A Russian Proprietor By Count Leo N. Tolstoy

Russian Literature – Children Books – Russian Poetry – Leo Tolstoy – A Russian Proprietor – contents
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Chapter XX

In the small room occupied by Nekhliudof stood an old leather sofa decorated with copper nails, a few chairs of the same description, an old-fashioned inlaid extension-table with scallops and brass mountings, and strewn with papers, and an old-fashioned English grand with narrow keys, broken and twisted.

Between the windows hung a large mirror with an old carved frame gilded. On the floor, near the table, lay packages of papers, books, and accounts.

This room, on the whole, had a characterless and disorderly appearance; and this lively disorder presented a sharp contrast with the affectedly aristocratic arrangement of the other rooms of the great mansion.

When Nekhliudof reached his room, he flung his hat angrily on the table, and sat down in a chair which stood near the piano, crossed his legs, and shook his head.

“Will you have lunch, your excellency?” asked a tall, thin, wrinkled old woman, who entered just at this instant, dressed in a cap, a great kerchief, and a print dress.

Nekhliudof looked at her for a moment or two in silence, as though collecting his thoughts.

“No: I don’t wish any thing, nurse,” said he, and again fell into thought.

The nurse shook her head at him in some vexation, and sighed.[82]

“Eh! Father, Dmitri Nikolayévitch, are you melancholy? Such tribulation comes, but it will pass away. God knows”….

“I am not melancholy. What have you brought, Malanya Finogenovna?” replied Nekhliudof, endeavoring to smile.

“Ain’t melancholy! can’t I see?” the old woman began to say with warmth. “The whole livelong day to be all sole alone! And you take every thing to heart so, and look out for every thing; and besides, you scarcely eat any thing. What’s the reason of it? If you’d only go to the city, or visit your neighbors, as others do! You are young, and the idea of bothering over things so! Pardon me, little father, I will sit down,” pursued the old nurse, taking a seat near the door. “You see, we have got into such a habit that we lose fear. Is that the way gentlemen do? There’s no good in it. You are only ruining yourself, and the people are spoiled. That’s just like our people: they don’t understand it, that’s a fact. You had better go to your auntie. What she wrote was good sense,” said the old nurse, admonishing him.

Nekhliudof kept growing more and more dejected. His right hand, resting on his knee, lazily struck the piano, making a chord, a second, a third.

Nekhliudof moved nearer, drew his other hand from his pocket, and began to play. The chords which he made were sometimes not premeditated, were occasionally not even according to rule, often remarkable for absurdity, and showed that he was lacking in musical talent; but the exercise gave him a certain indefinable melancholy enjoyment.

At every modification in the harmony, he waited with muffled heart-beat for what would come out of it;[83] and when any thing came, he, in a dark sort of way, completed with his imagination what was missing.

It seemed to him that he heard a hundred melodies, and a chorus, and an orchestra simultaneously joining in with his harmony. But his chief pleasure was in the powerful activity of his imagination; confused and broken, but bringing up with striking clearness before him the most varied, mixed, and absurd images and pictures from the past and the future.

Now it presents the puffy figure of Davidka Byélui, timidly blinking his white eyelashes at the sight of his mother’s black fist with its net-work of veins; his bent back, and huge hands covered with white hairs, exhibiting a uniform patience and submission to fate, sufficient to overcome torture and deprivation.

Then he saw the brisk, presuming nurse, and, somehow, seemed to picture her going through the villages, and announcing to the peasants that they ought to hide their money from the proprietors; and he unconsciously said to himself, “Yes, it is necessary to hide money from the proprietors.”

Then suddenly there came up before him the fair head of his future wife, for some reason weeping and leaning on his shoulder in deep grief.

Then he seemed to see Churis’s kindly blue eyes looking affectionately at his pot-bellied little son. Yes, he saw in him a helper and savior, apart from his son. “That is love,” he whispered.

Then he remembered Yukhvanka’s mother, remembered the expression of patience and conciliation which, notwithstanding her prominent teeth and her irregular features, he recognized on her aged face.

“It must be that I have been the first during her seventy years of life, to recognize her good qualities,”[84] he said to himself, and whispered “Strange;” but he continued still to drum on the piano, and to listen to the sounds.

Then he vividly recalled his retreat from the bees, and the expressions on the faces of Karp and Ignát, who evidently wanted to laugh though they made believe not look at him. He reddened, and involuntarily glanced at the old nurse, who still remained sitting by the door, looking at him with silent attention, occasionally shaking her gray head.

Here, suddenly, he seemed to see a troïka of sleek horses, and Ilyushka’s handsome, robust form, with bright curls, gayly shining, narrow blue eyes, fresh complexion, and delicate down just beginning to appear on lip and chin.

He remembered how Ilyushka was afraid that he would not be permitted to go teaming, and how eagerly he argued in favor of the work that he liked so well. And he saw the gray early morning, that began with mist, and the smooth paved road, and the long lines of three-horse wagons, heavily laden and protected by mats, and marked with big black letters. The stout, contented, well-fed horses, thundering along with their bells, arching their backs, and tugging on the traces, pulled in unison up the hill, forcefully straining on their long-nailed shoes over the smooth road.

As the train of wagons reached the foot of the hill, the postman had quickly dashed by with jingling bells, which were echoed far and wide by the great forest extending along on both sides of the road.

“A-a-aï!” in a loud, boyish voice, shouts the head driver, who has a badge on his lambskin cap, and swings his whip around his head.

Beside the front wheel of the front team, the redheaded,[85] cross-looking Karp is walking heavily in huge boots. In the second team Ilyushka shows his handsome head, as he sits on the driver’s seat playing the bugle. Three troïka-wagons loaded with boxes, with creaking wheels, with the sound of bells and shouts, file by. Ilyushka once more hides his handsome face under the matting, and falls off to sleep.

Now it is a fresh, clear evening. The deal gates open for the weary horses as they halt in front of the tavern yard; and one after the other, the high mat-covered teams roll in across the planks that lie at the gates, and come to rest under the wide sheds.

Ilyushka gayly exchanges greetings with the light-complexioned, wide-bosomed landlady, who asks, “Have you come far? and will there be many of you to supper?” and at the same time looks with pleasure on the handsome lad, with her bright, kindly eyes.

And now, having unharnessed the horses, he goes into the warm house[47] crowded with people, crosses himself, sits down at the generous wooden bowl, and enters into lively conversation with the landlady and his companions.

And then he goes to bed in the open air, under the stars which gleam down into the shed. His bed is fragrant hay, and he is near the horses, which, stamping and snorting, eat their fodder in the wooden cribs. He goes to the shed, turns toward the east, and after crossing himself thirty times in succession on his broad brawny chest, and throwing back his bright curls, he repeats “Our Father” and “Lord have mercy” a score of times, and wrapping himself, head and all, in his cloak, sleeps the healthy, dreamless sleep of strong, fresh manhood.


And here he sees in his vision the city of Kief, with its saints and throngs of priests; Romen, with its merchants and merchandise; he sees Odest, and the distant blue sea studded with white sails, and the city of Tsar-grad,[48] with its golden palaces, and the white-breasted, dark-browed Turkish maidens; and thither he flies, lifting himself on invisible wings.

He flies freely and easily, always farther and farther away, and sees below him golden cities bathed in clear effulgence, and the blue sky with bright stars, and a blue sea with white sails; and smoothly and pleasantly he flies, always farther and farther away….

“Splendid!” whispers Nekhliudof to himself; and the thought, “Why am I not Ilyushka?” comes to him.

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Russian Literature – Children Books – Russian Poetry – Leo Tolstoy – A Russian Proprietor – contents

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