that the reader will learn gradually and in due time, if only he has patience enough to read the proffered tale, a very long one, which is to expand more widely and vastly later on, as it nears the end that crowns the matter. The coachman Selifan was given orders to harness the horses to the familiar britzka early in the morning; Petrushka was ordered to stay home, to keep an eye on the room and the trunk. It will not be superfluous here for the reader to make the acquaintance of these two bondsmen of our hero’s. Although, of course, they are not such notable characters, and are what is known as secondary or even tertiary, although the main lines and springs of the poem do not rest on them, and perhaps only occasionally touch and graze them lightly—still, the author is extremely fond of being circumstantial in all things, and in this respect, despite his being a Russian man, he wishes to be as precise as a German. This will not take up much time or space, however, because not much needs to be added to what the reader already knows, to wit, that Petrushka went about in a rather loose brown frock coat from his master’s back and had, as is customary for people of his station in life, a large nose and lips. He was more taciturn than talkative in character; he even had a noble impulse for enlightenment, that is, for reading books, the content of which did not trouble him: it made absolutely no difference to him whether it was the adventures of some amorous hero, a simple primer, or a prayer book—he read everything with equal attention; if they slipped him chemistry, he would not refuse that either. He liked not so much what he was reading about as the reading itself, or, better, the process of reading, the fact that letters are eternally forming some word, which sometimes even means the devil knows what. This reading was accomplished mostly in a recumbent position in the anteroom, on a bed and a mattress which, owing to this circumstance, was beaten down and thin as a flapjack. Besides a passion for reading, he had two further customs, which constituted two more of his characteristic traits: to sleep without undressing, just as he was, in the same frock coat; and always to have about him a sort of personal atmosphere of his own peculiar smell, somewhat reminiscent of living quarters, so that it was enough for him merely to set up his bed somewhere, even in a hitherto uninhabited room, and haul his overcoat and chattels there, for it to seem that people had been living there for ten years. Chichikov, being a most ticklish man and even on occasion a finical one, when he drew in air through a fresh nose in the morning, would only wince and toss his head, saying: “Devil knows, brother, you’re sweating or something. You ought to go to a bathhouse.” To which Petrushka made no reply and straightaway tried to busy himself somehow: either approaching his master’s hanging tailcoat with a brush, or simply putting things in order. What he was thinking all the while he stood there silently—perhaps he was saying to himself: “And you’re a good one, too, aren’t you sick of repeating the same thing forty times?”—God knows, it is hard to tell what a household serf is thinking while his master admonishes him. And so, that is what can be said for a start about Petrushka. The coachman Selifan was a totally different man . . . But the author is most ashamed to occupy his readers for so long with people of low class, knowing from experience how reluctantly they make acquaintance with the lower estate. Such is the Russian man: strong is his passion for knowing someone at least one rank above himself, and a nodding acquaintance with a count or prince is better to him than any close relations with friends. The author even fears for his hero, who is only a collegiate councillor. Court councillors may well make his acquaintance, but those who are already nearing the rank of general, these, God knows, may even cast at him one of those contemptuous glances a man proudly casts at all that grovels at his feet, or, worse still, pass over him with an inattention deadly for the author. But, however lamentable the one and the other, it is nevertheless necessary for us to return to our hero. And so, having given the necessary orders the evening before, having awakened very early in the morning, having washed, having wiped himself from head to foot with a wet sponge, a thing done only on Sundays—and this day happened to be a Sunday—having shaved in such a way that his cheeks became real satin as regards smoothness and lustre, having put on a cranberry-colored tailcoat with flecks and then an overcoat lined with bearskin, he descended the stairs, supported under his elbow now on one side, now on the other, by the tavern servant, and got into the britzka. With a rumble, the britzka drove through the gates of the inn to the street. A passing priest took off his hat, several urchins in dirty shirts held their hands out, murmuring: “Master, give to the little orphan!” The coachman, noticing that one of them was an avid footboard rider, lashed him with his whip, and the britzka went bouncing off over the cobbles. Not without joy was the striped tollgate beheld in the distance, letting it be known that the pavement, like any other torment, would soon come to an end; and after a few more good hard bumps of his head against the sides, Chichikov was at last racing over soft: ground. No sooner had the town dropped back than all sorts of stuff and nonsense, as is usual with us, began scrawling itself along both sides of the road: tussocks, fir trees, low skimpy stands of young pines, charred trunks of old ones, wild heather, and similar gibberish. Strung-out villages happened by, their architecture resembling old stacks of firewood, covered with gray roofs with cutout wooden decorations under them, looking like embroidered towels hanging down. Several muzhiks yawned, as is their custom, sitting on benches before the gates in their sheepskin coats. Women with fat faces and tightly bound bosoms looked out of upper windows; out of the lower ones a calf peeked or a sow stuck her blind snout. Familiar sights, in short. Having driven past the tenth milestone, he recalled that, according to Manilov’s words, his estate should be here, but the eleventh mile flew by and the estate was still nowhere to be seen, and had it not been for two muzhiks they met, things would hardly have gone well for them. To the question of how far it was to the village of Zamanilovka, the muzhiks took off their hats and one of them, who was a bit smarter and wore a pointed beard, replied:
“Manilovka, maybe, and not Zamanilovka?”
“Manilovka! Just keep on another half mile, and there you are, I mean, straight to the right.”
“To the right?” the coachman responded.
“To the right,” said the muzhik. “That’ll be your road to Manilovka; and there’s no such place as Zamanilovka. That’s her name, I mean, she’s called Manilovka, and there’s no Zamanilovka at all hereabouts. Right there on the hill you’ll see a house, a stone house, two stories, a master’s house, I mean, where the master himself lives. That’s your Manilovka, and there’s never been any such Zamanilovka around here at all.”
They drove on in search of Manilovka. Having gone a mile, they came upon a turnoff to a side road, but after going another mile, a mile and a half, maybe two miles, there was still no two-storied stone house in sight. Here Chichikov remembered that if a friend invites you to an estate ten miles away, it means a sure twenty. The village of Manilovka would not entice many by its situation. The master’s house stood all alone on a knob, that is, on a rise, open to every wind that might decide to blow; the slope of the hill it stood upon was clad in mowed turf. Over it were strewn, English-fashion, two or three flower beds with bushes of lilac and yellow acacia. Five or six birches in small clumps raised their skimpy, small-leaved tops here and there. Beneath two of them could be seen a gazebo with a flat green cupola, blue wooden columns, and an inscription: the temple of solitary reflection; further down there was a pond covered with green scum, which, however, is no wonder in the English gardens of Russian landowners. At the foot of this rise, and partway up the slope, gray log cottages darkled to right and left, which our hero, for some unknown reason, began that same moment to count, counting up more than two hundred; among them grew not a single tree or anything green; only log looked at you everywhere. The scene was enlivened by two peasant women who, picturesquely gathering their skirts and tucking them up on all sides, waded knee-deep into the pond with two wooden poles, pulling a torn dragnet in which could be seen two entangled crayfish and the gleam of a caught shiner; the women seemed to be engaged in a quarrel and were exchanging abuse over something. Off to one side darkled a pine forest of some boring bluish color. Even the weather itself was most appropriately serviceable: the day was neither bright nor gloomy, but of some light gray color such as occurs only on the old uniforms of garrison soldiers—a peaceful enough army at that, though somewhat unsober on Sundays. Nor was there lacking, to complete the picture, a cock, herald of changing weather, who, though his head had been pecked right to the brain by the beaks of other cocks in the well-known business of philandering, was shouting very loudly and even flapping his wings, ragged as old bast mats. Driving up to the premises, Chichikov noticed the master himself on the porch, standing in a green shalloon frock coat, his hand held to his forehead like an umbrella, the better to see the approaching carriage. As the britzka drew near the porch, his eyes grew merrier and his smile broadened more and more.
“Pavel Ivanovich!” he cried out at last, as Chichikov climbed out of the britzka. “You’ve remembered us after all!”
The two friends kissed very warmly, and Manilov led his guest inside. Though the time it will take them to pass through the entryway, the front hall, and the dining room is somewhat shortish, let us try and see if we cannot somehow make use of it to say something about the master of the house. But here the author must confess that this undertaking is a very difficult one. It is much easier to portray large-size characters: just whirl your arm and fling paint on the canvas, dark scorching eyes, beetling brows, a furrow-creased forehead, a cloak, black or fiery scarlet, thrown over one shoulder—and the portrait is done; but now all these gentlemen, who are so many in the world, who resemble each other so much, yet, once you look closer, you see many most elusive peculiarities—these gentlemen are terribly difficult to portray. Here one must strain one’s attention greatly, until all the fine, almost invisible features are made to stand out before one, and generally one must further deepen one’s gaze, already experienced in the science of elicitation.
God alone perhaps could tell what Manilov’s character was. There is a sort of people known by the name of so-so people, neither this nor that, neither Tom of the hill nor Jack of the mill, as the saying goes. It may be that Manilov ought to be put with them. He was a fine man to look at; the features of his face were not lacking in agreeableness, but this agreeableness had, it seemed, too much sugar in it; his ways and manners had about them a certain currying of favor and friendship. He smiled enticingly, was fair-haired, had blue eyes. At the first moment of conversation with him, you cannot help saying: “What an agreeable and kindly man!” The next moment you do not say anything, and the third moment you say: “Devil knows what this is!”—and walk away; or, if you do not walk away, you feel a deadly boredom. You will never get from him any sort of lively or even merely provoking word, such as can be heard from almost anyone, if you touch upon a subject that grips him. Everyone is gripped by something: for one it is borzoi hounds; another fancies himself a great lover of music and wonderfully sensitive to all its profundities; a third is an expert in hearty meals; a fourth in playing a role at least an inch above the one assigned him; a fifth, of more limited desires, sleeps and dreams of taking a stroll with an aide-de-camp, showing off in front of his friends, acquaintances, even non-acquaintances; a sixth is gifted with the sort of hand that feels a supernatural desire to turn down the corner of some ace or deuce of diamonds, while the hand of a seventh is simply itching to establish order somewhere, to get closer to the person of some stationmaster or cabdriver—in short, each has his own, but Manilov had nothing. At home he spoke very little and for the most part reflected and thought, but what he thought about, again, God only knows. One could not say he was occupied with management, he never even went out to the fields, the management somehow took care of itself. When the steward said: “Might be a good thing, master, to do such and such.” “Yes, not bad,” he would usually reply, smoking his pipe—a habit he had formed while still serving in the army, where he had been considered a most modest, most delicate, and most educated officer. “Yes, indeed, not bad,” he would repeat. When a muzhik came to him and, scratching the back of his head, said: “Master, give me leave to go and work, so I can pay my taxes,” “Go,” he would say, smoking his pipe, and it would never even enter his head that the muzhik was going on a binge. Sometimes, as he gazed from the porch at the yard and pond, he would talk about how good it would be suddenly to make an underground passage from the house, or to build a stone bridge across the pond, and have shops on both sides of it, and shopkeepers sitting in the shops selling all sorts of small goods needed by peasants. At that his eyes would become exceedingly sweet and his face would acquire a most contented expression; however, all these projects ended only in words. In his study there was always some book lying, with a bookmark at the fourteenth page, which he had been reading constantly for the past two years. In his house something was eternally lacking: fine furniture stood in the drawing room, upholstered in stylish silk fabric, which must have been far from inexpensive; but there had not been enough for two of the armchairs, and so these armchairs were left upholstered in simple burlap; however, for several years the host had cautioned his guests each time with the words: “Don’t sit on these armchairs, they’re not ready yet.” In some rooms there was no furniture at all, though it had been said in the first days of their marriage: “Sweetie, we must see to it that furniture is put in this room tomorrow, at least for the time being.” In the evening a very stylish candlestick was placed on the table, made of dark bronze with the three Graces of antiquity and a stylish mother-of-pearl shield, while next to it was set some sort of plain copper invalid, lame, hunched over on one side, all covered with tallow, though this was noticed neither by the master, nor by the mistress, nor by the servants. His wife . . . however, they were perfectly satisfied with each other. Though it was already eight years since their wedding, they would still bring each other a little bit of apple, a piece of candy, or a nut, and say in a touchingly tender voice expressive of perfect love: “Open up your little mouth, sweetie, I’ll put this tidbit in for you.” Needless to say, the little mouth would on these occasions be very gracefully opened. For birthdays, surprises were prepared: some sort of bead-embroidered little toothbrush case. And quite often, as they were sitting on the sofa, suddenly, for perfectly unknown reasons, one would abandon his pipe, and the other her needlework, if she happened to be holding it in her hands at the moment, and they would plant on each other’s lips such a long and languid kiss that one could easily have smoked a small cheroot while it lasted. In short, they were what is called happy Of course, it might be noted that there were many other things besides prolonged kisses and surprises to be done in the house, and many different questions might be asked. Why, for instance, was the cooking in the kitchen done stupidly and witlessly? why was the larder nearly empty? why was the housekeeper a thief? why were the servants so slovenly and drunk? why did the house serfs all sleep so unmercifully and spend the rest of the time carrying on? But these are all low subjects, and Mrs. Manilov had received a good education. And one gets a good education, as we know, in a boarding school. And in boarding schools, as we know, three main subjects constitute the foundation of human virtue: the French language, indispensable for a happy family life; the pianoforte, to afford a husband agreeable moments; and, finally, the managerial part proper: the crocheting of purses and other surprises. However, various improvements and changes in method occur, especially in our time; all this depends largely on the good sense and ability of the boarding school’s headmistress. In some boarding schools it even occurs that the pianoforte comes first, then the French language, and only after that the managerial part. And sometime it also occurs that the managerial part, that is, the crocheting of surprises, comes first, then the French language, and only after that the pianoforte. Various methods occur. There will be no harm in making a further observation, that Mrs. Manilov . . . but, I confess, I am very afraid of talking about ladies, and, besides, it is time I returned to our heroes, who have already been standing at the drawing-room door for several minutes, mutually entreating each other to go in first.
“Kindly do not worry so for my sake, I will go in after,” Chichikov said.
“No, Pavel Ivanovich, no, you are a guest,” Manilov said, motioning him to the door with his hand.
“Do not trouble yourself, please, do not trouble yourself. Go in, please,” Chichikov said.
“No, excuse me, I will not allow such an agreeable, well-educated guest to go in after me.”
“Why well-educated? . . . Go in, please.”
“Ah, no, you go in, please.”
“Ah, but, just because!” Manilov said with an agreeable smile.
Finally the two friends went through the door sideways, squeezing each other slightly.
“Allow me to introduce you to my wife,” said Manilov. “Sweetie! Pavel Ivanovich!”
Chichikov indeed saw a lady whom he had entirely failed to notice at first, as he was exchanging bows with Manilov in the doorway. She was not bad-looking and was dressed becomingly. Her housecoat of pale-colored silk sat well on her; her small, slender hand hastily dropped something on the table and clutched a cambric handkerchief with embroidered corners. She rose from the sofa on which she was sitting; Chichikov, not without pleasure, went up to kiss her hand. Mrs. Manilov said, even with a slightly French r, that they were very glad he had come, and that no day went by without her husband’s remembering him.
“Yes,” Manilov chimed in, “she indeed kept asking me: ‘But why does your friend not come?’ ‘Wait a bit, sweetie, he will come.’ And now at last you’ve honored us with your visit. It is truly such a delight… a May day … a heart’s feast…”
When Chichikov heard that things had already gone as far as a heart’s feast, he even became slightly embarrassed, and replied modestly that he had neither a renowned name, nor even any notable rank.
“You have everything,” Manilov interrupted with the same agreeable smile, “everything, and even more besides.”
“How do you find our town?” Mrs. Manilov chimed in. “Have you spent an agreeable time there?”
“A very good town, a wonderful town,” replied Chichikov, “and my time there has been very agreeable: the society is most mannerly.”
“And what do you think of our governor?” said Mrs. Manilov.
“A most respectable and amiable man, isn’t it true?” Manilov added.
“Absolutely true,” said Chichikov, “a most respectable man. And how well he enters into his duty, how he understands it! We can only wish for more such people!”
“And, you know, he has such a way of receiving everyone, of observing delicacy in all he does,” Manilov appended with a smile, narrowing his eyes almost completely with pleasure, like a cat that has been tickled lightly behind the ears with a finger.
“A very mannerly and agreeable man,” continued Chichikov, “and so artistic! I even never could have imagined it. How well he embroiders various household patterns! He showed me a purse he made: it’s a rare lady that can embroider so artfully.”
“And the vice-governor, such a dear man, isn’t it true?” said Manilov, again narrowing his eyes slightly.
“A very, very worthy man,” responded Chichikov.
“And, permit me, how do you find the police chief? A very agreeable man, isn’t it true?”
“Exceedingly agreeable, and such an intelligent, such a well-read man! I played whist at his place with the prosecutor and the head magistrate till the last cockcrow—a very, very worthy man.”
“And what is your opinion of the police chief’s wife?” Mrs. Manilov added. “A most amiable woman, isn’t it true?”
“Oh, she is one of the worthiest women I have ever known,” replied Chichikov.
Whereupon they did not omit the head magistrate, the postmaster, and in this manner went through almost all the town’s officials, all of whom turned out to be most worthy people.
“Do you spend all your time in the country?” Chichikov finally put a question in his turn.
“Mainly in the country,” replied Manilov. “Sometimes, however, we go to town, if only so as to meet educated people. One grows wild, you know, if one lives in seclusion all the time.”
“True, true,” said Chichikov.
“Of course,” Manilov continued, “it’s another thing if one has a nice neighbor, if one has, for example, the sort of man with whom one can in some way discuss matters of courtesy, of good manners, keep up with some sort of science or other, so as somehow to stir the soul, to lend it, so to speak, a sort of soaring …” Here he wished to express something further, but noticing that he was running off at the mouth, he merely scooped the air with his hand and went on: “Then, of course, the country and its solitude would have a great deal of agreeableness. But there is decidedly no one . . . One merely reads the Son of the Fatherland occasionally.”
Chichikov agreed with this completely, adding that nothing could be more pleasant than to live in solitude, enjoy the spectacle of nature, and occasionally read some book . . .
“But, you know,” Manilov added, “still, if there is no friend with whom one can share …”
“Oh, that is correct, that is perfectly correct!” Chichikov interrupted. “What are all the treasures of the world then! ‘Keep not money, but keep good people’s company,’ the wise man said.”
“And you know, Pavel Ivanovich!” Manilov said, showing on his face an expression not merely sweet but even cloying, like the mixture a shrewd society doctor sweetens unmercifully, fancying it will please his patient. “Then one feels a sort of spiritual delight, in some way… As now, for instance, when chance has given me the, one might say, exemplary happiness of talking with you and enjoying your agreeable conversation …”
“Good gracious, what agreeable conversation? . . . An insignificant man, nothing more,” responded Chichikov.
“Oh! Pavel Ivanovich, allow me to be frank: I would gladly give half of all I possess for a portion of the virtues that are yours! …”
“On the contrary, I, for my part, would regard it as the greatest…”
There is no knowing what the mutual outpouring of feelings between the two friends would have come to, if an entering servant had not announced that the meal was ready.
“I beg you to join us,” said Manilov. “You will excuse us if we do not have such a dinner as on parquet floors and in capitals, we simply have, after the Russian custom, cabbage soup, but from the bottom of our hearts. Join us, I humbly beg you.”
Here they spent some more time arguing over who should go in first, and Chichikov finally entered the dining room sideways.
In the dining room there already stood two boys, Manilov’s sons, who were of the age when children already sit at the table, but still on raised seats. By them stood their tutor, who bowed politely and with a smile. The hostess sat down to her soup tureen; the guest was seated between the host and the hostess, the servant tied napkins around the children’s necks.
“Such dear little children,” said Chichikov, having looked at them, “and of what ages?”
“The older one is going on eight, and the younger one turned six just yesterday,” said Mrs. Manilov.
“Themistoclus!” said Manilov, addressing the older boy, who was making efforts to free his chin from the napkin the lackey had tied around it.
Chichikov raised an eyebrow slightly on hearing this partly Greek name, to which, for some unknown reason, Manilov gave the ending “-us,” but tried at once to bring his face back to its usual state.
“Themistoclus, tell me, what is the best city in France?”
Here the tutor turned all his attention on Themistoclus and seemed to want to jump into his eyes, but calmed himself at last and nodded when Themistoclus said: “Paris.”
“And what is our best city?” Manilov asked again.
The tutor again tuned up his attention.
“Petersburg,” replied Themistoclus.
“And besides that?”
“Moscow,” replied Themistoclus.
“The smarty! The sweetie!” Chichikov said to that. “No, really . . . ,” he continued, turning to the Manilovs with a look of some amazement, “such knowledge, at such an age! I must tell you, this child will have great abilities.”
“Oh, you still don’t know him,” responded Manilov, “he has an exceeding amount of wit. The younger one now, Alkides, this one is not so quick, but that one, as soon as he meets something, a bug or a gnat, his eyes suddenly start rolling; he runs after it and investigates it at once. I intend him for the diplomatic line. Themistoclus,” he went on, again addressing the boy, “want to be an ambassador?”
“Yes,” replied Themistoclus, chewing his bread and wagging his head right and left.
At that moment the lackey who was standing behind him wiped the ambassador’s nose, and it was a good thing he did, otherwise a rather sizable extraneous drop would have sunk into the soup. The conversation at table turned to the pleasures of the quiet life, interrupted by the hostess’s observations about the town’s theater and its actors. The tutor very attentively watched the talkers, and, as soon as he observed that they were about to smile, opened his mouth that same instant and diligently laughed. Most likely he was a grateful man and wanted thus to repay the master for his good treatment. Once, however, his face assumed a severe look and he rapped sternly on the table, aiming his glance at the children sitting across from him. This was appropriate, because Themistoclus had bitten Alkides’ ear, and Alkides, screwing up his eyes and opening his mouth, was about to howl in a most pathetic way, but sensing that for that he could easily be deprived of one course, he returned his mouth to its former position and tearfully began gnawing on a lamb bone, which made both his cheeks shiny with grease. The hostess turned to Chichikov very frequently with the words: “You don’t eat anything, you’ve taken very little.” To which Chichikov would reply each time: “I humbly thank you, I’m full, agreeable conversation is better than any food.”
They had already risen from the table. Manilov was exceedingly pleased and, supporting his guest’s back with his arm, was preparing to escort him thus into the drawing room, when the guest suddenly announced with a rather significant air that he intended to discuss with him a certain very necessary matter.
“In that case allow me to invite you to my study,” said Manilov, and he led him to a small room with a window looking out on the bluing forest. “Here’s my little corner,” said Manilov.
“An agreeable little room,” said Chichikov, looking it over.
The room was, indeed, not without agreeableness: walls painted a pretty light blue like a sort of gray, four chairs, one armchair, a table, on which lay the book with the bookmark in it, of which we have already had occasion to make mention, several scribbled-on sheets of paper, but mainly there was tobacco. It was in various forms: in paper packets, in the tobacco jar, and, finally, simply poured out in a heap on the table. On both windowsills were also placed little piles of knocked-out pipe ash, arranged not without assiduousness in very handsome rows. It could be observed that this sometimes provided the host with a pastime.
“Allow me to invite you to settle yourself in this armchair,” said Manilov. “You’ll be more comfortable here.”
“I’ll sit on a straight chair, if you’ll allow me.”
“Allow me not to allow you,” Manilov said with a smile. “This armchair is reserved for guests: whether you like it or not, you’ll have to sit in it.”
Chichikov sat down.
“Allow me to treat you to a little pipe.”
“No, I don’t smoke,” Chichikov replied tenderly and as if with an air of regret.
“Why not?” said Manilov, also tenderly and with an air of regret.
“I’m not in the habit, I’m afraid; they say the pipe dries one up.”
“Allow me to point out to you that that is a prejudice. I even suppose that to smoke a pipe is much healthier than to take snuff. There was a lieutenant in our regiment, a most wonderful and most educated man, who never let the pipe out of his mouth, not only at table but even, if I may be allowed to say so, in all other places. And here he is now already forty-some years old, and yet, thank God, he’s still as healthy as can be.”
Chichikov observed that that did indeed happen, and that there were many things in nature which were inexplicable even for a vast mind.
“But first allow me one request. . . ,” he uttered in a voice that rang with some strange or almost strange expression, and after that, for no apparent reason, he looked behind him. Manilov, too, for no apparent reason, looked behind him. “How long ago were you so good as to file your census report?”
“Oh, long ago now; or, rather, I don’t remember.”
“And since that time how many of your peasants have died?”
“I have no way of knowing; that’s something I suppose you must ask the steward. Hey, boy! call the steward, he should be here today.”
The steward appeared. He was a man approaching forty, who shaved his beard, wore a frock coat, and apparently led a very comfortable life, because his face had about it the look of a certain puffy plumpness, and his little eyes and the yellowish tint of his skin showed that he knew all too well what goose down and feather beds were. One could see at once that he had made his way in life as all estate stewards do: had first been simply a literate boy about the house, then married some housekeeper Agashka, the mistress’s favorite, became a housekeeper himself, and then steward. And having become steward, he behaved, naturally, like all stewards: hobnobbed with villagers of the wealthier sort; put additional taxes on the poorer ones; woke up past eight in the morning, waited for the samovar, and drank his tea.
“Listen, my good man! how many of our peasants have died since we filed the census report?”
“Who knows? Quite a lot have died since then,” said the steward, and with that he hiccuped, covering his mouth slightly with his hand, as with a little screen.
“Yes, I confess, I thought so myself,” Manilov picked up, “precisely, quite a lot have died!” Here he turned to Chichikov and added again: “Exactly, quite a lot.”
“How many, for instance?” asked Chichikov.
“Yes, how many?” picked up Manilov.
“Who knows how many? It’s not known what number died, nobody counted them.”
“Yes, precisely,” said Manilov, turning to Chichikov, “I thought so, too, a high mortality; it’s quite unknown how many died.”
“Count them all up, please,” said Chichikov, “and make a detailed list of them all by name.”
“Yes, all by name,” said Manilov.
The steward said “Yes, sir!” and left.
“And for what reasons do you need this?” Manilov asked after the steward had gone.
This question, it seemed, embarrassed the guest, on whose face there appeared a sort of strained expression, which even made him blush—the strain of expressing something not quite amenable to words. And, indeed, Manilov finally heard such strange and extraordinary things as had never yet been heard by human ears.
“You ask, for what reasons? These are the reasons: I would like to buy peasants . . . ,” Chichikov said, faltered, and did not finish his speech.
“But allow me to ask you,” said Manilov, “how do you wish to buy them: with land, or simply to have them resettled—that is, without land?”
“No, it’s not quite peasants,” said Chichikov, “I would like to have dead …”
“How’s that, sir? Excuse me . . . I’m somewhat hard of hearing, I thought I heard a most strange word …”
“I propose to acquire dead ones, who would, however, be counted in the census as living,” said Chichikov.
Manilov straightaway dropped his long-stemmed chibouk on the floor, and as his mouth gaped open, so he remained with gaping mouth for the course of several minutes. The two friends, who had been discussing the agreeableness of the life of friendship, remained motionless, their eyes fixed on each other, like those portraits which in the old days used to be hung facing each other on either side of a mirror. Finally Manilov picked up the chibouk and looked into his face from below, trying to see whether there was a smile on his face, whether he was joking; but there was nothing of the sort to be seen; on the contrary, the face seemed even more staid than usual; then he thought his guest might by chance have gone off his head somehow, and in fear he looked intently at him; but the guest’s eyes were completely clear, there was in them none of the wild, anguished fire that flickers in the eyes of a madman, everything was decent and in order. However hard Manilov thought about how to behave and what to do, he could think up nothing other than simply to release the remaining smoke from his mouth in a very thin stream.
“And so, I would like to know whether you might turn over to me, cede, or however you deem best, those not alive in reality, but alive with respect to legal form?”
But Manilov was so abashed and confused that he simply stared at him.
“It seems you’re hesitant… ?” observed Chichikov.
“I? . . . no, it’s not that,” said Manilov, “but I cannot grasp . . . excuse me … I, of course, could not have received such a brilliant education as is perceivable, so to speak, in your every movement; I have no lofty art of expression . . . Here, it may be … in this explanation just expressed by you . . . something else is concealed … It may be that you were pleased to express it thus for the beauty of the style?”
“No,” Chichikov picked up, “no, I mean the subject just as it is, that is, those souls which, indeed, have already died.”
Manilov was utterly at a loss. He felt he had to say something, to offer a question, but what question—devil knew. He finished finally by letting out smoke again, only not through his mouth this time, but through the nostrils of his nose.
“And so, if there are no obstacles, with God’s help we can proceed to draw up the deed of purchase,” said Chichikov.
“What, a deed for dead souls?”
“Ah, no!” said Chichikov. “We will write that they are living, just as it actually stands in the census report. It is my habit never to depart from civil law in anything, though I did suffer for it in the service, but do excuse me: duty is a sacred thing for me, the law—I stand mute before the law.”
These last words pleased Manilov, but all the same he by no means caught the drift of the matter itself, and instead of an answer began sucking so hard on his chibouk that it finally started wheezing like a bassoon. It seemed as if he wanted to pull from it an opinion concerning such an unheard-of circumstance; but the pipe wheezed, and that was all.
“It may be that you have some sort of doubts?”
“Oh! good gracious, not a whit. What I say of it is not because I might have some, that is, critical prejudication about you. But allow me to state, won’t this undertaking, or, to better express it, so to speak, this negotiation—won’t this negotiation be inconsistent with the civil statutes and the further prospects of Russia?”
Here Manilov, having made a certain movement with his head, looked very meaningly into Chichikov’s face, showing in all the features of his own face and in his compressed lips such a profound expression as, it may be, has never yet been seen on a human face, except perhaps of some very clever minister, and then in the moment of a most brain-racking affair.
But Chichikov said simply that such an undertaking, or negotiation, was by no means inconsistent with the civil statutes and the further prospects of Russia, and a moment later added that the treasury would even profit by it, for it would receive the legal fees.
“So you suppose …”
“I suppose it will be a good thing.”
“Ah, if it’s good, that’s another matter: I have nothing against it,” said Manilov, and he calmed down completely.
“Now it remains to agree on the price.”
“What price?” Manilov said again and paused. “Do you really think I will take money for souls which, in a certain sense, have ended their existence? If you have indeed been visited by this, so to speak, fantastic desire, then I, for my part, will turn them over to you disinterestedly and take the fees upon myself.”
It would be a great reproach to the historian of the events set forth here if he failed to say that, after these words uttered by Manilov, the guest was overcome with delight. Staid and sensible though he was, he almost performed a leap after the manner of a goat, which, as we know, is performed only under the strongest impulses of joy. He turned so sharply in the armchair that the woolen fabric of the cushion burst; Manilov himself looked at him in some bewilderment. Moved by gratitude, he straightaway produced such a heap of thankful words that the other became confused, blushed all over, producing a negative gesture with his head, and finally expressed the opinion that it was a veritable nothing, that he indeed wanted to prove somehow his heart’s inclination, the magnetism of the soul, and that the deceased souls were in a way sheer trash.
“By no means trash,” said Chichikov, pressing his hand. Here a very profound sigh was emitted. It seemed he was in the mood for outpourings of the heart; not without feeling and expression he finally uttered the following words: “If you only knew what a service you have just rendered, with this ostensible trash, to a man without kith or kin! Yes, really and truly, is there anything I have not suffered? like some bark amidst the savage waves . . . How persecuted, how victimized I have been, what grief I have tasted, and for what? for having observed the truth, for being of pure conscience, for holding my hand out to the helpless widow and the hapless orphan! …” At this point he even wiped away an impending tear with his handkerchief.
Manilov was thoroughly touched. The two friends pressed each other’s hands for a long time and silently gazed for a long time into each other’s eyes, in which welled-up tears could be seen. Manilov simply would not let our hero’s hand go and went on pressing it so warmly that the latter could see no way of rescuing it. Finally, having quietly pulled it free, he said it would not be a bad thing to draw up the deed of purchase speedily, and it would be nice if he himself came to town for a visit. Then he took his hat and began bowing out.
“What? you want to leave already?” said Manilov, suddenly coming to himself and almost frightened.
At that moment Mrs. Manilov came into the study.
“Lizanka,” said Manilov, with a somewhat pitiful look, “Pavel Ivanovich is leaving us!”
“Because Pavel Ivanovich is tired of us,” replied Mrs. Manilov.
“Madame! here,” said Chichikov, “here is the place”—and with that he put his hand over his heart—”yes, it is here that the agreeableness of the time spent with you will abide! and believe me, there could be no greater bliss for me than to live with you, if not in the same house, then at least in the nearest vicinity.”
“You know, Pavel Ivanovich,” said Manilov, who liked this thought very much, “it would indeed be so nice if we were to live somehow together, beneath one roof, or beneath the shade of some elm to philosophize about something, to delve deeper! …”
“Oh! that would be a paradisal life!” said Chichikov, sighing. “Good-bye, madam!” he went on, coming up to kiss Mrs. Manilov’s hand. “Good-bye, most esteemed friend! Don’t forget my request!”
“Oh, rest assured!” replied Manilov. “I am parting with you for no longer than two days.”
Everyone went out to the dining room.
“Good-bye, dear little ones!” said Chichikov, seeing Alkides and Themistoclus, who were occupied with some wooden hussar that already lacked an arm and a nose. “Good-bye, my tots. You must excuse me for not bringing you any presents, because, I confess, I didn’t even know that you were living in the world, but now I’ll be sure to bring something when I come. I’ll bring you a sword—want a sword?”
“Yes,” replied Themistoclus.
“And you a drum, right? a drum for you?” he went on, bending down to Alkides.
“Dwum,” Alkides replied in a whisper, hanging his head.
“Fine, I’ll bring you a drum. A real nice drum, it’ll go like this: turrr . . . ru . . . tra-ta-ta, ta-ta-ta . . . Good-bye, sweetie, goodbye!” Here he kissed him on the head and turned to Manilov and his spouse with a little laugh, such as one commonly addresses to parents in letting them know the innocence of their children’s wishes.
“Stay, really, Pavel Ivanovich!” Manilov said, when everyone had already come out on the porch. “Look, what clouds!”
“Tiny little clouds,” replied Chichikov.
“And do you know the way to Sobakevich’s?”
“I wanted to ask you about that.”
“Allow me, I’ll explain to your coachman right now.” Here Manilov, with the same courtesy, explained the matter to the coachman and once even said “sir” to him.
The coachman, hearing that he should skip two turns and take the third, said, “We’ll do fine, your honor”—and Chichikov left, accompanied for a long time by the bowing and handkerchief waving of his standing-on-tiptoe hosts.
Manilov stood for a long time on the porch, watching the departing britzka, and when it became quite invisible, he still stood there smoking his pipe. Finally he went inside, sat down on a chair, and gave himself over to reflection, rejoicing in his soul at having given his guest some small pleasure. Then his thoughts imperceptibly turned to other subjects and finally went off God knows where. He was thinking about the well-being of a life of friendship, about how nice it would be to live with a friend on the bank of some river, then a bridge began to be built across this river, then an enormous house with such a high belvedere that one could even see Moscow from it and drink tea there of an evening in the open air while discussing agreeable subjects. Then that he and Chichikov arrived together at some gathering in fine carriages, where they enchanted everyone with the agreeableness of their manners, and that the sovereign, supposedly learning there was such friendship between them, made them generals, and beyond that, finally, God knows what, something he himself could no longer figure out. Chichikov’s strange request suddenly interrupted all his reveries. The thought of it somehow especially refused to get digested in his head: whichever way he turned it, he simply could not explain it to himself, and all the while he sat and smoked his pipe, which went on right up to suppertime.
 Russians sometimes affected the uvular French r when speaking their own language, thinking it a sign of gentility.
 The Son of the Fatherland wasa reactionary political and literary review published in Petersburg between 1812 and 1852.